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.

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Let's turn RBS into a bank for the public interest

A tarnished symbol of global finance could be remade as a network of local banks. 

The Royal Bank of Scotland has now been losing money for nine consecutive years. Today’s announcement of a further £7bn yearly loss at the publicly-owned bank is just the latest evidence that RBS is essentially unsellable. The difference this time is that the Government seems finally to have accepted that fact.

Up until now, the government had been reluctant to intervene in the running of the business, instead insisting that it will be sold back to the private sector when the time is right. But these losses come just a week after the government announced that it is abandoning plans to sell Williams & Glynn – an RBS subsidiary which has over 300 branches and £22bn of customer deposits.

After a series of expensive delays and a lack of buyer interest, the government now plans to retain Williams & Glynn within the RBS group and instead attempt to boost competition in the business lending market by granting smaller "challenger banks" access to RBS’s branch infrastructure. It also plans to provide funding to encourage small businesses to switch their accounts away from RBS.

As a major public asset, RBS should be used to help achieve wider objectives. Improving how the banking sector serves small businesses should be the top priority, and it is good to see the government start to move in this direction. But to make the most of RBS, they should be going much further.

The public stake in RBS gives us a unique opportunity to create new banking institutions that will genuinely put the interests of the UK’s small businesses first. The New Economics Foundation has proposed turning RBS into a network of local banks with a public interest mandate to serve their local area, lend to small businesses and provide universal access to banking services. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and meeting the needs of those who feel left behind, this is the path they should take with RBS.

Small and medium sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and they depend on banking services to fund investment and provide a safe place to store money. For centuries a healthy relationship between businesses and banks has been a cornerstone of UK prosperity.

However, in recent decades this relationship has broken down. Small businesses have repeatedly fallen victim to exploitative practice by the big banks, including the the mis-selling of loans and instances of deliberate asset stripping. Affected business owners have not only lost their livelihoods due to the stress of their treatment at the hands of these banks, but have also experienced family break-ups and deteriorating physical and mental health. Others have been made homeless or bankrupt.

Meanwhile, many businesses struggle to get access to the finance they need to grow and expand. Small firms have always had trouble accessing finance, but in recent decades this problem has intensified as the UK banking sector has come to be dominated by a handful of large, universal, shareholder-owned banks.

Without a focus on specific geographical areas or social objectives, these banks choose to lend to the most profitable activities, and lending to local businesses tends to be less profitable than other activities such as mortgage lending and lending to other financial institutions.

The result is that since the mid-1980s the share of lending going to non-financial businesses has been falling rapidly. Today, lending to small and medium sized businesses accounts for just 4 per cent of bank lending.

Of the relatively small amount of business lending that does occur in the UK, most is heavily concentrated in London and surrounding areas. The UK’s homogenous and highly concentrated banking sector is therefore hampering economic development, starving communities of investment and making regional imbalances worse.

The government’s plans to encourage business customers to switch away from RBS to another bank will not do much to solve this problem. With the market dominated by a small number of large shareholder-owned banks who all behave in similar ways (and who have been hit by repeated scandals), businesses do not have any real choice.

If the government were to go further and turn RBS into a network of local banks, it would be a vital first step in regenerating disenfranchised communities, rebalancing the UK’s economy and staving off any economic downturn that may be on the horizon. Evidence shows that geographically limited stakeholder banks direct a much greater proportion of their capital towards lending in the real economy. By only investing in their local area, these banks help create and retain wealth regionally rather than making existing geographic imbalances worce.

Big, deep challenges require big, deep solutions. It’s time for the government to make banking work for small businesses once again.

Laurie Macfarlane is an economist at the New Economics Foundation