It looks like—for real this time—Flash will die soon. The decade-long pronouncements of web design nerds, Steve Jobs fanboys, and newspaper columnists will come to pass at the end of 2020, Adobe announced Tuesday. Newer, open-source formats like HTML5, WebGL, and WebAssembly are more convenient and often better than Flash, which defined an entire era of web design and, even today, is still encountered daily by average web surfers.
"Adobe is planning to end-of-life Flash," the company wrote of the program, originally created in 1996. "Specifically, we will stop updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020 and encourage content creators to migrate any existing Flash content to these new open formats."
But, like we've seen time and time again, the whims of software and hardware companies, and even moves to best design practices do not necessarily mean that customers will follow suit. Like the MP3 file, Flash will never die.
Well past 2020, people using generations-old computers will visit old Flash websites. Flash Player will continue to be distributed via torrents and sites like oldversion.com. There will be Flash emulators and the Internet Archive will curate important .SWF files. For nostalgia's sake, hobbyists will continue to make videos and games in Flash, like they do with the 40-year-old Apple II, the 30-year-old NES, and hardware and software that is much more "dead" than Flash is. There will be online Flash museums to commemorate what was a transformative—and much hated—piece of software.
"I think we're also deceiving ourselves if we pretend that digital technologies mean it's possible to save everything from everywhere, forever," Andrew Russell, an internet historian at Stevens Institute of Technology, told me two years ago when I looked into what would happen when Flash actually dies. "But yes, it matters."
Lots of Flash websites will fall into disrepair and lots of people will move on from it entirely. But that doesn't mean we're going to lose all of it. Already, there are large archives of .SWF files at a site called swfchan.com. Redditors on r/datahoarder are already talking about how to best save gigabytes of Flash files.
It has been said that the internet never forgets. The internet also doesn't let anything die.
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