The once-popular browser plugin is being displaced by widespread adoption of HTML5 and related technologies.
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- The number of Chrome users who loaded a page with Flash content was less than 8% as of early 2018, down from 80% in 2014.
- Adobe is planning to end support for Flash at the end of 2020.
At the 2018 Network and Distributed System Security Symposium last week, Google Director of Engineering Parisa Tabriz announced that the number of Chrome users who had loaded at least one page containing Adobe Flash content had fallen to under 8% as of 2018. The figure is a dramatic drop from the 80% observed in 2014.
The protracted death of Flash has had a lot of help along the way. Google stopped accepting advertisements made in Flash on their advertising platform in June 2016, and banned them outright at the start of 2017. As Google dominates the online advertising market, this move was quickly copied by other advertising networks.
Similarly, Google demoted Flash to "click-to-play" status with the release of Chrome 53 in August 2016, in order to improve battery life on laptops, boost performance, and increase security. Other browsers, including Safari and Firefox, have since followed suit.
Flash has also never worked particularly well on mobile. iOS never supported it, the absence of which prompted an infamous memo from Steve Jobs excoriating the plugin. Support in Android was withdrawn in Jelly Bean (4.1), released in June 2012. Competing platforms like the Blackberry Playbook supported and actively marketed the existence of Flash support, though they ultimately failed to make any significant dent in the mobile OS market.
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Adobe announced last July that Flash will reach end of life on December 31, 2020. Google will remove Flash from Chrome in version 87, which is expected for release in December 2020, according to BleepingComputer. According to that report, Flash will be disabled by default starting in Chrome 76, which is expected for release in July 2019. This change will require users to manually enable Flash in settings before the click-to-play prompt will be displayed.
As adoption of HTML5 features increases across the Web, classic browser plugins are facing obsolescence. Google removed support for Java applets from Chrome in September 2015, with Oracle declaring applets deprecated in January 2016. Firefox removed support in March 2017. As some industries continue to rely on Java applets created years ago, the need to update is increasingly urgent.
Similarly, the marginally popular Microsoft Silverlight is facing end-of-life. Formal end of support will not happen until October 2021, though support has already been removed from Firefox and Chrome. Microsoft never implemented a Silverlight plugin for Edge, the browser that debuted in Windows 10 as a replacement to Internet Explorer. Support for Silverlight is still present in Safari 11 on OS X, however.
Despite it nearing end-of-life, it is important to keep Flash updated. Flash continues to be a popular target for hackers, and a zero day exploit for the browser plugin was discovered in South Korea last month.
- Special report: The future of Everything as a Service (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- Windows security: Microsoft issues Adobe patch to tackle Flash zero-day (ZDNet)
- Net neutrality: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- Video: "Security princess" Parisa Tabriz is Google's secret weapon (CBS News)
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