Why will Premium Flash Player Features Kill Flash?

SWF file format, the format for Flash files, is proprietary. Flash has been criticized for this by many, including late Steven P. Jobs.

But SWF format has been open, since 1998 with the initial release of SWF specifications. And this is what we all said against proprietary format argument.

Openness of SWF format meant that any 3rd party can create SWF files without the need to get permission from Macromedia or use any Macromedia software (now Adobe). Then we saw 3rd party SWF related utilities flourish, from Claus Wahlers‘ JPEG to SWF converter to Swish text effects to animation packages like Toon Boom Studio. (We also made a living around SWF format).

This openness has been a very important ingredient of Flash’ success. Even with open SWF format, Adobe still has the upper hand, because they control the Player³ and hence the new features: 3rd party apps can only use existing features but Adobe software can make use of the latest features.

If some features of the Flash Player is to become premium, this means SWF format is no longer open, just documented (assuming Adobe continues releasing SWF specs).

As we all know, Flash suffered many blows in the last few years and declined. Flash could have become the software on every appliance in the world for ever; thanks to the competence of Adobe suits who couldn’t stand up against S. Jobs of Apple, Flash retreated to gaming world (and DRM infected video delivery)¹.

Now, with Flash Player 11.2, open SWF format is going away.

[Adobe introduced domain memory and some opcodes, that performed faster memory operations, for Alchemy project (C to AS3 conversion). AS3 was not fast enough, so many 3rd party developers made use of these opcodes to create Flash content and more importantly libraries. Flash Pro couldn't make use of the opcodes but Haxe did, our own Azoth  did, Joa Ebert's tools did. That was the power of Flash and open SWF! (Soon will be history)].

I’m on no pre-release program so can speak freely (and ignorantly). Adobe decided to make money off -maybe what they saw as a dying platform- Flash by charging for what they call premium features. SWF files created for new 11.2 player won’t be able to use so-called Alchemy opcodes, unless they are signed².

[Old content, created for older players, older SWF versions will still be able to use the opcodes in the name of backward compatibility (But AFAIK, not the libraries/SWCs if they are loaded by a newer version SWF file). So this move is deliberate and has no technical justification - only greed for more money, I would say. Well, this is nothing surprising, Adobe seems to lay off more talent as they make more money...]

What is really pathetic is that they are promoting (demoting) an existing feature to premium. (If a totally new feature was introduced as premium, that would have been easier to digest).

This move will make the SWF format closed… So, a free version of Alchemy 2 is irrelevant here. Any Adobe software that creates SWF files is irrelevant.

This is a major change (blow) to the Flash eco-system. Here’s what Nicolas Cannasse, creator of MTASC and Haxe, wrote about this in a recent comment:

“The ability to fully target the flash player has suddenly transformed from being free to being locked-in. That hurts the confidence of many developers (including me) which was already quite down with recent announcements”.

And if this happens (now seems inevitable with Player 11.2 release), I, hereby, predict Flash’s death.

Well, some say Flash is already dead.  Release of premium runtime features will only be my personal recognition for the date of death. Flash will not suddenly go away or disappear, for sure.  But it will be the point of no return.

With Player 11.2 release, we will welcome a dead Player with Premium features. I will not install it on any of my personal computers I actually use* – I heard web still exists without Flash…

 

 

¹ And Flex is abandoned to Apache. (You may say it is now better for Flex, but you see, Flex is now just a footnote. Sad.)

² Signing files against modification, or, as signaling approval are totally different subjects.

³ Adobe also controls the distribution of the player.

* I intend to keep latest 11.1 version and not update, as long as I can. Afterwards my computers will be Flash runtimes free.

This entry was posted in Central-Apollo-AIR, Flash, Flex, Misc..

6 Responses to Why will Premium Flash Player Features Kill Flash?

  1. Totally agree, point of no return. Adobe baffles me.

  2. Jet Villegas says:

    I wouldn’t judge the Flash team too quickly on this. Digitally authenticated SWF files can be so useful in many ways. I do agree that adding tag 92 to the SWF format without public documentation is a very poor way to communicate this. I reserve further comment until we learn more :)

  3. Matt Bolt says:

    Well written and great points. If you’re correct, this is a poor move by Adobe.

    Truthfully, and regardless of the mindless moves that Adobe makes, the Flash Player is part of the web. While there is no doubt that a good portion of Flash’s success is due to it’s openness and amazing contributors, it’s somewhat arrogant to assume that because developers can no longer tinker with the SWF format, that the entire player will die.

    At the end of the day, the consumer is who decides whether a product dies or not. Of course the counter argument is that if developers no longer create flash content, it dies, but the truth is:
    * Developers mostly flock to where the money is.
    * The money comes from businesses who need a graphical web product created in a time-efficient manner that reaches huge volumes of people, cross-platform, and cross-browser.
    * So far, in my opinion, there isn’t anything else better than Flash Player at the moment for achieving the above goals.

    Will Flash Player take a hit from this mistake? Absolutely. As a developer, does it piss me off? Absolutely.

    What I’ve learned from past experiences, is that most of the time, Adobe will listen to concerns. If you have the right outlet – Hopefully, they hear our complaints concerning the openness of flash (especially after the whole Apple ordeal).

  4. Kurt Melander says:

    Well, speaking from the e-learning development side and as a US DoD defense contractor, the digital signing may be due in large part to the downgrading of flash and Shockwave from the DoD CIO office in terms of risk for mobile code. Shockwave .dcr format is now no longer allowed on military networks and is classified “1x”, flash was downgraded from a “3″ to a “2″, lower numbers meaning higher risk to the network. One of the main reasons for this downgrade is the lack of Flash and Shockwave to recognize or validate digitally signed code. The AIR platform does, as does JAVA so those both have higher ratings for mobile code risk by the DoD. The DoD and Federal Government has been a cash cow for Adobe, and this may be in part an attempt to make the platform more secure and not just to “lock out” those premium features. I think there’s quite a bit more to the changes in 11.2 than folks beyond the Adobe Engineers are probably aware of – just my two cents.

    • Elliot Geno says:

      That’s pretty interesting. I have never thought of the DoD and its use of Flash. But as with any private company, military funding can be a huge benefactor. You don’t bite the hand that feeds.

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