Definition of Macromedia Flash

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Macromedia Flash, now known as Adobe Flash, is a tool for building interactive online content and animations. Web games and cartoons built with Flash were once ubiquitous on the internet, but it's since been replaced on many sites as browsers have allowed more sophisticated code to be written in the core Web languages HTML, JavaScript and CSS. Adobe has said it will stop distributing its Flash player by 2020.

What Is Macromedia Flash?

Macromedia Flash is a tool that allows powerful animations, interactive features and other complex elements to be embedded in Web pages.

It got its start in the mid-'90s as an animation tool called FutureSplash, built by a company called FutureWave. FutureWave distributed a tool called FutureSplash Animator that content creators could use to build cartoons. It also provided a second product called FutureSplash Player, which was an early Web browser plugin that could make the animations appear on websites that featured them.

In 1996, software company Macromedia bought the program and shortened its name to Macromedia Flash. Macromedia added additional features to the Flash creator and player, including a programming language called ActionScript, closely related to JavaScript.

ActionScript and the Interactive Web

ActionScript enabled developers to build complex interactive content into Flash files, which would be automatically shown when users visited websites with them loaded. Macromedia soon also released enhanced video support for the language at a time when internet video mostly required one browser plugin or another to work with any reliability. Sophisticated games and applications were built with Flash, as well as early versions of products like YouTube.

Sites using Flash could be slow to load at the time, especially for users still on dial-up connections, but they featured more sophisticated interactivity than could then be built with the Web programming languages HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Some sites were criticized at the time for excessive use of Flash, including restaurant menu pages with unskippable animated introductions or the use of Flash, which search engines had difficulty indexing, to store text content.

In 2005, Adobe acquired Macromedia, and the product has recently been known as Adobe Flash.

The Decline of Flash

Although Flash was widely used on desktop and laptop computers, it's never been supported by the iPhone. The platform was, among other things, too slow for early versions of the iPhone, and at the time the device came out, the Web languages built into browsers were getting more powerful.

The decision not to support Flash also encouraged many businesses to rebuild their Flash applications as smart phone apps.

Over the 2010s, organizations that used Flash began to shift toward HTML5, the latest version of the Web programming language, and the latest versions of JavaScript and CSS, which support high performance video and animations and other features once relegated to plugins. Even video-heavy platforms like YouTube and Facebook ultimately began to migrate away from Flash to HTML5 video.

By 2016, browser-makers including Google and Microsoft began to block Flash content by default amid concerns about performance and security. And, as of 2017, Adobe says it will stop distributing its Flash Player by 2020, encouraging content-makers to migrate their videos, animations and interactive features to newer technologies.

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