How Adobe and Google Are Making Sure Flash Will Never DieS

Rumors of a "deeper partnership" between Google and Adobe have come to pass: the Chrome browser will soon ship with Flash built in. No installation, no traditional plugins, no separate updates. It's just there, like, well, HTML5. This is cunning!

Here's how Google explains the new arrangement, which is already live in the Chrome browser development channel, and is coming to Chrome and Chrome OS proper before too long:

When users download Chrome, they will also receive the latest version of Adobe Flash Player. There will be no need to install Flash Player separately.

Users will automatically receive updates related to Flash Player using Google Chrome's auto-update mechanism. This eliminates the need to manually download separate updates and reduces the security risk of using outdated versions.

Improving the traditional browser plug-in model will make it possible for plug-ins to be just as fast, stable, and secure as the browser's HTML and JavaScript engines. Over time this will enable HTML, Flash, and other plug-ins to be used together more seamlessly in rendering and scripting.

Any discussion of Flash and HTML5 is predicated on the contrast between the two, and how Flash is a janky, insecure and inconsistent plugin, while HTML5 video relies on video decoders and markup that are native to the browser. Integrating Flash directly into the browser, at least as far as users are concerned, would make a lot of the points coming from the anti-Flash camp seem somewhat petty, or at the very least take them out of view of your average browsing human. Most people don't have strong opinions about their browser's integrated Javascript engine, so it follows that they wouldn't have strong opinions about that part of their browser that makes their YouTubes go LOL, especially if they never have to interact with it in any conscious way.

Of course, the technical reality of what Adobe and Google (and others) are doing here is a bit more complicated. Says Adobe:

Additionally, we are also working with Google, Mozilla, and the broader community on a new API that can provide a better way for all Web browsers and plug-ins to interact with each other. While the current NPAPI has served the industry well, it lacks the flexibility and power to support the pace of innovation we see ahead. We expect that the new API specification will offer some distinct benefits over the current technology available.

The wheels are turning on this new plugin platform, which would make a lot of near-ubiquitous plugins disappear into major browsers. They'd be platform-independent; they'd be somewhat more secure; they'd potentially perform better; they'd update automatically. They'd still be plugins, from a software standpoint, but you, Joe Firefox, wouldn't be able to tell.

Of course, this doesn't truly solve some of the fundamental beefs people have with the plugin model, namely the potential security risks introduced by third-party software. And it probably doesn't matter much for iPad owners, for whom major sites are already rushing to build HTML-based video workarounds. But as far as public perception goes, reducing the HTML5/Flash argument to technical semantics could do wonders for Adobe.