09 Mar Being Flash Free
Category: Personal

I tend to be harsh on Flash a lot, and I dislike it as much as the next standards-advocating (and technologically savvy) Mac user. Since I like putting my money where my mouth is, I decided to try going into February and not use Flash even once during all of its 28 days, inspired by Michael Heilemann‘s initiative to do the same. He even logged his difficulties, which I haven’t and won’t be doing.

Flash Free

For me, the conclusion after February was clear. I missed out on a few things that annoyed me intensely. Most of the things I missed out on were videos on websites like TED and the New York Times. I had some catching up to do after February. With the help of ClicktoFlash and Youtube and Vimeo’s HTML5 players I was able to watch most of the video content out there, but there is still a lot that you can’t watch without that little plugin. I also ‘missed out’ on a truckload of so-called ‘rich advertisements’, which I absolutely adored.

But the problem of going through your digital life without Flash it’s not just videos on otherwise accessible websites. Try browsing for motion design agency showreels and websites for new games without Flash. Some industries have a vested interest in Flash because it is a mature platform for graphic websites, despite advances in HTML + CSS + Javascript. And I can imagine; the Flash-less approach doesn’t only break down in some browsers, it’s simply not mature yet. Take a look at the current Macheist page. At the time of this writing, it is using 65 to 70 percent of the processing power in my early 2008 Mac Pro, equipped with eight Xeon cores.

Worse still, people hail these Flash-free websites as progress and the road to the future. With terrible performance and compatibility like that, I prefer Flash, despite its drawbacks and proprietary nature. Actually using these technologies and advacing the state of the art is great, but I hope it doens’t put these upcoming standards in a bad light. It’s worth noting, however, that a lot of these techniques are in their infancy.

I’ll be happy with a more efficient and well-performing Flash plugin for Mac, but what I want above everything is a access to the of data that is used by web plugins. It’d be great if I would’ve been able to at least view the motion agencies’ showreels (which are all in Quicktime) and read a bit about games or view some screenshots without requiring a plugin. If I do want to opt into the so-called ‘rich’ web experience, I’ll use Flash, Silverlight, or Web Plugin #4512 to render blinking text and videos projected onto cubes which fall down the screen and bounce around using realistic physics.

Microsoft Labs is doing great things with Silverlight that aren’t possible with Javascript and modern standard-based technologies (yet?), like Pivot, which was demonstrated at TED this year (Flash video – sigh). Pivot’s data, however, for at least half of the video, is the actual web, built on standards and accessible to any technology. This way, if another superior technology comes by or a plugin is no longer supported, anyone can harness the power of the existing data to replicate or even improve on the functionality that we’re so accustomed to. I like that.

There is nobody stopping you from making an iPad or iPhone application using Core Animation which browses Wikipedia like Pivot does – try doing that with all the video that is on the internet.

In conclusion, I’m actually happy to use Flash again to get at all the content I want. I’m equally happy to have missed out on the drawbacks of Flash. While before February I was convinced Flash had no place in the world, I am now a bit more relaxed about it. Flash has its place – but we shouldn’t lose track of the real goal: making the data we want to interface with accessible regardless of the technology I have on my computer, be it a phone, tablet, or PC.

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12 Responses

  1. 1
    Vernak 

    Nice writeup. I think we all want what you indicate, but it’s so much more work. People create websites in Flash (or other content) because it’s easy to create it; separating the content from the style would be a lot to work to do.

  2. Great post and interesting conclusion. You only miss things when you lost it…

    I tried to do the same for a week, I gave up two days later because I missed too much some features (Google Analytics, Google Maps, …) Now on I use ClickToFlash and not so much annoyed with Flash.

  3. 3
    radu 

    TED publishes all the talks on iTunes in good ol’ H.264. In SD and HD.

  4. 4
    Jason Medeiros 

    @radu The TED website even has big ol’ download links under each video to grab an H.264 version.

  5. 5
    Carppool 

    Honestly, I don’t miss Flash at all. I use click to flash and I skip most flash material… Most Flash is advertising. For most videos you have alternatives and if not they are not worth to wach either.

  6. I agree with Sebastiaan. As much as I “fight” against using Flash for everything everywhere, I do believe it has its place on the web. Having said that, I think that 90% of the Flash out there is badly done and fails hard at some basic interaction and usability levels. Like I said on a tweet earlier today, I think the biggest problem with Flash is that, like .NET et al, promotes lazy interaction design and horrific usability. Very few Flash websites are even decent at UI/UX levels. Tools like Flash promote flashiness (no pun intended) over usability and interaction.

