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It's Time to Prepare for a Flash-Free World

Nov 17, 2017 3 min.

The transition to a Flash-free world doesn’t have to cause tumult. 

Adobe Systems announced earlier this year that they’ve begun the process of sun-setting the Flash Player plug-in. By the end of 2020, the prevalent— albeit, much less so in recent years—plug-in will no longer be distributed nor updated.

The writing has been on the wall for some time: Given factors such as Flash’s infamous security vulnerabilities and the emergence of superior open standard formats, certain browsers such as Google Chrome (which recently dethroned Internet Explorer as the most popular web browser) deprioritize or flat-out do not support Flash content. Moreover, in an increasingly mobile-first world, Flash is a dead-end—it doesn’t work on Apple iOS devices and it’s sub-optimal on Android ones).

Why Was Flash So Important?

Since the nascent days of the internet and the initial release of Flash over 20 years ago, the plug-in has served as a multimedia viewing and application execution software, enabling everything from websites to games and mobile apps. Its capability to deliver a media-rich, engaging user experience—as well as to meet Section 508 accessibility standards—made it a popular format, particularly with the Federal Government, and, more specifically, for the development and execution of computer and web-based training. 

Of course, given this announcement, any website, eLearning course, standalone video/animation, or other platform using Flash is nearing the end of its function. If they haven’t already started experiencing issues, users—including learners, teams, and the public—won’t be able to access Flash-based content.  Additionally, any Federal products that must adhere to Section 508 accessibility standards and use Flash to do so will be rendered ineffectual, leaving users unassisted and making content owners vulnerable to legal grievances.

That is, of course, if content owners and creators do not act in the near future.

Future-Proofing is Key to a Smooth Transition

The transition to a Flash-free world doesn’t have to cause tumult. Given that the transition is still a few years away, we now have an an opportunity to “future-proof” websites, games, mobile applications, and eLearning products that rely on Flash, particularly those built using tools such as Adobe Captivate (pre-v.10), Adobe Presenter, Articulate Storyline 2, Trivantis Lectora (pre-v.17), Prezi, SmartBuilder, iSpring, and others. Here are some things content owners and creators can do:

  • Start developing migration plans. Begin by evaluating existing courseware for its reliance on Flash.  To determine if a product uses Flash or not, you may either 1) search the source files for “.swf” files or 2) right click with your mouse on the live content itself and see if you get and “About Adobe Flash Player” option in the opened menu box. Once you have identified at-risk products, you might consider whether a full product re-boot is in order (especially if the content, functionality, and/or visual style is out-of-date) or if a straight conversion to a new technology is more appropriate.
  • Convert existing Flash-based content to more adaptable, open standards such as HTML 5, WebGL, and WebAssembly. Depending on the availability of source files, developers may be able to salvage original product assets (e.g., text content, images, video, visual style information, etc.) and rebuild the product using newer technologies to better meet the requirements of modern browsers and devices. Otherwise, developers – with the assistance of content designers – may use the original product as a template for the ground-up construction of a more modern version.  
  •   Prepare your audience and participating stakeholders.  Your user community is at the heart of this transition (the entire aim of the effort is to ensure uninterrupted service to your audience). While the goal of any transition should be seamless change, you will want to consider roll-out dynamics (e.g., how will you notify users of the update? Is a notification outreach even required? After rolling out your modern product, should the older Flash-version remain available for users that are currently engaged?) Additionally, you will need to coordinate with hosting providers (server admins, LMS admins, etc.) to discuss the process for launching your upgraded product.

How are you preparing for the Flash retirement? What else should leaders and teams keep in mind as the 2020 deadline approaches? Tell us what you think on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

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