31 December 2020

The Adobe House Built On Sand

20+ years an industry standard. 10 free stock images.

Adobe's Flash is being forcibly retired at the end of the year due to its shortcomings on the security front. I don't pretend to understand what that means. All it makes me think of is when I was in a training class for a call center job. Someone somewhere had once upon a time embedded Flash-based versions of Sonic the Hedgehog and Tetris into a blank Excel document so as to slip it past our supervisors and the IT department, ensuring that each training class would have access to these little distractions, kind of like a chain letter. 

Many people are very saddened by this for all the various Flash-based websites and small games that are going to be rendered more or less totally pumpkin when the clock strikes midnight. There have been some efforts to preserve these games, including the creation of a specially made platform that emulates the old school player. 

A wise one once said that writing a great novel is a very difficult thing to do because there have been so many books over so many millennia by so many people. However, once you achieve that status of having written a great novel, you're more or less set for life and beyond because your book will still be available in some way, shape, or form. The biggest innovation in publishing in the last hundred years has been the e-book, which only furthers the preservation principle past the printed page. Video games have the exact opposite problem because even if making a great game was a little easier, the longevity is non-existent because the hardware used to play the games changes so rapidly that unless you actively update and rebuild your game for each new platform, you're going to be left in the dust. Furthering the preservation principle in the other direction is the fact that some games are made with specific hardware in mind and it may simply be impossible to port the game to a newer system. 

This is what always bothers me when someone refers to a piece of software as an industry standard. Flash was one such industry standard, especially in animation. To be fair, Adobe reworked Flash into a separate piece of software called Animate, so it's still technically as much an industry standard as it is proprietary software owned lock, stock, and barrel by Adobe. I remember once looking around for some kind of lower-end, budget-friendly competitor once upon a time and every option coming up short. The student version of Flash started at around 1250USD, and there was simply no way I could justify that kind of price, even as a film major with an interest in animation. Instead, I bought a copy of Poser 4 for about 100, used it for 2-ish years then practically forgot I had it for the next 10 years before finding the discs in a binder... where they still are to this day.

At least with Photoshop, Adobe offered a pared-down version called Elements that would sometimes come bundled with a drawing tablet or a photo scanner. They never offered any such option for Flash. There were some third party options that could export an animation to Flash, but these were very hit-or-miss, and most simply didn't run on my computer by way of the partially-eaten piece of fruit on the casing. When Adobe rolled out the Creative Cloud suite, their "software as a service" model with monthly subscription fees in lieu of an upfront cost, I think I felt about every emotion possible between mildly enraged and extremely annoyed in one single sentence, "WHERE THE FUCK WAS THIS VERY WELCOME CONVENIENCE IN 2002!?" 

For the life of me, I don't remember if my department offered any sort of Flash animation programs (thereby bypassing any need to purchase my own copy). If there were, they were for computer science and web design majors. I haven't checked back on it now, but during my enrollment, the university was very oddly-structured when it came to film studies, hence my degree being an Arts & Sciences degree rather than a Fine Arts degree as one would expect. The point is I probably could have changed majors or done some serious lobbying to the powers that be to somehow bridge the gap, but that would have been one more rock-and-hard-place situation I simply didn't want hard enough or whatever other unhelpful bullshit life coach rhetoric would get espoused. The overlaps in their respective curriculums were very narrow, so I would have had to practically start over halfway through my degree, and if any attempts to remedy that situation fell through, I'd be left with nothing to show for it. 

I mentioned Flash being "survived" in a way by Animate. The only thing that animators are going to lose in the shutdown is the player, which most of them likely hadn't used in years thanks to YouTube. Apart from the games produced in Flash, another area where it held the distinguished rank of "industry standard" was in web design. In addition to designing small applications that could run inside a web browser (such as a game), it was possible to design an entire site in Flash. This was a common practice for Dreamcast games. At least, that was the majority of my exposure to it. This was back when the majority of websites had very straightforward (by today's standards) design because of the limitations of HTML. Flash allowed these sites to be, well, flashier, like those animated DVD menus that get an "ooh" or "ah" the first time you see them before getting immediately obnoxious. As the capabilities of HTML expanded and languages such as CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) and Javascript also grew up into big strong web development environments, the Flash sites became old hat. 

Hopefully, the transition from Flash to HTML5 or CSS or whatever was fairly seamless for those who had made that investment in Flash all those years ago, that it gave them some kind of gentle slope instead of a wall. "I went to school for X, but I learned Y on my own from the comfort of my career." is how I imagine they'd sum up the change in scenery. Obviously, it's futile to assume anything will be stable, and Flash did enjoy a long, long period of relevance for a piece of software. Nowhere is it written that a program you use at university is going to remain an "industry standard" for years and years after you graduate. The assumption truly seems to be that learning Flash would get you to a point from where you could comfortably expand your skills into something that will keep your head above water when that ship inevitably sinks.

So, what does that make those companies still referring to X-2000 as an industry standard and required knowledge for their open position in a cutting-edge field? 

Better be a lot of stock images somewhere in there. 

No comments: