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The death of Flash

Podcasts and Audio | 18.09.2017

This week, the team discuss the much publicised death of Flash, from a designer, technical and end user perspective.

Paul Westlake  0:00  

Welcome to Kineo stream of thought. I'm Paul Westlake solutions consultant at Kineo. And today we're discussing the death of flash. Pleased to say today, I'm joined by 

Pete Smith  0:16  

Pete Smith. tech team lead,

Kirsty Hames  0:18  

Kirsty Hames, front end developer,

Tom Adams  0:20  

Tom Adams, senior lead learning designer.

Paul Westlake  0:22  

So I think we've all heard in the press about the reported death of flash, I think it's something that's been coming for many, many years. But it seems at the moment, there's a real definite date on it. And I think Adobe are helping that by finally admitting that they're gonna stop developing or stop supporting flash from 2020. I think so. If it's not an obvious question, why does that matter to us in elearning? And what's wrong with flash?

Tom Adams  0:44  

From my perspective, I haven't been designing things for a specific delivery in Flash for quite a few years now. It's been much more around sort of the adapt html5 framework. So for me, when we first when I was first aware of the topic for the podcast, I kind of thought, well, is anybody doing anything in Flash now anyway, and I'm not sure if people are still building things in Flash, or whether it's more of a legacy thing, that people have got large libraries of courses that still exist, and they may not be able to access potentially in the future, 

Paul Westlake  1:20  

As you just need taken that from a obviously a designer's perspective and your specifically working in certain tools, from a sales perspective for myself, you I think you'd be surprised at how many of our clients do still have a legacy sort of catalog. In some cases, a lot of courses that were written in Flash and a questioning are still going to work, you know, yeah, we wont developing anything new in Flash, so it's not going to go away. Is that is that fair, that they think that

Pete Smith  1:44  

I think there's an element of truth to that. I mean, I do agree with Tom, where, for the last few years, the only flash word that we've really seen come into the team has been ammends to existing courses, we've had very, very few requests for completely brand new, bespoke flash courses, it has happened but generally, people are looking ahead to the future when the commissioning new courses. And they've realised the future doesn't actually really include flash, we've had that message for at least the last four or five years. So hopefully, it's not coming as a surprise to anyone. At the same time, I know you're right, I know, there's a whole ocean of flash courses out there, which is still being used by clients, and which at some point will need to be updated before everything stops supporting it.

Paul Westlake  2:32  

And when you say before everything stops supporting, what's the danger for those people? those courses surely aren't just gonna stop working overnight? Or are they?

Pete Smith  2:39  

Well, they, they haven't worked on touch devices. So iOS devices, ever. The danger now is that desktops at long last are going to stop supporting them. So already, we are seeing some of the leading browsers not enabling the Adobe Flash plugin by default. And Safari is going to go that way. Very shortly, Chrome is going to stop having it enabled by default. And so people are going to have to fiddle around with their settings in the fairly near future to actually see that

Paul Westlake  3:10  

why are those browsers stopping to support that Pete is that security concerns, or is it just, you know, there's no point support anymore? because no one's developing in it? Is it sort of that catch 22? Or is there another reason why, you know, Google with Chrome Apple Safari are deciding not to support that?

Pete Smith  3:26  

That's a very good and a very big question. There are lots of different reasons why all the major browser manufacturers have decided to go down this route and stop supporting flash. The most cited one is probably the security issue. It's it's a bit of a difficult issue, though, because security is a problem for browsers anyway. Flash is just one element of that security picture. But increasingly, the the kind of web content that you see which uses flash are things like adverts are the things which the owners of a website don't necessarily build. And they have caused all sorts of performance issues over the years. They are potential security risks. So yes, that is one fairly major reason

Paul Westlake  4:09  

So from a designer's perspective, then or developers perspective, do we? Do we need to bear something else in mind? If we're not developing in flash? What what changes? What How do your job roles change Because we're not developing in Flash anymore and we're maybe using this html5?

Kirsty Hames  4:24  

Oh, I think clients requirements and the things thereafter are changing as well, which is probably one of the reasons why we're moving further away from flash. So for now, a lot of people want the web page sort of experience they want scrolling pages, as is something we don't really do in Flash. They want wider support for devices for browsers. A lot of elearning is global. So we're having to do translations. We're looking at right to left support. There's just a lot more things we consider now that maybe we weren't thinking about, say 5 10 years ago,

Paul Westlake  4:57  

or maybe looking at mobile first as well. You know Pete already said this stuff doesn't work on iPhones. Well, you know, I think the assumption certainly when I go speak to a client now about any piece of learning, it's not does it work on a on a mobile? In a lot of cases, it's flipped, and it's now Can they do this on the desktop if they wanted to, you know, so the assumption is, I think it's mobile first, which, again, you know, pretty much counts flash out from from the get go.

