December 31, 2020. The end of an era. The end of life for Flash.

Back in the summer of 2017, when Adobe first announced they were “pulling the plug” on Flash, 2020 seemed like a long time away. Now it’s not. If you still have Flash-based content, you have just a few short months to decide what to do with it.

It could be that your Flash-based courses are so old it’s not worth converting them. Maybe it’s time to either retire them completely or rebuild them from the ground up.

But if you do want to convert them, how hard is it? Especially if you are using a tool like Adobe Captivate of Articulate Storyline. Isn’t it just as easy as pushing the Publish button? Not really. While you can just open up an old course and republish it to HTML5, it’s not likely to work without a hitch. You’ll need to plan on spending time checking for and troubleshooting issues.

Why is that?

  1. Any time you publish in a newer version of software, things can go wrong. That would be true even if you weren’t switching from Flash output to HTML5 output.
  2. You’ll be working with a completely different output type. Your Flash course may have been serving you well for years without any problems. But HTML5 is a completely different set of output files. You can’t just assume they will work exactly the same way.
  3. Each browser might render HTML5 content differently. One of the advantages of the Flash Player was that it played content fairly consistently regardless of what browser you were using. With HTML5, Chrome might handle something differently than Firefox. If you want your course to work flawlessly on any given browser, you really need to test it to find out.
  4. Old browsers don’t like HTML5. Browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, and Safari update frequently, so they tend to handle HTML5 well. Internet Explorer 11 was made before HTML5 matured, so sometimes there are issues. And if you are on IE 9 or 10 or using compatibility mode for IE, don’t expect your HTML5 output to work at all.
  5. Mobile devices have their own way of being. If something works on a computer, that doesn’t mean it will work on your iPad or Android tablet. You have to test if you want to be sure.

What to do about it

At Artisan E-Learning, we’ve converted almost 1,000 slides of content from Flash to HTML5 in the past few months, mostly in Storyline. Here’s our advice based on that experience.

  • Start now! (Actually, start two years ago.)
  • Find your most detail-oriented people. Some issues that come up are very subtle. A word is bold in the original version but not in the new version. Three objects that used to be aligned aren’t anymore. You’ll need someone with a strong attention to detail to catch these things. We’ve found that doing a side-by-side comparison of the original publish and the new publish is the best way to catch these things. Which leads me to…
  • Decide what to care about. Some issues are critical to fix, such as text rendering issues that cause text blocks to overlap. You need to care about that, and fortunately it’s easy to fix. A word that isn’t bolded but should be? Not that critical. (But it’s easy to fix, so why not?) But then there are other issues that are minor annoyances AND time-consuming or impossible to fix. For example, we’ve had several experiences where pages or layers will flicker once when first loading in Internet Explorer 11. Is that something you can live with, or is it important to get to the bottom of it?
  • Don’t expect things to make sense. The conversion process can be fickle. Things will break for no reason. You could have a drop shadow look funny on one slide when the same drop shadow looks fine on every other slide. Sometimes I have to let go of my troubleshooting curiosity and just fix it rather than trying to figure out why it needs to be fixed.
  • Be ready to rebuild some content. Some slides just plain won’t work anymore, and the path of least resistance is to rebuild them. In other cases, you may need to rebuild slides because the feature used to make them is no longer available. For example, early versions of Articulate Studio had games that aren’t available anymore. Those slides need to be rebuilt. The rollover objects in Adobe Captivate don’t have an HTML5 equivalent. They need to be rebuilt.
  • Be ready for design changes. Some features may not look the same in the new version of the software, such as buttons and controls. Some features may not function the same way, such as different choices for navigation. You may have to get stakeholder approval on something that looks different, and you might want to discuss whether or not you want to take advantage of features that weren’t available before. For example, in the new Storyline player, you can lock the seekbar the first time through and then release it on subsequent visits to that slide. Before it was always open or always locked. Do you want to invest the time to explore the new features and decide which ones you might want to use?
  • Be ready for content changes. If stakeholders are going to look at your courses again, they’ll likely see things they want to change. Decide in advance what the scope of the project is: a conversion or an update.
  • Plan for enough time. For Storyline conversions, we’ve been averaging about 30 minutes per slide, including testing it thoroughly on multiple browsers and mobile devices.

Of course, the process can take even longer if you don’t have the source files or if you used an authoring tool that doesn’t exist anymore or never added the ability to publish to HTML5. If you are in any of these situations, use this interactive flowchart to help you navigate options.

And if you have stakeholders asking why all of this is necessary, you can show them this quick video about the death of Flash.