JavaScript killed the Flash player plug-in star

Mozilla's Shumway project promises to eliminate Flash plug-ins, replace them with pure HTML5/JavaScript-based solution

We all know Flash is on the way out, but like Windows XP, it's been astonishingly stubborn. Too many sites still use it, and it's a common fallback method for displaying multimedia in antiquated browsers. And the plug-ins for Flash are notoriously unstable.

If Mozilla has its way, it may be able to kill the Flash plug-in once and for all with another technology that could prove even more ubiquitous and unkillable: JavaScript.

Since early 2012, Mozilla's been working on a project named Shumway -- a way to play back SWF (Shockwave Flash) files in a Web page with nothing but pure JavaScript. Its original implementation was via a browser add-on (for Firefox, of course), but as of the latest Firefox nightlies, Shumway has been formally added to Firefox as a standard inclusion.

The demo page has several examples, which require the extension in the current release build of Firefox to be useful. Among them are a simple racing game, a number of graphics demos, an MP3 player, and a falling-boxes physics-engine example.

You can't arbitrarily run any old Flash plug-in with Shumway -- for now. According to the development documentation, many SWF features aren't implemented yet, but given how much JavaScript has been pushed to do recently, it isn't implausible that all features of Flash could be re-implemented as pure HTML5 and JavaScript.

Mozilla's Shumway demos work in Chrome and Firefox, albeit with slightly lower performance and some minor behavioral hitches. It's strong evidence the results, when fully polished, ought to be totally cross-platform and not simply an exploitation of unique features in Firefox's JavaScript engine (as is the case with asm.js, for example).

Another recent Mozilla innovation in the same vein involves reading and rendering PDFs with pure JavaScript, which has been part of Firefox since version 19. It works in both Firefox and Chrome, with little discernible difference in speed over the native PDF reader plug-ins for either browser -- although some PDFs still render incoherently, particularly those with embedded fonts.

If one of Mozilla's goals is to do away with all browser plug-ins forever, it has a friend for life in me.

This story, "JavaScript killed the Flash player plug-in star," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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