The Bell Tolls for Flash, and Silverlight isn’t far behind

The Flash ReaperThis week saw another victory for HTML5, and another nail in the coffin for web browser plugins: Adobe announced it was ceasing development of Flash on all mobile devices.

Mobile was easy ground to retreat from: Flash is already outlawed on numerous mobile devices, including popular consumer devices like iPhone and iPad. The only reason Google tolerated it on its Android platform was as a competitive advantage over Apple’s devices. And now that Adobe is abandoning Flash on mobile, it will soon disappear even from Google’s devices.

What does this mean for Silverlight? Amusingly, Microsoft chose a different strategy with Silverlight on mobile: they had the benefit of sitting on the sidelines and observing Apple laying the smackdown on Flash, and all the negative karma that comes from Steve Jobs cursing your beloved tech in public.

Even though Silverlight was originally called “WPF Everywhere“, Microsoft didn’t want the Curse of the Steve to afflict Silverlight, so Microsoft wisely changed course: Silverlight would not, in fact, be available everywhere. Just on desktops, and Microsoft’s own mobile device.

Adobe simply conceded that they lost the battle of Flash on mobile. They lost the battle because they don’t own those platforms, and those who do own those platforms — Apple, Microsoft, Google — are at best ambivalent about, and at worst, enemies, of Flash. Ditto for Microsoft’s Silverlight: Microsoft knew they couldn’t win on mobile when mobile is largely controlled by competitors, so where Adobe tried and failed, Microsoft wisely didn’t even try.

With the mobile battlefield now surrendered to HTML5, one might knee-jerk a thought that Flash and Silverlight are safe on the desktop, at least.

But that battle, too, will be lost: web sites are being rewritten as Flash-less. Oh, and Microsoft’s next operating system won’t run plugins like Flash and Silverlight. Or rather, it will run web plugins, but it will first make you launch some other legacy system and then inside that legacy system, launch a differently-configured browser and then navigate to a site that uses Flash, and oh, screw it. No one will run web plugins anymore. And, per Apple’s usual modus operandi, there will be a Mac OSX release, codenamed Metroid, several months before Windows 8, and it will not support web plugins, either, and everyone will hail Apple for making a bold, innovative move.

In the Great Plugin War of the 21st century, the mobile space has been abandoned by the plugins. And soon, in the next 5 years, the desktop space, too, will be abandoned. By 2016, web browser plugins like Flash and Silverlight will be as antiquated — and generally disdained — as much as Java applets are today.

Silverlight and Flash developers: it’s time to reinvest your skills elsewhere

In the classic western film, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Confederate soldier Josey Wales is betrayed by his old commander, Captain Fletcher, and, being filled with rage at old Union soldiers for murdering his family, Josey seeks vengeance years beyond the conclusion of the Civil War. But as the plot winds down, a disguised Josey comes face-to-face with his old commander Fletcher, who speaks a piercing truth to Josey:

Fletcher: I reckon I’ll go lookin’ for Wales down in Mexico.

Wales, disguised: And then?

Fletcher: Well, he’s got the first move. I owe him that. But I think I’ll try to tell him the war’s over.

Web plugin developers, the war is over. It’s time to move on.

For reasons outside your control, your platform is disappearing, and will soon be gone. Get out before it really hurts.

If you are a Silverlight or Flash developer, now’s the time to reinvest your skills in another platform. HTML/JavaScript is the safest bet, although it’s a crowded space. Native platforms like iPhone and Windows 8 Metro apps are riskier, but the rewards of succeeding on those platforms is greater. If you’re a Silverlight developer, the natural evolution for you is Windows 8 Metro: you’ve got a subset of XAML and the .NET framework on Win 8 Metro, just like you did on Silverlight. You’ll be right at home.

We think of this as the Great Plugin War of the 21st century, but really, it was never about plugins. Vendors like Sun, Microsoft, and Adobe really just wanted people writing code for their platforms. They didn’t care if it was via web plugins, desktop apps, whatever, it didn’t matter, as long as it was their platform. That way, they can sell tools, support, and generally make money hand-over-fist being god of Platform X. When these vendors saw the ubiquity of the web, they thought, “Hrrm, how about we make our platform run on the web? Then our platform will be everywhere the web is!” And that, friends, is how web plugins were born.

This was was, and is, about getting people to write code on proprietary platforms. Now that the native HTML5-ified web is powerful enough, we don’t need web plugins. And so, the big tech companies will have to look for another way to make developers write code for their platforms. The new battleground will be mobile, I predict, with each tech company heavily investing in their own mobile devices, where they control the platform, where native apps make sense for now, and where they can make money hand-over-fist being god of their own platforms. Microsoft will dump truckloads of cash into Windows Phone. They’re eventually rename it, too, since “Windows” sounds so…antiquated. Google will be king for a long time. Apple will be the choice for hipsters. And writing an app that reaches all your users will, once again, require writing your app thrice, once for each platform. That is, until the web becomes powerful enough to make mobile apps irrelevant, just like it did for desktop apps.

