If you go to the right sites on the Web, it’s 2007 all over again.
These special pages won’t land you back in the closing days of George W. Bush’s administration or have Prince once again alive, but they will expect you to use one of the major multimedia plug-ins of that earlier era.
Adobe’s Flash and Microsoft Silverlight once vied for a spot in people’s browsers as the preferred way to play audio and video on the Web. Both were doomed by the rise of the mobile Web and multimedia-enabled, standards-based HTML5 Web design, but companies and sites employing those two plug-ins needed a few years to recognize that.
Silverlight faded first: Microsoft shipped its last major release in 2011, only four years after its debut, and never tried to ship a version for Android or even its own Windows Phone software. That format lost its last major supporter in 2013, when Netflix announced plans to move to HTML5 playback.
Flash hung on longer, even as Adobe’s efforts to make it work in Android sputtered. But a seemingly endless series of Flash vulnerabilities—the software has averaged more than one security patch a month this year—ground away any enthusiasm for it, and in July Adobe said it would retire Flash by 2020.
(A third plug-in widely used in the 2000s, Oracle’s Java, ran up its own disastrous security record and faced excommunication from the Web even faster.)
So what could bring a site to continue to support Silverlight or Flash in 2017, and would it plan to switch to Web standards anytime soon? Three of four sites I found suffering from a Silverlight or Flash hangover did not have great answers.
• The Web app that lets Optimum cable-TV subscribers watch the channels they pay for on a laptop, mentioned here last week, demands Silverlight. Asked to explain that, company publicist Lindsey Angioletti wrote in an e-mail that “We are constantly evaluating our current offerings and will make any necessary adjustments to ensure a great customer experience.”
• Intuit’s Mint.com personal-finance app still requires Flash to display graphs of your investments, even though HTML5 can easily handle that work. Company rep Angi Ramos e-mailed that “we’re constantly refreshing the product” but didn’t have “a specific date” for when it would end that Flash dependency.
• Some older versions of Logitech’s Harmony programmable universal remotes employ a Web app for their setup that itself requires Silverlight. Spokeswoman Christina Gregor said in an e-mail that Logitech is “always in the process of reviewing different options.”
• Major League Baseball’s MLB.tv—an early Silverlight adopter that returned to Flash in 2008—still requires that plug-in for its Web player. But that site will move to an HTML5 setup for the 2018 season.
Users of the other three sites and any others that still depend on these dying formats are right to wonder how many more years they’ll need to wait for a modern browsing experience.
But it can’t be that much longer: Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s Edge all no longer play Flash content automatically. And any site picking a fight with Google, Apple and Microsoft’s default browser settings will not have a long future in the business.
Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, e-mail Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/robpegoraro.