Tom Adams  5:22  

Yeah, and I think from a learning design perspective, the way that we put put content together now is quite different from how we did it in the Flash days in Flash, it was very much done on a screen by screen basis. So content was kind of chunked up and the learner would work through it in quite a linear way. But now with a longer scrolling page, you can kind of make more content available to the learner within one page. So they can scroll around and scroll back up. And, and it's just a different experience for them. And it does open up new avenues of thought when it comes to design, not just designing for desktops, which it was much more in the flash days, but also designing from from a mobile first and thinking about the user interface and user experience across different devices, which we didn't think about so much before.

Paul Westlake  6:08  

But that would imply we should be thanking Adobe for killing off if we are going towards scrolling pages and, you know, a decent user experience repeated learning and make a nice change get away from the click next button. Yeah,

Tom Adams  6:19  

well, yes, it's, it's, it's interesting for a learning designer to have a variety of different layouts and styles and approaches available. So we can still do like a click next style, 

Paul Westlake  6:34  

Retro style.

Tom Adams  6:35  

 Yeah, like, we can still do that experience. But we've got other, we're not restricted to just that one. We can do other things, too, which is always nice.

Paul Westlake  6:41  

So without wanting to scare mongering, imagine I'm a client and I've got a, you know, a big suite of elearning content or written in Flash, does the job content, you know, maybe you could do with a bit of spruce up in terms of look and feel. But other than that it's not doing the job for me. So we're saying that the danger there potentially, is that this could literally stop working if the browser that might people viewing it on doesn't support flash anymore? So that's the first bit of nothing? The answer is, yes, potentially, it could. So then think of that as the worst case scenario, then I'm now in a position where I need to do something with all of this content to update it to html5. And is that just a is that easy to do is It bring it into a tool and you know republish it out with a different drop down setting to say, don't use flash anymore use html5 or, you know, is it that easy?

Pete Smith  7:32  

Ive got to go with no,

Paul Westlake  7:34  

that was my concern. And I'm sure that was the case. So How can people what can people do about it does it need to be totally redesigned? Again,

Pete Smith  7:40  

A lot of it depends on what the the course was built in. If it was a bespoke Flash course. And yes, we'd need to take a fresh look at the functionality and build  it again in another platform, whether it's an authoring tool, whether it's Adapt or whether it's something else entirely,

Paul Westlake  7:54  

Which may not be a bad thing, by the way, because it means we can go back and revisit as Tom was saying, and maybe look at in a slightly different way.

Pete Smith  7:59  

That's right, it might not be a bad thing at all. And actually, even though the world of elearning has changed, a lot of the interactions that we use on a regular basis, are actually going to be fairly similar, or they will have their equivalents. It's the only area where we're going to really struggle, I think, is where we've built something which is particularly rich, or particularly in the area of games, because that's the final thing that we've not touched on with Flash. And actually, that's a final area where Flash has been thriving up until now. It's those small web based video games that you see or used to see all the time and Facebook, and right the way across the web. So anything which is a good rich multimedia game built in Flash, we're going to have to have a bit of a think about the best way of building it.

Tom Adams  8:45  

And I think that the other thing to bear in mind, if you've got old Flash courses that need to be rebuilt, not only is it a good time to rethink the design, potentially, but also things like accessibility, because Flash was notoriously bad for allowing or meeting any kind of accessibility requirements. And now more modern tools or frameworks have elements in place that make compatibility with a screen reader and other sort of tab tab through functionality easier, better than it was in the Flash days.

Kirsty Hames  9:24  

It's not the fact that Flash wasn't accessible, it just it was quite limited. And I think it was quite a bit of a difficult setup as well. Whereas html5 is semantic language, so already, you have accessibility to a certain degree. There's still a lot of further work we have to do to make accessibility to make sure via screen reader compatible. But I think we've got more scope with html5 and what we can do with it, as opposed to flash.

Paul Westlake  9:56  

And is html5 a standard now as in does everyone use the same html5? Is that where we're at? 

Kirsty Hames  10:04  

Yeah Well thats good beacuse I think when Steve Jobs started talking about the sort of death flash, but he was saying about, are we using a version of html5, and I think that was part of the worry, it was more is everyone using that same version of different, but we are in a position, now we've got a standard. 

Pete Smith  10:17  

html5 was a very big standard, it took ages for the browser's to actually catch up and implement the bulk of it. And it's still developing as well. So you will find new things constantly coming in. And the problem I was talking about before of supporting multiple different browsers, all of them have got a slightly different implementation, or a slightly different take on some aspects of html5. And not all of them will have implemented quite as much the total standard as some of the others.

Paul Westlake  10:51  

But most of the modern authoring tools that we can buy off the shelf, I know we create a lot of stuff by hand off by by scratch from scratch, if you like in Adapt, but the likes of Storyline and Rise, and they all export to html5 dont they with a drop down. So they're quite happily supporting that.

