Adobe lays Flash to rest

After 24 years, Adobe Flash Player — the once-ubiquitous utility that fueled the Internet's transformation from text-only to a multimedia bonanza — is heading into the sunset.

Adobe this week issued its last Flash Player update and told users that the app would refuse to run content starting Jan. 12.

"Today marks the final scheduled release of Flash Player for all regions outside of Mainland China," Adobe wrote in a release note for the Dec. 8 update. "Adobe will no longer support Flash Player after December 31, 2020, and Adobe will block Flash content from running in Flash Player beginning January 12, 2021."

Adobe's good-bye marked the end of 24 years for Flash Player, the once-ubiquitous utility that fueled the Internet's transformation from text-only to a multimedia bonanza. But it was not unexpected.

In mid-2017, Adobe announced it would retire Flash from support and halt distribution of the application by the end of 2020. Adobe argued that ending Flash was triggered by the evolution and maturation of open standards — like HTML5, WebGL and WebAssembly — that "provide many of the capabilities and functionalities that plugins pioneered" and thus were "a viable alternative for content on the web."

What Adobe didn't mention was the security disaster Flash had become earlier in the century, the endless rounds of patching security vulnerabilities, often the worst "zero-day" kind, which had prompted so many content makers, former software partners and users to stiff-arm the player.

The big browser makers — Apple, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla — piggybacked on Adobe's July 2017 announcement with their own roadmaps for the end of Player. Because the vast bulk of Flash content was created for websites and run in web browsers, those four developers' plans carried enormous weight. (Last year, Computerworld returned to the topic for a status update on the browsers' progress.)

Here are how those browser makers will wrap up Flash — if they haven't already done so — late this year and early next.

Google Chrome

"Flash Player will be marked as out of date and will be blocked from loading" in Chrome come January, Google said in the Chromium roadmap.

The Chromium project, the Google-led effort that produces the technologies foundational to not only Chrome, but Microsoft's Edge as well, will also completely remove Flash support in January with the launch of Chrome 88, now set to debut Jan. 19. "It will no longer be possible to enable Flash Player with Enterprise policy in Chrome 88+," Google said.

Edge and Internet Explorer

Because Microsoft's Edge now relies on Chromium and Internet Explorer (IE) is maintained only as a legacy last resort for businesses, the Redmond, Wash. developer's path toward Flash finality is complicated.

But rather than spell out a set of steps it will take, Microsoft instead intends to go to the root of the problem and purge Flash from Windows. (That's something Adobe is not doing automatically, though it advised users to "help secure your system.")

For a thorough run-down on Microsoft's plans, including options for enterprises and how it will scrub Flash from Windows, users should check out this page from September, which remains current.

Microsoft plans to offer the uninstall-Flash update via Windows Update and Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) as an "optional" download "in early 2021," with a change to "recommended" a few months later.

That update was seeded to the Windows Update Catalog in late October, and so can be manually downloaded and deployed immediately by individuals and IT administrators. This list includes the update for all currently-supported versions of Windows.

During the summer of 2021 (the company wasn't more specific than that), Microsoft will purge the remaining evidence of Flash support from the original 2015 version of Edge and IE. "All the APIs, group polices and user interfaces that specifically govern the behavior of Adobe Flash Player will be removed from Microsoft Edge (legacy) and Internet Explorer 11 via the latest 'Cumulative Update'" of Windows 10," said Microsoft. At the same time, the "Update for Removal of Adobe Flash Player" will be embedded in the cumulative update (Windows 10) or monthly roll-up (Windows 8.1), meaning Flash will automatically be deleted.

Firefox

Mozilla has taken a straight-forward approach to rubbing out Flash. Firefox 84, which according to the release calendar will ship next week on Dec. 15, will be the "final version to support Flash," Mozilla stated here.

Firefox 85, now slated for release Jan. 26, 2021, will "ship without Flash support," Mozilla said in the same note.

Safari

Safari 14, the 2020 refresh that was bundled with the macOS 11 (aka "Big Sur") upgrade in November and offered in late September as an update to users running the earlier Catalina and Mojave versions of macOS, lacks any capability to run Flash content.

It's no shock that Apple was the first big browser maker to quash all Flash support. After all, Apple and Flash have had a contentious relationship: iOS has always been a no-Flash operating system and macOS stopped bundling the Adobe plug-in more than a decade ago.

Info for enterprises, including those that can't kick the Flash habit

Adobe's posted a page here with additional information specific to enterprises. Among that information: how to suppress the prompts workers see urging them to uninstall Flash, how to continue using Flash, most likely within the company's perimeter, and where to turn for third-party Flash support in 2021.

(This PDF of "Adobe Flash Player 32.0 Administration Guide" will be invaluable to enterprise admins tasked with the first and second examples above.)

The third example — third-party support for Flash — may be the most interesting. Adobe has partnered with Harman, the Connecticut company probably best known for the Harman Kardon and JBL audio equipment makers, to provide post-retirement support for Flash.

Harman's website spells it out. "Harman will offer support and security updates to Adobe Flash Player and can provide solutions until the end of 2023 and beyond," the company said. A contact form is available there to reach out for more information about what Harman offers.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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