Though plugins have been the way of the web for a good 15 years, it will be — nay, it is — no longer. Plugins are going the way of the dodo. The bell tolls for Flash, Silverlight, and JavaFx.

The web is the future. And tomorrow’s web is plugin-less. Position yourself wisely.

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6 thoughts on “The Bell Tolls for Flash, and Silverlight isn’t far behind

  1. JP says:

    I am not sure what you getting so excited about here – is it the fact that the web will become a better place without plugins or that fact that business’s like Adobe and Microsoft will no longer be able to make money out of the tooling for these plugins?

    None of those are going to come true you realise, Adobe will make awesome tools for html5, you may disagree but they know what the web market wants – look at how ‘wow this is groundbreaking stuff’ all the html5 dev’s get when they able to mimic something flash did years ago. Adobe will still make money and still be a thorn in your side for a long time to come if you concerned about them doing business.

    If it’s making the web a better place – you are encouraging flash devs to make a move to html5 – these are the same dev’s that coded the flash web you hate?? You think they all of a sudden are going to be miraculously cured of their ways in creating annoying animated banners, skip intro’s and sparkling buttons – dude they are going to do it exactly the same, but this time in html5! In fact I am fearful of this migration and hope most of these designers and dev’s move onto to hot dog stands during this transition. My point being, it is not the plugins who are to blame for the shitty web you diss today, its the dev’s and they are coming your way – except this time, they don’t have to fork out hundreds of dollars for tooling software, you can’t uninstall or switch them off and they are sailing into opportunities by this wave of false impressions that your are creating about html5 being the greatest thing since the birth of the web. Which it may well be in a few years to come, but right now it is really not ready.

    K off to create my first html5 banner now, you think I should add some music to it?

    jokes,

    thks for the good read.

  2. You’re projecting too much.

    Whether Flash sites are a good thing or not isn’t relevant here. What’s relevant is, Flash and Silverlight and Java applets and JavaFX are all going away. Platforms-as-web-browser-plugins are going away.

    My post, in a nutshell, is simply this: “The war’s over. Time for Flash and Silverlight developers to move to another platform.”

  3. little brother says:

    pfff. only fools with zero knowledge abot web technology come up with their flash is going down bs, because they do not know how to even install an adblocker for those annoying web advertising banners that are made in flash. back at the start, before (like always) some people ruin art and make it into some rubbish – flash was the first and only way to get rich media content into the web without installing annoying plugins and extra programs like real player.

    fact: youtube would not have happened without flash – the possibility to view videos in decent quality in a browser without something like windows media player and the like is great. i would also like everything to be more in the web, as opposed to “solutions” like itunes or the app stores, that lock you into your computer and do not advocate the possibility to do your stuff anywhere and on any computer you want.

    all major players in online video use flash. html 5? great, but where is the toolset so designers can quickly create something for this? there is none. i have viewed a lot of html 5 demos that run superslow and are like c64 graphics – great. but people somehow get really excited about this. the major drawback with flash is only this – first the price and second the badly developed stuff that people create with it – like annoying banners and time wasting animations. on the other hand if utilised right you can do amazing stuff with this.

    the thing is this, flash is just another web technology, that can be used for good or bad things. most sites can get away without it easy, but you can do very good interactive stuff with it.

    also your assumption that html 5 has taken over is totally not true. nobody really develops for this because it is not supported by a majority of users browsers yet.

    video on the web: 99% flash. google analytics: flash, RIA 90% flash, media, music like soundcloud.com etc. flash.

    annoying moving banners 100% flash.

    silverlight? i have seen this on exactly one major paytv website, i had to uninstall it, because it somehow breaks flash – ahaha microsoft you did it again!

    conclusion – flash will certainly not die – even though people do not like it for obvious reasons (stupid advertising – you should actually blame the people behind the websites and companies that hire bad ad agencies) – it is a technology that is powering a lot of major websites and offers an advanced toolset that html 5 no where near can match.

  4. […] why should Silverlight developers think about moving their skills to the web? See my earlier post, The Bell Tolls for Flash, and Silverlight Isn’t Far Behind. In a nutshell, we are witnessing in our industry a major shift away from web plugin technology […]

  5. […] why should Silverlight developers think about moving their skills to the web? See my earlier post, The Bell Tolls for Flash, and Silverlight Isn’t Far Behind. In a nutshell, we are witnessing in our industry a major shift away from web plugin technology […]

  6. […] up multiple times in the Raven 3.0 Wishlist, Silverlight has served us well over the years, but Silverlight is a dying technology that our community doesn’t want to be tied to any […]

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