Where do browsers stand on Flash's impending demise?

It's been two years since Adobe announced it would finally kill off its Flash Player; browser makers plan to follow suit on their own timelines.

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Two years ago, Adobe announced it would finally kill and bury Flash Player, the plug-in that simultaneously launched a million websites and gave security professionals nightmares.

The oft-abused technology, equally praised and scorned even when it was at the top of its game, will land in the digital landfill at the end of 2020, when the company said it "will stop updating and distributing the Flash Player."

Browser makers quickly chimed in to tell their users how they would sunset Flash, setting up sometimes specific, sometimes vague, timetables for curtailing usage, figuring that going cold turkey would catch site owners unprepared, break the web and turn customers into angry peasants waving torches and pitchforks.

Two years after those initial promises of cutting out Flash, where are the browsers? How about a status update?

Chrome's this close to turning Flash off by default

Starting with Chrome 76, which is the next version slated to ship, Google's browser will disable Flash by default, the state the browser will remain in until all support is yanked in late 2020.

With Flash default disabled - Chrome 76 will appear July 30, or in six weeks - sites requiring the plug-in will show the "missing puzzle piece" symbol and the message "Adobe Flash Player is blocked." Users will not be able to run Flash - at all - without going into Settings.

Only after re-enabling Flash - Settings->Advanced->Site Settings->Flash->Ask First - will Chrome users be able to run Flash and display Flash content, and then only after their explicit okay.

Google is thinking about adding what it called an "infobar" to the top of Chrome with the debut of version 76. If the user manually switches Flash back on through Settings, the infobar will appear, warning that the plug-in won't be supported at all after December 2020.

fig flash 1 kaput IDG/Gregg Keizer

Starting with Chrome 76, users will have to dive into Settings to run Flash after seeing this message on a site.

Firefox soon to limit Flash options

At this point, Firefox continues to run Flash Player on a per-site basis when a user authorizes the action. And Firefox will remember the site that was authorized if the user checks the box marked "Remember this decision" in the pop-up that appears when giving Flash permission.

In early September, Mozilla will take the next step in purging the plug-in. With Firefox 69, scheduled for release Sept. 3, the browser is losing the "Always Activate" option for Flash, meaning that every request to run it must be user approved. From this point forward, the only settings will be "Ask to Activate," the default, and "Never Activate."

(Most Firefox users probably didn't know that there was an "Always Activate" setting that let them skip the authorization hassle. It's in Preferences (macOS) and Options (Windows): Extensions & Themes-Plugins->Shockwave Flash->Always Activate.)

Still to come for Firefox: Mozilla plans to strip all Flash support from the browser in early 2020. The exception will be Firefox's Extended Support Release (ESR), designed for enterprise settings, which will continue to run the plug-in through 2020.

On a related note, Mozilla pointed out that barely half - 50.8% - of all copies of Firefox now have Flash installed.

fig 2 flash kaput IDG/Gregg Keizer

September's Firefox 69 will eliminate the "Always Activate" shortcut, forcing users to approve Flash every time on every site. No exceptions.

Edge in turmoil

What to say about Microsoft's Edge?

Microsoft had a fire-Flash plan two years ago. But then the Redmond, Wash. developer went and decided to bag its version of Edge and instead go full-Chromium, replacing its foundational technology with the same that drives Chrome.

While Microsoft didn't necessarily tie itself to Google's Flash timetable when it adopted Chromium, the company is likely to copy the browser big dog. There's no reason not to: "full-Chromium" Edge won't make a difference, one way or the other, to websites still running Flash, not with its very small share.

By the time Microsoft has Chromium Edge ready, Chrome will have long put version 76, and its Flash-disabled-by-default behind it. Edge will do the same, whether it launches this year or next.

As for Internet Explorer (IE) and the old Edge, in 2017 Microsoft promised that somewhere around mid-to-late 2019, those browsers would default to a disabled Flash state. Users were going to have to manually re-enable Flash in the browsers' settings panels to view content.

The change has yet to appear in either browser. (It was unclear when Microsoft would throw the disabled-Flash switch; there was no hint, for example, in the Edge development roadmap.)_

Because Microsoft only upgrades old-Edge when it issues a Windows 10 feature upgrade, the next opportunity for this will be the fall refresh, 1909 in the operating system's yymm notation.

Microsoft has hinted that it will retain old-Edge even after full-Chromium Edge ships, so it will have to manage multiple browsers - IE, too, for Windows 10 users and laggards still running Windows 7 - through their Flash end times.

fig 3 flash kaput IDG/Gregg Keizer

The 'old-Edge,' the one powered by Microsoft's own EdgeHTML engine, still lets users run Flash with minimal hassle. But the upcoming 'full-Chromium' Edge will probably mimic Chrome when it debuts.

Safari and the no-Flash zone

Apple and Flash never much cared for each other. iOS has always been a no-Flash operating system and macOS, formerly OS X, has omitted the Adobe plug-in since 2010, when Cupertino first told users to fetch Flash themselves. (Meanwhile, Chrome, and later, Edge, came with Flash baked in. Chrome dropped that approach in 2016 with version 53. Since then, Flash has been background downloaded the first time the Chrome user calls on it to render content.)

"Apple is working with Adobe, industry partners, and developers to complete this transition," a July 2017 post to the WebKit blog asserted.

Since then, nothing.

Even if a user installs Flash on macOS, Safari still treats it as off by default. And Safari still requires user approval on each site (although the user can tell that site to run Flash every time going forward).

In other words, Apple's made no change - and has announced none that it will make - in how Safari deals with Flash.

fig 4 flash kaput IDG/Gregg Keizer

Safari's handling of Flash hasn't changed in the two years since Adobe announced the plug-in's 2020 demise. This is still what users see when they click on content.

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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