Living Flash-Free On Snow Leopard

If there is one thing I truly dislike about Apple products: it’s that Flash doesn’t work well with them. Now, this might be the fault of Adobe or it might be the fault of Apple or they both might be to blame. I don’t know nor do I care at this point. What I do know, however, is that I had to do something drastic to rectify this issue. My decision: live Flash-free. It sounds easy, but trust me… this isn’t black and white.

The one thing that people have to accept about Flash is that it is one of the most-used technologies on the Web, next to HTML and CSS. Most people simply accept that fact and install Flash without any complaint. You need it to visit YouTube, Vimeo, Pandora, and many other websites we take for granted. In other words, if you don’t have Flash, there is a pretty good chance you’ll be missing out on some parts of the Web.

Up until recently, I never really thought much about Flash, beyond my annoyances of it for display far too many annoying Flash advertisements. I always installed it on computers, attempted to keep it up to date, and used Flash-enabled sites without too much complaint. However, thanks to John Gruber of Daring Fireball, I had become aware that a well-respected member of the Apple community decided to rid himself of the plague that is Flash. Interesting! Then that got me thinking: why should Gruber be the only one having all the fun?

I wanted to take part in this cleansing as well. So I didn’t hesitate to start the process of cleansing myself of Flash.

Flash Free

I quickly dove right in to my Mac’s preferences to delete Flash from my computer. It wasn’t that difficult. I followed the steps, restarted my computer, fired up Chrome, and… — damn it! I still had Flash installed!

I was initially confused, and I had wondered if I somehow managed to screw up my removal of Flash; however, I soon remembered that Chrome has its own installation of Flash installed by default. I guess that is good for those who were like my former self — who have no qualms with using Flash on a regular basis — but the new me had to get rid of it. A quick search on Google and a forum posting that revealed the “chrome://plugins” section within Chrome that provided me the option to disable Flash.

I went ahead and disabled it, restarted the browser for good measure, and loaded up YouTube, one of the most Flash-intensive websites I could think about. I was sorely disappointed when everything loaded. YouTube demanded that install Flash.

Well, gee wiz! I would, at the very least, assume that YouTube/Google would know that I had disabled Flash intentionally, especially when considering that I am, in fact, using a browser that has it enabled by default (as if Google doesn’t know enough about me already). Couldn’t YouTube have simply taken the initiative to display the HTML5 version of the video?

Disappointed, I left YouTube and headed over to Vimeo, another video sharing website that typically features higher quality content, and loaded up a video, expecting the worse. Unfortunately, here I was also dumbfounded when I was also asked to install Flash; my outlook on this experiment immediately took a turn for the worse. Thankfully, though, there was a bit of a relief after I noticed a “Switch to HTML5 version” link on the corner of the website. I clicked it, and I finally watched my first HTML5 video, which looked just as good, if not better, as the Flash version. Not only that, but it seemed to load faster, too.

Finally, we are making progress!

I then did some research, only to find out that there are many various tricks to force websites into loading HTML5 versions of content: changing your browser settings to make the website believe it is another device like an iPad, for instance, is a viable option. There are also extensions for Chrome that enable HTML5 versions of content. I’m sure there are also other ways that hackers will eventually discover.

But even with the tricks and the attempts to go without Flash, I came across certain instances when I needed Flash: there was a certain videos that required it, without a backup in place; websites that needed it to function properly; and so on.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball had his own solution where he uninstalled Flash from his computer and used the Chrome browser, which, again, has its own Flash implementation, when he needed to view Flash-enabled content. Fair enough. But I use Chrome by default, so that didn’t help me at all.

I had to improvise (or cheat, depending on how you look at it). I loaded the websites in question on my Windows 7 desktop computer, and I used them as I would normally. In the spirit of living Flash-free, it might have been a minor setback, but at least my Mac wasn’t infected with Flash any longer. Furthermore, the situations when I needed to do this were few and far between.

Now it has been a full two weeks without Flash, and I can’t say I miss it at all. My computer has been running cooler and I don’t believe my browser has crashed at all. More than anything, I feel like I am browsing a much better Web — a Web without Adobe Flash.

The Issues

There is plenty of debate between between those who think Flash is necessary for the Web and those who think it is a plague that should die as soon as possible. I happen to be the latter. Still, I can be fair in admitting that Flash still has its place on the Web. I’m sure there are things that can’t be accomplished without using Flash, and while that fact is continually deteriorating as HTML5 continues to grow, I can accept that not everyone can abandon Flash overnight.

However, I think it would be wise for developers to stop building those ridiculous Flash-only websites that take forever to load and look gimmicky at best (auto industry, I’m looking at you). Also, if any developers/business owners out there have a business that relies on Flash technology, I think you might want to go back to the drawing board. Their reliance on Flash must end, and that will be a big challenge for the future.

As for the typical person who surfs the Web, wastes time on Facebook, and watches the occasional YouTube video, I doubt they would see much benefit in removing Flash (if they even know exactly what that is). Many people don’t know the differences between Flash and HTML5, and, in truth, they shouldn’t have to. It’s up to web developers to figure this stuff out. The end user just wants to have the best experience possible.

Yet I think that we are now at a time when we should hold businesses accountable to support newer, open standards. I should not be forced to use a Flash-enabled browser to enjoy a piece of content. That’s just silly. There should backups in place. If it is is HTML5, then so be it. While we tech geeks might be the first to explore HTML5 as a true alternative to Flash, others will eventually join in too.

The tech demos that show what can be accomplished with some JavaScript, CSS, and HTML5 alone continue to impress me, but they won’t be tech demos for too long. This technology will evolve into the core of the Web. It is the future.

So here’s to hoping that those businesses which rely on Flash technology don’t get left behind and to those who are living on the edge of modern-day Web technology.