Pete Smith  11:08  

Yes, they do. And they have done for quite some time. I think Storyline was the the last to cling on to Flash as the default way of publishing that content. But yes, all of the more modern ones, all use html5,

Paul Westlake  11:22  

Okay, is there anything that we miss from Flash or, or having to look at in a slightly different way? So I'm thinking, from what I've seen, were saying an Adapt course, it's not common for us to do the dreaded drag and drop, which I'm not suggesting is a bad thing. But do we not do so much of that sort of thing, because that was easier and more, in quote, gamey that we would have been easier to do in Flash Do we? Do we have to think about things in a slightly different way, if we're not developing in Flash,

Kirsty Hames  11:49  

There's one reason as well, why we kind of avoid those sort of interactions as well as they're not very accessible. 

Paul Westlake  11:54  

Right

Kirsty Hames  11:55  

It's kind of hard to have a partially sighted user or blind having to do

Paul Westlake  12:01  

pick this up and throw in that bucket or drag and drop it here. Exactly.

Tom Adams  12:04  

And also with a small in a with a smartphone sized screen. Yeah, the accessibility thing is a big thing, but also just a general usability thing. So if you've got a small screen, and you're you're dragging small drag items into small boxes, that may or may not be visible within the screen size that you're looking at, it can get a bit, finicky, poor experience.

Pete Smith  12:29  

That was actually one of the reasons that Steve Jobs originally cited for not wanting to support Flash on his iPhone, it was the fact that Flash was very much designed around a keyboard and mouse. And so there was an expectation there that you would use a mouse for most of those interactions. And it wasn't designed with the idea of having gesture control.

Paul Westlake  12:51  

Yeah. And as we know, now, you know, we in probably the last, I'd say, probably in the last two years, we've moved from a position of a certainly a conversation im having with clients, which is can it work on an iPhone, or can it work on an iPad, which the conversation happening two years ago to, you know, the assumption is, it works on most things now. And occasionally, we might need to do it on a desktop. So you know, I think by moving away from Flash, you know, we're sort of breaking those shackles and let people do it on the devices, they actually have, rather than, you know, what they've been told they can use. And similarly, obviously, my background of being in a big corporate, where we have machines that were massively locked down, you know, people didn't have a say in what they installed on their machine, they were given a machine, even installing plugins that let Flash play at certain times was a pain, it was difficult. So you know, overnight, again, I got a new laptop, and lo and behold, I can't access an elearning content anymore. And we can't have it like that with compliance learning,

Pete Smith  13:45  

oh, there are some real horror storys. So that's so I do get flashbacks, those days.

Paul Westlake  13:49  

Oh flash backs very good

Pete Smith  13:50  

Thank you. Because Adobe controlled those releases. And every now and then they would come up with a release, which had a really horrible bug in it. And while they would patch it and fix it pretty quickly, you would occasionally find that that was the release that your major corporate clients have chosen for their six monthly flash updates. And so suddenly, you get a call from the client saying that every single one of our courses, which worked perfectly up to that point was broken. And how are you going to fix it?

Paul Westlake  14:18  

Yes. It suddenly became our point and maybe Steve Jobs did have a  point then . because I think it was part of what he was worried about with the phones. You know, is something going to change on Flash, and all of a sudden, the phones aren't going to work. And we're gonna have queues at the Apple Store saying, Why doesn't this device I bought off you actually works, and maybe,

Pete Smith  14:33  

well, possibly. I'm not entirely convinced. 

Paul Westlake  14:37  

So let's imagine then I am this corporate that's got a whole suite of Flash courses. I know that I'm on a burning platform. I know I've got to do something about it. Well, how do I get started?

Tom Adams  14:49  

So I think rather than seeing it as a sort of potential problem, you could look at it quite positively and that it's a really good opportunity to revisit your existing library. Make sure that everything's still up to date and fit, fit for purpose, identify things that you do want to convert into a new format, and then look at different ways of doing that. So obviously, we can do that here at Kineo. Or you can look at different ways of doing it within the tools that you might use in house. But But yeah, as I said, it's a good opportunity to revisit your content, rethink the design, and maybe redesign it in a way that's going to make the most of all the different devices that are now available.

Paul Westlake  15:35  

If you'd like to continue the conversation or would like to discuss how to get started with your own content conversion, you could drop us a line on @Kineo on Twitter or contact us at kineo.com


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Your speakers are


Kirsty Hames

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Kirsty is responsible for turning flat mocks into live designs. She collaborates with designers and art directors, specialising in responsive design and user experience. She's a front end developer for the UK content team, mainly working with the Adapt framework.

Paul Westlake

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Paul was previously a Solutions Consultant at Kineo.

Pete Smith

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As a Technical Team Lead, Pete manages our team of Senior Technical Consultants and Front End Developers as well as taking accountability for the technical robustness and suitability of Kineo’s elearning and learning content. Pete also helps drive forward technical innovation working with our Technical Director and Head of Innovation to identify new opportunities for Kineo to branch into. Pete has a key role in the development of our Adapt framework and technical roadmaps for our proprietary tools and development.

Tom Adams

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Tom is passionate about learning, development, and new technology and has experience in face-to-face as well as digital learning contexts.

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