You can survive without Flash. And now Adobe might have to

Apple has hired Adobe's CTO. Is this the death of Flash?

The Chief Technology Officer of Adobe, Kevin Lynch, has been hired by Apple to be the new VP of Technology. Is is time to start celebrating the death of Flash?

In his old job, Lynch was the chief proponent of Flash, developed by Macromedia, his old employers, before the company was bought by Adobe and he earned his CTO role. And that role, as time went by, consisted more and more of attacking the most outspoken anti-Flash company in technology: Apple.

When the iPhone was launched in 2007, it was mocked for not having Flash installed. Adobe could reasonably claim that, for a "full" web experience, you needed its software. Of course, in 2007, the idea of any smartphone being able to run the incredibly poorly engineered Flash software was pretty much laughable, and although some Android phones came out the year later with a mobile version of Flash, they largely vindicated Apple's decision. When the plugin was turned on, they ran slowly, crashed frequently, and hoovered up battery life at an alarming rate.

The real shots were fired in 2010, when the iPad was launched. Apple's vision for the iPad was clearly a full, PC-quality version of the web. And if that vision didn't have Flash in it, it never would.

But Lynch carried on fighting, writing shortly after the launch of the iPad that:

Some have been surprised at the lack of inclusion of Flash Player on a recent magical device. […]

We are now on the verge of delivering Flash Player 10.1 for smartphones with all but one of the top manufacturers. This includes Google’s Android, RIM’s Blackberry, Nokia, Palm Pre and many others across form factors including not only smartphones but also tablets, netbooks, and internet-connected TVs. Flash in the browser provides a competitive advantage to these devices because it will enable their customers to browse the whole Web.

Since then, Palm has gone bust, Google has dropped support for Flash, and Nokia has adopted Windows Phone for its smartphones – which doesn't have Flash. Only BlackBerry is left supporting the plugin, although even it turns Flash off by default. And if your last hope rests on BlackBerry, you may as well start price-matching undertakers now.

Because here's the secret: you don't need Flash. And that's not "you don't need Flash on mobile devices". Unless you play a whole bunch of Flash games – and I'm not judging you if you do (I am totally judging you if you do) – then uninstalling Flash Player will make your browser quicker, less crash-prone and less ad-heavy.

I haven't had Flash on my Mac for 6 months. Nearly every site that uses Flash only uses it for adverts. And more and more things which used to require Flash now have a fall-back which works on modern browsers. Almost every video site will now happily play video through HTML5, and the days of functionality being limited to flash for e-commerce are over. Embarassingly, the biggest exception is the BBC iPlayer, which still only plays Flash video.

So there are still times when Flash makes things easier, and my personal fallback is an installation of Chrome. Google uses its own Flash player, which means that you can have a browser which uses Flash without it infecting everything else – and without allowing any of Adobe's other crudware onto your system (yes, I'm looking at you, Adobe Updater).

But the real question is, if Lynch's legacy at Adobe is the slow death of one is its only consumer products, what does Apple want with him.

An advert taken out by Adobe in May 2010, aimed at convincing Apple to include Flash on the iPad. It failed. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.