Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

I understand why people are still up in arms, because it must be annoying (at the very list) to see eleven years pass without fixing this. However, I find it even more annoying that after eleven years people haven't learned that you can't solve the problem by yelling at people "BAD BOY! FLASH BAD!"

I know really well what the allure of Flash is. I tried my hand at developing casual Web games and that's done in Flash. The following are the reasons, in what I believe is the order of importance:

1) Adoption: When it comes to users, everyone and their grandmother has Flash. Even if they don't, getting it and installing it is usually really easy. When it comes to development, you find that casual Web game portals (such as Kongregate, Newgrounds and Armor Games) are Flash-oriented and you even have sites like Flash Game License and Flash Game Art.

2) Ease of Development: I've seen games that were obviously made by people who have a considerable talent for art and so little talent for coding that they should have a court restraint to keep them away from development tools. Guess what? They work anyway and are popular. Yes, you have to learn ActionScript, but that's pretty much all.

3) Good Free Toolchain: You don't really have to shell out 600 dollars for Flash. You can get your stuff done for free, using FlashDevelop and Flex SDK.

Anyway, my point is that it's widespread, it's easy and it gets shit done. For those who think nagging is the solution, for those who rubbed their hands when Apple said it wasn't going to support Flash, here's the crucial question: can you show people an alternative that satisfies their requirements as well or better?

In this case, Adobe is the metaphorical Microsoft: their stuff is out there and they make it easy for people to use it. As the history has proven, the solution is not to call people sheep because they use Flash; the solution is to provide the metaphorical Mac and metaphorical Firefox and metaphorical Ubuntu -- stuff that's so good, that people will switch in droves without looking back.

There are a couple reasons Flash was well ahead of both java and html for many years.

1. Creating Hello World was dead simple. Just like photoshop, it was as easy as selecting the text tool, typing out what you wanted and hitting publish. Instant visual feedback for what you were creating.

2. Flash swf startup is measured in milliseconds, java applet startup is measured in seconds. Sun never seemed to care about "visual java" and they suffered for it.

3. Single vendor control. For years Macromedia and Adobe were giving devs and designers the apis they wanted, rather then being stuck in design-by-commitee hell.

4. Many new devs don't realize this, but even as recently as 2005 there was a significant amount of online geeks that were very anti-javascript. If you wanted to build something interactive, Flash was always your best bet for the first half of the decade.

5. Absolute layout. While html developers were complaining about box models, flash developers were building things to look exactly as they wanted them to.

Re point 1: see http://www.tumultco.com/hype/ for html+js+canvas equivalent (nearly).

4 I still disable js by default. Even still it usually doesn't add much to my browsing experience. It could, but I've rarely met a web designer who actually cared about the user's goals - almost every one of them was intent on using their favorite flashiness with no regard usability.

4.1 Who blocks JS without also blocking Flash?

5 This is what I'm talking about. Flash devs were busy building exactly what they wanted while HTML developers - by virtue of not using absolute layout, etc, were delivering what users could actually use.

To all of those who believe that html5 can replace flash for web games have a look at :


and some other games on armorgames or kongregate and stop propagating rumors about HTML5 replacing flash for games. The performance of HTML5+JS is not there yet, unless you talk about tic-tac-too games and the like. If flash is going to be replaced by something it would be by unity3d not by HTML5 or might be chrome native client. Adobe would be smart to secure this game thing because ads, video, etc, will probably be less and less. I'd love to see a cheap flash console where indies could publish games and sell games.

That said I'm happy to see flash beeing kicked out of website design, when flash is mixed with html it sucks.


When it's as easy to write your game in HTML5+JS as it is in Flash then people will switch, and not one minute before.

I don't know why it would be considered more difficult to use canvas/dom for rendering + JS. I've been working on a simple JS (well, CoffeeScript really) game, and it hasn't been very difficult at all. But then again, I do lot of JS and never touched flash.

I guess most of the reasons people mention here can be summed up as platform maturity. People might hate Flash, but when it comes to game development, it's a lot more mature than Canvas+JS.

Here's another example of that maturity: on Flash platform, you have three big game engines -- PushButton Engine, FlashPunk and Flixel Perhaps there are more, but these three are pretty damn good. When I google for "javascript game engine", the top two (distinct) results are Crafty and gameQuery. Crafty looks decent, but not quite up to PushButton's level. The second engine, gameQuery is pretty much inferior to all three Flash engines I mentioned: the API is very limited and the performance of the demo is abysmal.

Mind, this isn't a 100% fair review, it's not an in-depth comparison or anything like that. It is, however, the "first glance evaluation" you'll probably get from any Flash game developer who's wondering whether they should switch to HTML5+JS.

I'm not saying we should just give up and use Flash forever and ever. I'm trying to explain why HTML5+JS is not a mature game development platform yet.

