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Adobe Flash

What is Adobe Flash?

Adobe Flash is a software platform used to create rich digital content containing animation, graphic effects, streaming video and other interactive elements to deliver engaging user experiences over many platforms, including desktops and mobile devices.

Originally developed by FutureWave, Flash was first known as FutureSplash Animator. Then, when Macromedia purchased the product in 1996, the name changed to Macromedia Flash. Later, in 2005, Adobe acquired Macromedia and renamed the product Adobe Flash. Throughout its lifetime (2005-2020), the names Macromedia Flash and Adobe Flash generally were used interchangeably.

Adobe Flash was a popular software to create digital content containing elements like the following:

  • animations
  • graphic illustrations/motion graphics
  • interactivity
  • streaming video
  • audio
  • text

Developers used these interactive features to create rich web applications, embedded web browser video players, desktop and mobile applications, mobile games and interactive video players. Flash also supported other use cases, such as the following:

  • application user interfaces (UIs)
  • rich media/online advertisements
  • e-learning modules
  • marketing collateral
  • business presentations
  • entertainment or business applications

If an end user encountered Flash content on a website but did not have the player installed, the browser would prompt them to install it first.

For many years, Adobe Flash was the standard platform for developers looking to deliver high-impact web content and rich web experiences via interactive designs, animations, UIs, videos and more. At one point, Adobe claimed that over 2 million creative professionals used Flash Player 8 -- released in 2005 before Adobe acquired Macromedia that same year -- to create interactive marketing, web, business and video applications. In addition, an estimated 560 million users across the web used these applications and Flash Player.

Adobe Flash file formats

All Adobe Flash source files were in Adobe's proprietary FLA format. They contained graphics, animations and embedded assets, like bitmap images, audio files or FLV video files. FLA files were editable. They could also be compiled into Flash movie files (SWF) using another Adobe application called Adobe Animate.

Flash movie files were created in that SWF format and usually played in a standalone Flash Player within a website. In contrast, FLV video files could be used from within SWF files or played through an external player, like Windows Media Player, with codecs added. Flash audio output was usually encoded in MP3 or Advanced Audio Coding. In 2007, Adobe added MPEG-4 standards to Flash video.

In general, Flash files were smaller than normal video clips or bitmap images. This is because Flash files used vector graphics and program code. Smaller file sizes meant that video streams used less bandwidth.

Key development features in Adobe Flash

Developers could control a Flash object's actions and behaviors using the platform's Behavior and Timeline panels. The Timeline panel provides frames and key frames to control every object's animation. Since objects could be layered, they are easier to control and modify.

For more advanced control, they could also use ActionScript, a Flash programming language similar to JavaScript. ActionScript, an event-based language, was modeled on the ECMAScript programming language. It enabled developers to create interactive onscreen or web environments that can respond to user input through an input device, such as a keyboard or mouse.

In Adobe Flash, behaviors were prewritten ActionScript 2.0 code that could be added to an FLA file. When using behaviors, the code would sometimes be placed directly on symbol instances, like buttons or movie clips, instead of being placed on the timeline. However, this could cause decentralization problems wherein the behaviors added code to many locations in the FLA file. This made it difficult to locate the code and understand the interactions between code snippets. It could also result in difficulties during code debugging or file editing.

In addition to the Behavior and Timeline panels, Adobe Flash also included these features:

  • Library panel. This is where Flash stored all imported items, graphics, motion tweens, audio, video, symbols and other objects.
  • Canvas. This is where developers placed all of the viewable objects.
  • Properties panel. This enabled developers to control and select property options, depending on the object type.

Adobe Flash end of life

In 2017, Adobe announced that it would stop supporting Flash on the end of life (EOL) date of Dec. 31, 2020. On this date, Adobe retired Flash and stopped offering support.

Earlier, in October and November 2020, Adobe updated Flash Player with important bug and security fixes. Then, on Dec. 8, 2020, Adobe released the last Flash update for Flash Player 32 AIR 32 for all regions outside of mainland China, which had a separate version of the software. Later, on Jan. 12, 2021, the company blocked Flash content from running in Flash Player to help secure user systems. It also removed Flash Player download pages from its site.

Adobe advised users to uninstall Flash Player from their systems because updates or security patches would no longer be available after the EOL date. Failing to complete the uninstall could create security problems for users. In addition, Adobe discouraged users from downloading unauthorized versions of Flash Player from third-party websites, stating that such downloads are a common source of malware and viruses.

To justify the EOL decision, Adobe said that open standards have matured a lot over the years and, therefore, serve as viable alternatives to Adobe Flash. These standards include Hypertext Markup Language 5 (HTML5), Web Graphics Library (WebGL) and WebAssembly, which all major browser vendors are integrating into their browsers, while deprecating the Flash Player plugin. With the three-year notice period, Adobe provided sufficient time for developers, designers and businesses to migrate Flash content to new standards.

What is Adobe Animate?

Adobe Animate, formerly Adobe Flash Professional, offers numerous design- and animation-centric features for games, TV shows and web content. It is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud as a software-as-a-service offering.

Animate is suitable for app developers, web developers and game designers. This software is used to create the following:

  • cartoons
  • games and game environments
  • banner ads
  • animated doodles
  • avatars
  • e-learning content
  • infographics

Developers can create any of this content in many formats and reach viewers on many types of screens. They can also publish their content to multiple platforms, including HTML5 Canvas, WebGL, Adobe Air and custom platforms. In addition, they can integrate audio, design start screens, and share animations as augmented reality experiences.

See understanding HTML5 mobile application development and the pros and cons of using an HTML5 browser as a virtual desktop infrastructure client.

This was last updated in November 2022

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