Today I tweeted a link to another stupid linkbait article proclaiming that Flash is dead. Of course, this set off a huge flurry of tweets about whether or not Flash is still breathing. And it made me realize that I haven’t made my current position on Flash very clear.
The fact is that I have no longer have any interest in Flash or ActionScript as a platform or language. While I did do some work with ActionScript and mobile AIR development while I was at Disney, I don’t think I’ve done any personal Flash development in two or three years. I don’t have Flash Authoring or Flash Builder or any other Flash development tools on any of the computers that I currently use.
But I’m not a Flash hater. I know a lot of people who jump started their development careers with Flash and have moved on and now rant and rave about how horrible it is and always was and how much they hate it now. I’m not in that camp. I have lots of great memories about Flash – both the technology and the community that it created.
So why did I jump ship? Short answer, I don’t see it as a viable, evolving technology for the future. That’s not the same as it being dead though. I look at it more that Flash has gone into retirement. Now, people who go into retirement are not dead. Many continue to have long, healthy, happy lives for decades to come. Some continue to do many productive things, have great experiences and learn new skills. But generally speaking, they’re not graduating college and looking for a new job to start their career. They’re winding down.
That’s where I see Flash. It had its Golden Age, and it was awesome. I’m super happy that I was a part of that. But that’s over. That doesn’t mean that it’s dead. In fact, Flash still does all the stuff that made it awesome, and does it as well as it ever did. It even continues to get some new features. And you can still use it for all that stuff. And many people still do, and they make a living at it, and likely will continue to be able to make a living at it for some time.
But, as I said, it’s not a viable, evolving technology. Looking at my years as a Flash developer, I started out with Flash 4. Flash 5 had groundbreaking changes and improvements. Eighteen months later, Flash MX blew everyone away with new features again. Flash MX 2004 gave us ActionScript 2.0. The next bunch of improvements get a bit hazy due to the player versions getting out of sync with the authoring versions, but we got BitmapData and crazy audio and video improvements, ActionScript 3.0, Flex, Flex/Flash Builder, Flash Catalyst, basic 3D and then Stage3D, and on and on.
But in the last few years, there has been nothing like that. Yes, Stage3D continues to get improvements, and AIR continues to get updates. And there are things here and there, but as an overall ecosystem, I feel like it’s largely in maintenance mode. I know people will deny this and start posting long lists of recent updates and improvements. But you can’t tell me that Adobe is anywhere near as committed to the future of Flash than it was 10 or even 5 years ago.
Where is Flex? Where is Flash Mobile? Where is Flash Catalyst? Where is any sign of Flash on Linux? (hint: gone, gone, gone and gone.) What is in store for the next version of ActionScript? (hint: there is no next version of ActionScript planned.) What improvements are upcoming for Flash Builder? (hint: none.) How many people were on the Flash team a few years ago and how many are on it now? (hint: fractional.) How is the Flash Platform monetized? (no hint. no clue.) How many people do you know who were full time Flash developers 5-6 years ago who don’t Flash at all now? (hint: a LOT.) How many of the numerous Flash conferences from 5-10 years ago are still held, and have not changed their name to exclude the concept of Flash? (hint: zero.)
Long, long before I was into development, long, long before most of you were into programming either, I knew a guy who was a programmer. An MIT graduate. He was really proficient in some particular language being run on some particular system. I can’t tell you what language or system because at the time, I couldn’t tell you the difference between C and BASIC. But he was one of the best at this system. He had this great, really well-paying job doing it. He worked there for years. Had it made. Then the company upgraded to a new system with a new language that he knew nothing about. So he was out of a job. And he went to look for a new job. And he realized that absolutely nobody used that old system or language anymore. He was so confident and complacent at his old job that he never bothered to learn any new language or system. Now, all his skills were completely obsolete and he could not get a new job. I think he wound up doing data entry somewhere. This is not a made up fable. This was a real guy that I knew well. I don’t want to be that guy, so every once in a while I put aside my likes and biases and take an honest look at the landscape around me and decide where technology is going so that I don’t paint myself into a corner. And that’s why I stopped doing Flash.