I should point out that the things provided by Flex engines like FlashPunk are builtin in HTML5's DOM, for the most part. The boilerplate of an engine isn't really required.

That's true, to a certain degree. DOM might cover the object placement, the scene graph and perhaps collision detection.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure DOM doesn't provide a boilerplate game loop. It might sound trivial, but sorting and linked lists also sound trivial and you don't see people reinventing them on a daily basis either.

The problem is that the HTML DOM is just to slow for any game that has some action going on. And as soon as you switch to using the canvas to render your game, you're back at figuring out and implementing stuff like object collisions yourself.

People often fail to draw the distinction between the developent tool and the platform when talking about Flash. With the tool anyone can knock together interactive animations with nice transitions and cut-n-paste bits of ActionScript from the web to tie it all together. I've seen non-programmers produce decent work this way. There's a lot of trial and error involved, obviously, if you don't really know how to program.

I usually program in Java but I'm using Flash (the tool) to throw together the GUI for a game I'm making. I find it's way more productive to develop the GUI visually rather than positioning and tweening things with code.

In Flex you have the ability to work with a structured hierarchy of display objects - each with their own transformation matrix. Flex pretty much handles all of the relevant transforms when you are doing event handling.

Of course, ultimately you can do all of that in a canvas but it is an awful lot easier in Flex.

Also, don't you have to manage the redraw of areas yourself with canvas?

[NB I hate what people do with Flash as much as the next person - but the actually tool is actually a pretty decenlt development environment (I just used the command line Flex compiler)]

Every time this discussion arises I use this example: http://www.audiotool.com/

I think it's one of the best Flash examples out there.

Ofcourse you can do this already in Javascript and support only some nightly build browsers. But I think it will still take a while before this will be mainstream in Javascript.

Your game wont work on my Windows and IE... flash does though.

IE9 implements hardware accelerated canvas (and is as fast as Chrome in my tests).

Your flash games won't work on most phones, though.

You mean they won't work on iOS phones, that's like 2% of the web browsing market. Not to mention iOS HTML5 support is shit.

Just because Flash is available for Android phones doesn't mean people have it installed.

there are a number of projects that fix this. explorercanvas from google, which can be autoinstalled and doesn't require admin. then you have the SWF converters, and the live shims.

IE not implementing the tag isn't a big deal, since they expose the drawing (directx) interfaces anyway

I got a press release yesterday that said jquery was now more common than flash across the top websites. the 'flash is everywhere' argument is a bit 2004 and isn't true anymore . javascript is everywhere

"I got a press release yesterday that said jquery was now more common than flash across the top websites. the 'flash is everywhere' argument is a bit 2004 and isn't true anymore . javascript is everywhere"

That's not the same, though. Of course JavaScript is everywhere- it always has been, because it comes with browsers. The point is that Flash is also everywhere, because everyone has it installed.

explorercanvas from google, which can be autoinstalled and doesn't require admin

I think you mean Chrome frame here? explorercanvas is an implementation of Canvas on top of SVG for IE.

That is what I meant, couldn't edit to fix the mistake

If flash was just unstable, unbelievable demanding on system resources and a user experience mess that would've been fine. What you are missing is that flash is not much more than a cross platform security hole and an open door to a large percentage of all general purpose devices in existence (only surpassed by PDF, but luckily there are non-adobe readers for PDF).

Any alternative to showing videos on the web will obliterate the need for flash for pretty much all users, and it's hard to imagine any alternative actually being worse for that (but deciding on format sure seems tricky).

The security liability Flash presents is an important and under-appreciated issue today. I guess it wasn't on the radar so much when Nielsen wrote this article.

I didn't know until today that this spring's RSA hack used Flash:


The guys that did the RSA hack would have found another attack vector even if Flash wasn't installed. Maybe they would have gone for a Java applet based attack, or perhaps in the future they'll target WebGL. The more complex your browser's capabilities are, the more surface area you have exposed to attack. Even if you reduce that surface area considerably, for example, by switching over to text only browsing for all of your employees, a motivated attacker would probably just find some way to cause a buffer overflow in the browser's text parser... Where there is a will, there is a way.

The guys that did the RSA hack would have found another attack vector even if Flash wasn't installed ... The more complex your browser's capabilities are, the more surface area you have exposed to attack.

Perhaps, but interestingly enough the attack wasn't against a web browser, but against Excel running a Flash applet. Maybe that path was chosen because it's less carefully examined by security policy and security software; I don't know.

In any case, it's certainly true that this pathway wouldn't have been available if not for the unnecessary use of Flash in places where it doesn't belong, i.e., Excel. Which ties into the theme here rather nicely; Flash used unnecessarily is worse than Flash eschewed entirely.

