Flash fading?

Alas, poor Flash. For years, the browser plug-in - made by Macromedia and later owned by Adobe - powered the web's, well, flashier parts, being the format of choice for delivering video, animation and games - and, regrettably, lots of pointlessly fancy menus - to web users.

But since the arrival of the iPhone and iPad a few years ago, Flash has been under attack. Finding it slow, buggy and ruinous to battery life, Apple decided to leave the technology out of iOS. Not only do iPhones and iPads not come with Flash, you can't even install it on them.

At first, people thought this was just Apple being obtuse, and other operating systems - notably Google's Android - picked up a few users by advertising Flash availability providing access to the 'full web.' But now, the other great OS maker in the world - Windows - has joined the anti-Flash bandwagon.

Well, sort of. As you probably know, Microsoft is hard at work on the successor to Windows 7, imaginatively titled Windows 8. But despite the implication of the name, this is no mere evolutionary update. Windows 8 is set to be a very different beast - touch-driven and full-screen-app-focused, with light, simple apps programmed in HTML5 - the language that powers the web - and Sun's Javascript language rather than the more complex tools like ActiveX and .Net that previous versions of Windows used.

And it's not just in the programs that Windows 8 will rely heavily on HTML5. Microsoft have said that Internet Explorer 10, which will come out on Windows 8, won't allow external plugins - like Flash. Instead, it'll use the more advanced capabilities of HTML5 to power video, audio and other snazzy things.

Now, it's not total doom for Flash, because Windows 8 is a bit of a transformer. Microsoft aren't going to release a version of Windows that doesn't work with previous versions' software - they did that with Windows Vista, and spent the next two years apologising for it. So Windows 8 is going to have an embedded mode, called 'Desktop', which looks a lot like the current incarnation of Windows - with apps in, well, Windows, and with a taskbar and Start button. This mode will run old Windows apps, and those which are updated for Windows 8 but still require the full power of Windows to run. And it seems the version of Internet Explorer that runs in this mode will allow plugins.

Confused? Us too. In practice, what this probably means is simply that people using Windows 8 on tablets will have to make do without Flash, and people using it on laptops and desktops - who are more likely to use the traditional interface - are more likely to still use it. Still, it's not good news for Adobe, and it seems inevitable now that Flash is in a state of irreversible decline. Whether you think that's a good thing or not depends on whether you agree with Steve Jobs.

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