Mozilla takes on Flash

Introducing Shumway, Mozilla’s open source, JavaScript-based SWF renderer. That’s right: Mozilla is making good on its promise (or threat) to create a native Web technology that will do everything the Flash player does.

Mozilla intends to completely eradicate the need for any browser plugins and “advance the open web platform to securely process rich media formats” as they state in the blog post that introduced the Shumway project nearly a year ago. To that end, they’ve been focusing on the web’s most popular plugins, including the sticky, persistent (and CPU-hungry) Flash player.

Despite early hopes that HTML5 would gracefully and efficiently replace Flash for video handling and more, too many hurdles remain. Besides the tons of legacy Flash content — that won’t be going away anytime soon — HTML5 is a much more time-intensive medium for creators of advanced animations, and has yet to offer consistent experiences across browsers and platforms. Perhaps the biggest disappointment: even the cleanest HTML5 doesn’t deliver smooth, lag-free experiences that compare with a well-coded Flash presentation.

Shumway has been available as a browser extension for some time now, but significantly, core code was also placed in the Firefox Nightly on October 2.

If you decide to check out the Shumway-loaded release of the Nightly, be aware you’ll still need to fiddle with a few things to activate it: it’s not enabled by default. Check the post for the list of steps that will get it going.

So far, Shumway is too wobbly for prime time, with inconsistent performance, including some confusing behavior and some utter fails. Still, this is a virtually embryonic release, barely the faintest foreshadowing of an Alpha version… and Mozilla’s forward progress on the project can be best described as unrelenting.

It’s hard to predict if Shumway will succeed in finally killing the Flash player, but if Adobe had made this kind of progress developing an open source SWF interpreter five years ago the Flash platform would have experienced virtually no decline at all.

Would an open source Flash player alternative tempt you back to the SWF format? Is Flash better off forgotten? Let us know in the comments.

  • Allan

    I think we should embrace new technology such as Shumway which is open source SWF render. Flash is proprietary, so it may fade out gradually, as people gladly accept open source technologies.

  • Professor Tiki Ohana

    Would this mean that we could still use Flash to create SWFs to be ran in Shumway? (Apologies, I’m working on 3 hours of sleep for 4 days, and I am trying to put this altogether.)

    That said, another tool is simply another tool. It would just have to be the right one and how much it is adopted/supported across all browsers. If one browser uses it and the rest say no, and drop Flash altogether then it doesn’t really do me any good.

    I say this, though, as I am interested in how this plays out and am very much keeping an open mind..

    • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      Yes, it’s not a replacement for SWF, it’s a replacement for the Flash player, not the authoring tool. So, you’d produce content in Flash CC, Flash CS6 (or whichever version) and users running Firefox wouldn’t need the plugin installed, just as they don’t for HTML5 content.

  • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

    All of those problems are associated with the Flash player, which is what Mozilla is aiming to replace, they’re not necessarily inherent to the SWF format.

    I’m not convinced of the need for more Flash either, but there are plenty of things it does that HTML5 can’t. Streaming content, persistent states etc.

    • Pavel

      Can’t we use WebSockets for streaming and all kinds of storages for saving changes?

      • fireball70

        “…like battery drain, cpu usage, cpu heat and so on…”
        It’s not flash problems, but developers problems. I think that “battery drain, cpu usage, cpu heat” can be reproduced very easy with javascript and HTML5.

      • Pavel

        “It’s not flash problems, but developers problems”.

        Do you really think that guys in Google (Youtube) or Vimeo are not smart enough to figure it out how to make it work properly? I don’t think so. Watching a video in 720p through flashplayer on a site or watching the same downloaded video using desktop app (like default QuickTime on Mac) makes big difference for cpu.

        “can be reproduced very easy with javascript and HTML5.”

        You are absolutely right. But the thing is that these problems are not there from the beginning. I mean that if you don’t bloat your app/site with some poorly implemented features (like crappy version of parallax), you won’t get these problems. In case of flash it is very hard to avoid just because more often then not it’s required to view the content. You simply does not have any option. The only options are either to use flash, or not view the content.

        I hope that this new Mozilla initiative will fix it.

      • YopSolo

        Yep Flash is less used for website, but is well and alive for gaming and video on the web.

        Flash video have better perf than html video tag, because stagevideo is gpu accelerated on more computer than mundane web tech.

      • Disc7

        “Watching a video in 720p through flashplayer on a site or watching the same downloaded video using desktop app (like default QuickTime on Mac) makes big difference for cpu”

        This gets trotted out repeatedly by Mac users when running down video playout with Flash. Flash, as well as handling progressive and streaming video playout reasonably competently (on a Mac) is designed to do 100’s of other tasks like complex vector and bitmap manipulation, 3D graphics, remote service loading/parsing, data encryption/decryption, to name a few. QuickTime, VLC etc. are designed to handle 1 task: video playout. Comparing Flash to QuickTime (or VLC) on a Mac, either embedded on a web page or on the desktop (with Adobe AIR) is not in any way comparing like with like.

        “In case of flash it is very hard to avoid”

        I would respectively, disagree. As fireball70 said, in the hands of an experienced software developer, and when optimised correctly with tools like the memory profiler in FB and Adobe Scout, Flash can be memory leak free and run smoothly, even on a Mac.

        The new Mozilla initiative will not fix poorly written code. Maybe it will be a bit more forgiving as it’s running natively in a browser? In the same way that poorly written JavaScript code is less obviously broken than ActionScript running in the Flash player.

        It is tho very interesting news for Flash/ ActionScript developers.

      • Mirko Fisic

        Great answer :), a problem was always with developers newer with flash.

      • sinious

        Well, let’s put your money where your mouth is. Flash playback of video is MORE efficient than VLC or QuickTime. Please don’t speak about things you know nothing about. Not only does Flash need to overcome being an embedded object at the mercy of a browsers performance capabilities but even in that situation it still outperforms VLC and QuickTime. Just for stable proof, a Flash Projector can easily be used to remove the browser overhead (not that it ever had any).

        Oh, the proof? Of course.. Try disproving this.

        Flash Example Files:

        This is playback of the Avengers HD trailer (MP4). Here is a live link to play back in your browser of choice (be sure you’re using FP 11.9):

        Here’s the CPU usage of VLC:


        Wow.. >7% on an old i5-2500k with an old HD6870. Now, what’s Flash? Let’s start fair, a projector with no browser overhead:

        Flash Projector, Plugin in Chrome, Plugin in IE, Plugin in FireFox (called plugincontainer but just for posterity FireFox.exe is included): (projector) 0% (chrome) 8% and 6 processes with an OLDER, different Flash Player (Internet Explorer) 0% (FireFox Plug Container) 0% (FireFox.exe, PC 1%) 0%

        So who’s the CPU hog here? Chromes overhead and 6 processes, VLC and QuickTime. What’s NOT the overhead? Flash Runtime (projector), ActiveX (IE) or a superior current version implementation of the plugin (FireFox).

        Mind you I specifically removed controls from this video so it could not be screenshotted playing with it being paused. Check your own processor usage with the quick and dirty example files if you think it’s BS.

        You’re wrong.

        Bad developers gave Flash a bad name, and those that troll the invalid facts (you, Pavel).

      • Mirko Fisic

        I am flash developer 9 years and I really meant when i said that is up to the programmers not with flash.

        I was made a lot of complex flash projects and every one is smooth and never leak.

  • penina

    You are correct about the news not being of interest to consumers. It IS important for creatives and developers weighing whether to drop Flash as the rich media tool they use to create content. Consumers will notice – and abandon — disappointing online experiences, whatever platform they’re using.

    • the_blur

      No one wants creative any longer. All they want is the mobile page, and they will not pay for anything more. HTML5 also has serious problems with performance, battery drain, CPU, hardware acceleration and some advanced feature support (webGL). Turns out killing flash turned the web into Arstotzka =) Glory to Arstotzka.

  • lrrm

    the point is: adobe is responsible for the creation of swf files and therefore for the standard. W3C standards are repedetly ignored by the browser manufacturers but if all websites would follow a standard this would be glorious!

    and: some competiton would not be bad for adobe.

  • penina

    There definitely seems to be less talk amongst creatives and developers about dropping Flash.

    • the_blur

      Because for the most part, they already dropped it. =(

  • Professor Tiki Ohana

    If there was wide adoption of Shumway, or something similar for other browsers, I would use Flash. Why? Because it’s another tool in the arsenal. It may not be the best tool for web designs, but making web based multimedia presentations, games, whatever, I think it would be good to have it back.

    Again, Flash should just be considered another tool and be weighed on whether or not it’s the right one for a certain project.

  • Designer

    Having spent years learning and developing flash expertise, personally I would love to see Flash make a comeback. It’s integrated with other design tools and is a quick and powerful way to deliver simple to incredibly complex animation that is consistent anywhere it’s played…

  • Gobi

    Flash is slowly vanishing from usage as most websites are being build mobile friendly (responsive). Lets see how this will help.

  • goflashman

    I have been developing for the web for 15 years. Back when I started in 1998 I got so frustrated with trying to fight browser incompatibilities that I switched over to Java for Applets…they failed to deliver the write once, run anywhere theme. Then I picked up Flash. For years it got better with every new version. It almost completely overcame this problem. Fast forward, what 3-4 years now we have been hearing the promise of HTML 5, that it could do everything Flash could so lets scrap Flash because Steve Jobs says so. It happened and here we are. We have gone backward to 1998 with the very same problems. So long as browser manufacturers are allowed to make their own interpretation of what the DOM should be, these problems cannot be eradicated! This is what these 4 years have proven. Come on people, all this talk about why proprietary plug-ins being bad and open source being the road forward. I totally support SHUMWAY if it is going to get rid of the countless hours we as developers spend patching this and testing that. Speaking from experience Flash was a superb tool then and it is now. If we can create in Flash and export to Shumway or HTML 5 and it works, IM FOR IT! But lets be real all you Flash haters. You have had your day in the sun, and you still dont have a tan. The end game should be to create a tool that can produce for all browsers in minimal time with the greatest appeal for consumer as well as manufacturer and developer. HTML 5 BITES. Lets find another road forward…GO SHUMWAY!

    • Michael DelRosso


  • John Olson

    I’m really blown away by how naive or just flat out stubborn some people are when it comes to HTML/JS. I’m a long time Flash/Flex developer. I love it. It is still one of the best runtimes out there, but lets not be so blind that we don’t see a huge surge of HTML work (a lot of it equals what Flash can do), some really great JS libraries, a lack of trust in Adobe and their commitment to the runtime, so much so that you are left holding onto some fantasy. For me, I’m still making money as a AS3 dev, but I’m also devoting my time to native development and also JS because I know in the not so distant future that the Flash work will dry up.

  • Israel Lazo

    Nobody can kill flash, is unbeatable!

  • Chema

    Ok, but why use 1 when you can use all Flash or gamesalad to create games and Apps, Adobe Animate uses the interface After effects and Flash to create the web animations, also lets you program java script with the same Key words and structure of As3, and put it all together in dream weaver.

  • xx

    Good luck to be better than flash in just a few years…

  • Disc7

    Offended “someone”? I’d say you offended all of the Flash dev community, what’s left of us.


    • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      I know a Flash developer in Sydney who didn’t read the comment, so that’s at least 20% of the community who weren’t offended. ;)

  • eddiebristow

    It’s about advancing technology. Flash won’t die. It will simply transform. Devices will get faster, batteries will become more powerful and the Industry will move upward.

    Yes, consumers don’t care about the site’s foundation as long as it’s sturdy (Per perry_the_catapus), but we as creatives need proper tools to help us work effectively. That’s why Photoshop is Industry Standard and not Paint Shop Pro or Gimp. Gimp won’t just die because Adobe “killed” it.

    We can build a house with a rock, but why use a rock when you have a hammer? All I’m saying here is each tool has a place in the arsenal. When a better hammer comes out, it doesn’t mean the old hammer will just lay up and die. The company will transform it and make something better. Photoshop won’t stop Gimp, and HTML5 won’t stop Flash. It’s all about competition and competition pushes every industry forward.

    In the end, it’s not really about which is better or “killing” one or mobile vs web based like everyone loves to argue.Same reason why EVERY phone that came out after the I-phone was touted “I-phone killer”. That’s hearsay. It’s about US choosing which tools fit the build and building something that customers can use without headache; for us as creatives and for the customers viewing it.

  • Branko

    If Mozilla is so interested in well being of customers why do endure in ignoring SVG?
    If SVG was accepted in the first place, there would be very little space for Flash. But, SVG although open source, is not in their interest. It is not customers it is money they are interested. Only that…

  • Aaron

    Great, so now we’ll need to write AS3 code like we do JS code:

    // do this
    else if(pepperFlashPlayer)
    // do this
    // pray this works


  • oobi

    I miss Flash. Everything just worked. Now you have fragmentation to deal with, even if you’re limiting development to desktop, the performance is mostly worse and it’s a whole lot more work to get the similar results.