3) Good Free Toolchain: You don't really have to shell out 600 dollars for Flash. You can get your stuff done for free, using FlashDevelop and Flex SDK.

Interesting, I always assumed you had to buy the full Flash IDE to do anything. Granted, I never really looked into it at, but I wonder how widely known this is? Am I just ignorant? :)

It's been a few years I've worked with Flash so I can't recall all the details, but we were doing nightly Ant builds of Flash projects with their SDK.

We only used the official Flash IDE for building animations, for programming, it all too easily allows for code to be flung everywhere and creates debugging nightmares (Flex and Flex Builder is a slightly different story).

I don't think it's widely known outside the circles of Flash game development. Most people who develop Flash games do it as a hobby and/or out of passion. Sure, you can make some money out of it, but if you want to make money, there are better ways to do it. I guess that's why it's a lot more important for us to find a free alternative.

It's pretty widely known. FlashDevelop is very popular, and then on top of that there are other non-Adobe IDEs as well.

FlashDevelop is a widely known alternative, just that it is available only for Windows and not the MAC.

FlashDevelop is the IDE though, the important bit is the Flex SDK which is Java based and runs on virtually anything. Write your code in TextMate or Sublime Text or vi or emacs or whatever and then compile it with the Flex SDK.

FlashDevelop is great, but it isn't an essential piece any more than Eclipse is an essential piece for building Java apps.

You seem to be ignoring the fact that Flash doesn't work properly on Linux, Android and iOS. Unless Adobe does something about it soon, Flash is going the way of the dodo.

Part of the problem is that people want Flash as a way to run games and websites that were built for the desktop in mind (the other one is video, which I think we can agree has been proven to be able to exist without Flash). How many games on Kongregate require a keyboard? How many websites that require Flash do it for nothing more than flashy graphics and sounds (restaurant sites, I'm looking at you) or ads?

It's nice for people to want their favorite Flash-based sites/games to work as-is on their phones and tablets, once you get down to it though, those sites/games just won't work well without major overhauls, and so instead of rewriting to Flash (with all its usability problems), why not give your users a better experience in a web-native or device-native form?

Please define "properly", at least regarding Linux. There is a performance hit under Linux, sure, but beyond that?

I'm using Linux myself full-time, but for flash games I might even consider Linux irrelevant if there is no way of getting good performance. The by far biggest part of the audience still uses windows and that probably won't change for quite a while.

The general issues I've had:

Flash is installed outside the package management system (particularly on distros emphasizing Free Software: Debian, Ubuntu, etc.). This has improved through packaged installers (the plug-in's still fetched from outside of repos), but only in very recent times.

Flash content fails to load at all. I actually have this problem on several platforms, presumably because I limit JavaScript execution, and many sites now rely on third-party scripts for content generation (hello, Gawker, yes, you).

The player is very resource-heavy. I'll browse with several score tabs open. On a sufficiently beefy box, that's tenable, but with flash, memory and CPU utilization go through the roof.

The browser plug-in crashes, frequently requiring a browser restart to restore it. Given that Flash is virtually always at best ancillary to my browsing session (where I use it it's almost exclusively as a video player), my preference would be to have an external video player (I have several excellent free ones at my disposal). The crashes are addressed in Chrome as tabs and plug-ins run as separate threads/processes, but this still affects Firefox/Iceweasel.

There are numerous security and privacy issues with Flash, for which we're wholly dependent on Adobe to please, eventually, maybe address these.

64 bit Linux support was a long, long, long time in coming (and IIRC it's still weak). Until Linux itself got 32/64 bit library support sorted (again, only in recent years), this was a significant PITA.

Given Nielsen's criticisms (which address Flash as a website UI element, not such things as Flash video and games), yes, Flash is at least 99% bad. Most use is still advertising (yuk) and idiotic slideshows (infuriating). Its valid uses (videos, maybe games) would still be better addressed through standalone utilities rather than in-browser plug-ins, IMO. I use my browser for work and information, not entertainment. I keep a lot of state in my browser sessions, and they tend to live for days if not weeks.

All in all, as a Linux user, up until 2008/2009, Flash was sufficiently a pain in the ass that I'd generally just not bother installing it. I install it now (it's gotten easy enough) but block the hell out of it, with my rare use-case being YouTube videos and the very occasional informational graphic which makes valid use of Flash.

Flash works great for me on Droid X and HP TouchPad (only devices I own). You seem to be ignoring the fact that older (and even current) browsers, tablets, and phones have varying support for HTML5.

What kind of marketshare is that though? Especially since the mobile platform invariably replaces Flash apps with native apps rather than HTML + JS ones.

Your points are valid and I think the article is referring to websites created in flash not games. For now, I think using flash for games is okay.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact