Kill Flash? Be careful what you wish for

The death of Flash will impact more than a few enterprise IT solutions, with nasty repercussions for admins

Kill Flash? Be careful what you wish for
JD Hancock (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

Back when Steve Jobs launched the first salvo in the war against Adobe Flash, declaring in no uncertain terms that the iPhone would never support the ubiquitous Web media framework, the anti-Apple crowd was much amused. No one is laughing now -- least of all the many IT vendors that have built their management interfaces in Flash, for whom the death of Flash poses huge challenges. 

At the time, Jobs seemed to be climbing out on a limb. But eventually, everyone came to see how painful it was to support Flash on mobile devices, and how much better HTML5 was at delivering the same basic functionality. Developers began skipping over Flash and going with alternative technologies so that they could support mobile and desktop clients with the same codebase.

This, in addition to the unrelenting flood of significant security issues and accompanying miasma of Flash updates from Adobe, has hastened the demise of Flash. Even Adobe seems to agree that HTML5 is the future. Now Amazon has decided that Flash ads will no longer be permitted on

This comes as browser makers have begun taking rigid stances against Flash to protect their users. Firefox blocked Flash by default at least temporarily in July, and Chrome will begin automatically pausing Flash content in the near future. It's a death by a thousand cuts, but it's likely to be surprisingly quick.

All of this is a major problem for some heavyweight IT vendors. VMware, for example, is in a bit of a pickle.

VMware's Flash-based Web client has been heralded as the only successor to its fat Windows client for many years now. VMware still distributes the fat client, but its functionality is fixed at vSphere 5.0, meaning that features present in vSphere 6.0 are not available within that client. This was intended to wean users from the legacy client as they migrated to new versions of the platform. Unfortunately, the Web client has never lived up to its promise, and it's noticeably slower and clunkier than the Windows client, leaving most admins in the unfortunate position of having to use both clients to do basic administration.

If this wasn't bad enough, the platform on which VMware built its Web client is rapidly dying. Eventually the browsers will stop supporting it, so admins will have to jump through hoops to disable security measures and protections in the browser simply to launch Flash-based management tools. At some point, those loopholes may be fully closed, and admins will have to keep elderly versions of Web browsers and Flash around in order to manage their VMware infrastructure. This is an exceptionally unpretty picture.

It's not only the elimination of Flash that's threatening problems. Chrome is disabling NPAPI plug-ins in newer versions of the browser. This means a good many enterprise IT management tools won't run without explicitly allowing them within the Chrome settings. As more browsers adopt these stricter security measures, we'll see more and more of these issues crop up, adding to the headaches caused by management tools that require certain Java versions, and by other elderly dependencies that make it impossible to run our tools on an updated system.

So we'll wind up with desktop VMs running old, insecure software merely to manage critical infrastructure components, which will need to be accessed via RDP. Heck, if more than a few concurrent admin sessions are required, it might need to be a Terminal Server. Then again, if certain Java-based tools are required, that may not work under Terminal Services and RDP, so we might have to go all the way to the console. Talk about a blast from the past.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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