    And that’s what I hate about Flash. But to be honest, the same can be said of so many tools out there. Developing websites in HTML/CSS/JS tends to make you think more and re-think some ideas. The resulting effort is usually a much better overall experience.

    But, like yourself, I doubt I’ll ever uninstall Flash altogether. Truth be told, I keep the “whitelist” on my Click2Flash very small and choose to get the HTML5 versions of video players where available…

    … and I’ll continue saying that Apple made a good choice about keeping Flash OUT of the iPhone/iPad. They put the ball back on Adobe’s side… Let’s wait and see Adobe’s next volley.

    Or maybe AAPL buys ADBE! *fingers crossed*

  7. 7
    Tom 

    Thank you for the thoughtful post. I’ve been teaching Flash for 9+ years. Over the last few years my job has expanded to include Captivate and Flex. In other words, I’ve seen the “platform” mature and now teach authorized Adobe training of all 3 software packages that Adobe sells that’s sole purpose is to make Flash movies.

    I teach occasional private Flash classes at air force bases and they are doing some pretty amazing Flash work. Taking jet engine schematics and animating coolant and electrical systems not to mention stuff as crazy as training necessary “flag signals” to successfully land a helicopter. For the record, I’ve never wanted Flash on my iPhone.

    Captivate is a love/hate piece of software for me personally but thousands use it internally to create interactive screencasts for elearning. As a huge Apple fan, I also personally love the simplicity and elegance of ScreenFlow on my mac but there is something to be said for the interactivity of the Captivate generated Flash movies with quizzes that are SCORM compliant that hook into any standard LMS for tracking. As always, you use what’s appropriate for the project.

    I found your blog about 6 months ago and was extremely impressed. I think I can learn a lot from you. I will sign up for icon resource very soon as I can learn just fine from watching movies and working with project files! Amazon’s cashing in also as I load up on UI, Interface and design books. I’ve only ever wanted to be a better instructor to my students and help them create content that your readers would not resent.

    The Flash hate on your site was something I tried to look beyond and still bookmarked your site. The fact that you went to the effort to live a Flashless February, post conclusions and a revised perspective illustrates the sincerity of your site. Thanks.

  8. 8
    mj 

    Hi Sebastiaan,
    You wrote:
    “Take a look at the current Macheist page. At the time of this writing, it is using 65 to 70 percent of the processing power in my early 2008 Mac Pro, equipped with eight Xeon cores.

    Worse still, people hail these Flash-free websites as progress and the road to the future. With terrible performance and compatibility like that, I prefer Flash”

    With 8 cores, you’re saying that your load average was 5.6 or so while browsing Macheist?
    Or do you mean your load average was 0.70 when browsing Macheist? Mine jumped to 0.70 when browsing Macheist too. But that’s not 70 percent of your processing power, that’s a time-sliced 70 percent of one core.

    When browsing the 2K Games site (Flash), my load average jumps to 85 percent. When watching Flash video, it again jumps to 105 percent. This says to me that Flash has worse performance than HTML/CSS. And the latter can improve – it’s still early days.

    The point being that Macheist looks like Flash. It uses less CPU (and therefore battery) than Flash. It’s HTML/CSS so it works on iPhone (and therefore iPad). It’s HTML and therefore it’s going to much more likely that it’s accessible to screen readers and text-to-speech – Flash tends to be a big lump of inaccessible image-text which is unusable for many accessibility purposes. So, by my book, that makes HTML/CSS much more ‘compatible’ than Flash.

    I’m not saying we should ban Flash but like many things, there is a good time to use it and a bad time to use it. The 2K Games web site, with Click2Flash installed, shows why it’s bad. The entire web site is a Flash image-object and there’s no fallback for more accessible content.

  9. 9
    cookeecut 

    It is always interesting to observe how different people, coming from different backgrounds view the same thing.

    Great post, though I thoroughly disagree. Flash and Silverlight (which was created just to be a thorn on Flash’s side) are fundamentally against the nature of the web.

    The Web is a platform for content delivery and semantic structure. The web is not and has never, ever been envisioned as presentation layer.

    Flash intimately binds the presentation layer with the web. And this dead wrong. Yes, it is convenient, yes it has grown within the industry but that is only because it grew out of its niche. Which was simple animations.

    The answer is not to back down from HTML5. Nor is it to make Flash run leaner.

    The answer is to pursue the correct path and stick with standards and what the web is all about.

  10. I think browsers should by default include the function to just run flash after a click. It is much faster since you can actually just see what you want and not all the annoying things like advertisement.

    I think flash does not has it’s place out there. The reason we think there is, is that it is implemented at many pages.

    I am cool with Click to Flash in Safari!

  11. 11
    BlackRose 

    @Carppool: +1, definitely :)

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