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.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Five things we've learned from Labour conference

The party won't split, Corbynite divisions are growing and MPs have accepted Brexit. 

Labour won't split anytime soon

For months, in anticipation of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election, the media had speculated about the possibility of a Labour split. But the party’s conference confirmed that MPs have no intention of pursuing this course (as I had long written). They are tribally loyal to Labour and fear that a split would prove electorally ruinous under first-past-the-post. Many still expect Theresa May to hold an early general election and are focused on retaining their seats.

Rather than splitting, Corbyn’s opponents will increase their level of internal organisation in a manner reminiscent of the left’s Socialist Campaign Group. The “shadow shadow cabinet” will assert itself through backbench policy committees and, potentially, a new body (such as the proposed “2020 group”). Their aim is to promote an alternative direction for Labour and to produce the ideas and organisation that future success would depend on.

MPs do not dismiss the possibility of a split if their “hand is forced” through a wave of deselections or if the left achieves permanent control of the party. But they expect Labour to fight the next election as a united force.

Neither the Corbynites nor the rebels have ultimate control 

Corbyn’s second landslide victory confirmed the left’s dominance among the membership. He increased his winning margin and triumphed in every section. But beyond this, the left’s position is far more tenuous.

The addition of Scottish and Welsh representatives to the National Executive Committee handed Corbyn’s opponents control of Labour’s ruling body. Any hope of radically reshaping the party’s rule book has ended.

For weeks, Corbyn’s allies have spoken of their desire to remove general secretary Iain McNicol and deputy leader Tom Watson. But the former is now safe in his position, while the latter has been strengthened by his rapturously received speech.

Were Corbyn to eventually resign or be defeated, another left candidate (such as John McDonnell) would struggle to make the ballot. Nominations from 15 per cent of MPs are required but just six per cent are committed Corbynites (though selection contests and seat losses could aid their cause). It’s for this reason that allies of the leader are pushing for the threshold to be reduced to five per cent. Unless they succeed, the hard-left’s dominance is from assured. Were an alternative candidate, such as Clive Lewis or Angela Rayner, to succeed it would only be by offering themselves as a softer alternative.

Corbynite divisions are intensifying 

The divide between Corbyn’s supporters and opponents has recently monopolised attention. But the conference showed why divisions among the former should be interrogated.

Shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis, an early Corbyn backer, was enraged when his speech was amended to exclude a line announcing that Labour’s pro-Trident stance would not be reversed. Though Lewis opposes renewal, he regards unilateralism as an obstacle to unifying the party around a left economic programme. The longer Corbyn remains leader, the greater the tension between pragmatism and radicalism will become. Lewis may have alienated CND but he has improved his standing among MPs, some of whom hail him as a bridge between the hard and soft left.

Elsewhere, the briefing against McDonnell by Corbyn allies, who suggested he was an obstacle to recruiting frontbenchers, showed how tensions between their respective teams will continue.

Labour has accepted Brexit

Ninety four per cent of Labour MPs backed the Remain campaign during the EU referendum. But by a similar margin, they have accepted the Leave vote. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, both long-standing eurosceptics, confirmed that they would not seek to prevent Brexit.

Owen Smith called for a referendum on the eventual deal during his leadership campaign. But with some exceptions, such as Angela Eagle, most of his backers have rejected the idea. Though 48 per cent of the electorate voted Remain, MPs emphasise that only 35 per cent of constituencies did. Some still fear an SNP-style surge for Ukip if Labour seeks to overturn the outcome.

The debate has moved to Britain’s future relationship with Europe, most notably the degree of free movement. For Labour, like Theresa May, Brexit means Brexit.

Corbyn will not condemn deselections 

The Labour leader could have won credit from MPs by unambiguously condemning deselection attempts. But repeatedly invited to do so, he refused. Corbyn instead defended local parties’ rights and stated that the “vast majority” of MPs had nothing to fear (a line hardly reassuring to those who do). Angela Eagle, Stella Creasy and Peter Kyle are among the rebels targeted by activists.

Corbyn can reasonably point out that the rules remain the same as under previous leaders. MPs who lose trigger ballots of their local branches face a full and open selection. But Labour’s intensified divisions mean deselection has become a far greater threat. MPs fear that Corbyn relishes the opportunity to remake the parliamentary party in his own images.  And some of the leader’s allies hope to ease the process by reviving mandatory reselection. Unless Corbyn changes his line, the issue will spark continual conflict. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.