Now That Flash and Plugins are out the Door, What’s Holding you from Adopting WebRTC?

July 20, 2015

All routes are leading towards WebRTC.

Want to run WebRTC on anything? Check out my free WebRTC Device Cheat Sheet.

Somehow, people are still complaining about adoption of WebRTC in browsers instead of checking their alternatives.


Before WebRTC came to our lives, we had pretty much 3 ways of getting voice and video calling into our machines:

  1. Build an application and have users install it on their PCs
  2. Use Flash to have it all inside the browser
  3. Develop a plugin for the service and have users install it on their browsers

We’re now in 2015, and 3 (again that number) distinct things have changed:

  1. On our PCs we are less tolerant to installing “stuff”
    • As more and more services migrate towards the cloud, so are our habits of using browsers as our window to the world instead of installed software
    • Chromebooks are becoming popular in some areas, so installing software is close to impossible in them
  2. Plugins are dying. Microsoft is banning plugins in Edge, joining Google’s Chrome announcement on the same topic
  3. Flash is being thrown out the window, which is what I want to focus about here

There have been a lot of recent publicity around a new round of zero day exploits and vulnerabilities in Flash. It started with a group called The Hacking Team being hacked, and their techniques exposed. They used a few Flash vulnerabilities among other mechanisms. While Adobe is actively fixing these issues, some decided to vocalize their discontent with Flash:

Facebook’s Chief Security Officer wants Adobe to declare an end-of-life date for Flash.

Mozilla decided to ban Flash from its browser until the recent known vulnerabilities are patched.

Don’t get me wrong here. Flash will continue being with us for a long time. Browsers will block Flash and then re-enable it, dealing with continuing waves of vulnerabilities that will be found. But the question then becomes – why should you be using it any longer?

  • You can acquire camera and microphone using WebRTC today, so no need for Flash
  • You can show videos using HTML5 and MPEG-DASH, so no need for Flash
  • You can use WebGL and a slew of other web technologies to build interactivity into sites, so no need for Flash
  • You can run voice and video calls at a higher quality than what Flash ever could with WebRTC
  • And you can do all of the above within environments that are superior to Flash in both their architecture, quality and security

Without Flash and Plugin support in your future, why would you NOT use WebRTC for your next service?

Need to know where WebRTC is available? Download this free WebRTC Device Cheat Sheet.

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    1. Lennie,

      The extension restriction on Chrome for screen sharing is a security measure. It enables Google to kill abusive and malware related extensions that want such an access – something that is harder to achieve by blocking URLs.

      While not as sleek as other screen sharing capabilities in the likes of GoToMeeting or WebEx at the moment, Chrome’s screen sharing feature gets the job done and I use it almost daily in my calls.

      1. Well, the good thing is: the extensions are restart-less.

        No need to restart the browser and you only need to do it at the user that is sharing the screen.

        So that’s an improvement.

      2. One of the ‘promises’ of WebRTC is (or could be): nothing to install. You already have a browser installed.

        So that is why I’m a little bit complaining. 😉

          1. I wouldn’t say caring about privacy would be complaining. Would you ?

            Just tried a moment ago on an IPv6-enabled host with Firefox and I got no IPv6 addresses at all.

            That’s interesting, I should look into that later today.

  1. The only reason anyone will give is Legacy devices.

    We spent a lot of time developing WebRTC Media in FreeSWITCH and even those who begged us to support WebRTC still also ask if we can support flash as well so their business customers who are hoplessly locked into Microsoft workstations can use some version of their offering. This is a repeat of the era when Javascript was only in Netscape and it took a while for everyone to adopt it. The only barrier to entry now for WebRTC is IE and Safari supporting it. We may see progress in IE when ORTC is complete and Safari is a mystery still but, from past experience, I predict they will both produce something that is “almost” WebRTC and we developers will toil trying to make it the same on the outside and eventually it will get easier and something common will be available on all platforms and browser options.

    1. The ‘new’ browser from Microsoft can be updated seperately from Windows.

      So even if the browser in Windows 10 does not include the WebRTC-protocol and ORTC API it can be pushed by Microsoft at a later stage.

  2. Oddly enough Firefox still doesn’t support MSE fully, so most of the DASH Players out there are relying on DASH Flash or HLS Flash Fallback for playback support in Firefox.
    So Mozilla for now is whitelisting sites like youtube and won’t have full support most likely until Firefox 42. Until then, Flash is still a factor.

    1. Chris,

      Flash is certainly here to stay with us for much longer. But same as other technologies it will fade, with most new developments happening using other solutions. Same way that people don’t develop today using ActiveX (I hope), they should refrain from using Flash as much as possible. The writing is on the wall, and has been there for quite some time.

  3. Great post
    I agree flash will be around for quite a while, and definitely due to what Anthony is saying with legacy devices or just as a fall back mechanism.

    In terms of another “why should you be using it any longer” reason, I want to add that there is a lot of untapped potential with the WebRTC data channel for further p2p communications besides audio/video. I’m sure there are flash based applications that require to send/receive data between clients (gaming? social media?).

  4. Here’s the reason why flash will be around for a while:

    • HLS support in Desktop browsers is very limited.  Really it’s Safari only.  That means having to play progressive download mp4 on most browsers, which means – 
    ◦ No multi-bitrate streams
    ◦ No way to play live
    ◦ Huge downloads for long-form content
    ◦ Not being able to seek past what is downloaded 
    ◦ Bad midroll experience
    • If you do HLS in Safari for live streams, there would be no midroll ad insertion since there are no SCTE parsing capabilities
    • There’s no DRM support
    • There is limited ads availability
    ◦ No VPAID (interactive) ads
    • No ad viewability metrics
    • No customization of controls in full screen

    1. Alex,

      While technically you may well be correct (I am not an expert in Flash), there are many large outlets that are migrating towards HTML5 video streaming instead of Flash, so there must be ways to overcome the issues you raise.

      There are other areas where Flash was traditionally used (real time video chat), and is now useless in due to the growing use of WebRTC.

      So yes. Flash will be with us for a long time – but at the capacity that we are all enjoying COBOL today as well (I heard there’s code running that uses COBOL still).

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