During the CD-ROM era of the 90s the only real game in town was Macromind Director. The program first started life out as an animation program bit with the boom in multimedia Director gained a programming language called Lingo and had a loyal following. Then the damn web came along and ruined it all: There was a web version of Director called Shockwave, but due to the overhead of bitmap graphics another program called Flash started to build rapid momentum. Macromedia would acquire Flash and rumor has it that Director is still around but the notion of getting a Lingo gig is history. And now that it’s the year 2010 I’m seeing the same thing slowly start to happen to Flash all over again.
Above: Future Splash Animator from 1996, the program that would become Flash.
Keep in mind that as someone who focuses on online games I love Flash, but when Apple introduced the iPhone I found myself of the outside for the first time in years. Mobile devices are the frontier for new media (as we use to call it) and if you’re a Flash developer the problem is that Apple, Google, Microsoft and even Palm have no vested interest in helping Adobe.
The truth is that this isn’t a technical issue but a political one, and as a Flash shop my only hope is that Apple, Google or Microsoft buys out Adobe. However I don’t see that in the cards: Apple views Flash as a delivery mechanism for video and they have QuickTime. Google has no strategic interest in buying Adobe when they can support open standards. And of course Microsoft has Silverlight which was always billed as a Flash killer.
My problem is that I’m using Flash to develop online games for kids, however that’s a small niche market in the bigger picture. My guess would be that the biggest use for Flash is video (YouTube being the most high profile example), however with HTML 5 coming there may not be a need for a video plugin. Another use for Flash has always been to create multimedia interfaces for websites, however AJAX has started to really to really chip away at that market. Yes a microsite for a Hollywood film might still use Flash but my guess is that 80% of animated slideshows that you see out there are powered by AJAX scripts.
Above: HyperCard was still around in 1996 but it was out of the limelight.
I don’t think Flash is going to die right away, but I do fear that it’s going to fade with time. I first watched this HyperCard in the 90s: This easy to use tool for non-programmers introduced a generation to interactive media, but being stuck on the Mac and limited to black-and-white Director and Visual Basic took its place. All these years later there are still folks begging Steve Jobs to bring HyperCard back, but it will only gather dust in the Apple museum next to the Newton and a Pippin.