7 Months Flashless

It has been 7 months since I’ve followed John Gruber’s advice and abandoned Adobe Flash. Put simply, the experience has positively affected almost every facet of using my computer. It’s faster, cooler, runs longer and most importantly, it’s infinitely less prone to infuriating me.

Removing Flash from your computer feels like switching from using a capable metal tool to one made of carbon fiber; Just as dependable, but requires so much less effort to operate. On a laptop, you immediately start to notice the difference in battery life when surfing the web. You come to appreciate the newfound silence of your computer as fans don’t maniacally whirr so often anymore. The difference is most noticeable when switching back to a computer that does have Flash installed. Almost as soon as you playback any video, you immediately sense the burden you’ve placed on its shoulders. If anything, going Flashless gives one the sense they’ve granted their computer a new lease on life. I had to give up my original MacBook Air two years ago because video would cripple it and wreak havoc on its battery. I’m convinced this wouldn’t have been the case had it not been for Flash. Had I known then what I know now, I could very well be writing this article on that MacBook Air.

I’m choosing to use the word positive because in all honesty, Gruber’s system was never meant to be anything more than a workaround, a specific customization with its own benefits and challenges. Calling the experience successful or groundbreaking, even if it feels that way, would be a misnomer. Even if every Daring Fireball reader rid themselves of the burden, a large number by most any measure, the overall effect on the PC market would still be negligible. Going Flashless, you also start to realize how nascent HTML 5 is and just how ubiquitous Flash still is on the web. At best, living without Flash is akin to belonging to a small, young and ambitious movement. The potential is there, but there’s lots of work ahead of us.

Apple is certainly determined to push things along. In the case of iOS devices, the denial of Flash is indeed groundbreaking; It’s changing the game. In the case of the Mac, the gesture seems more symbolic than anything. Despite no longer shipping with Flash built-in, I’m skeptical about how long new Macs can stay in this virgin state. Many of the web’s most popular sites still require flash and I suspect most causal users have no compunction about installing the software the first time they are prompted to. 

Consider the following scenario:

Shawn purchases a new MacBook. He races home to set it up. Immediately, he launches Safari and logs into Facebook to share the news of his new purchase. At the same time, he notices a bunch of his friends have been commenting on a video link someone posted. Wanting to be part of the conversation, Shawn decides to check out the link. This is when he first encounters it: Flash 10 is required to watch the video.

I’d wager this occurs frequently, if not regularly.

Your mileage may vary but sooner or later, you’ll stumble onto a site that makes regular use of Flash content. An unexpected side effect from my experience with this is the increased frequency with which I find myself using Google Chrome. Turns out my browsing habits require it to be more than just a stopgap. While on some weeks I may encounter so little Flash content that I consider uninstalling Chrome all together, on others it acts as my default browser, all depending on the news I’m following at the time. I don’t personally mind, Chrome is an excellent browser. I’m more partial to the look and feel of Safari but Google’s offering feels more powerful, much faster in use by comparison. Don’t be mistaken, having to resort to Chrome frequently shouldn’t be taken as a sign that proves how much you do need Flash. Rather, consider it as a barometer to judge how much Flash content you consume and the rate at which web developers are converting Flash content to HTML 5.

With regards to content, it would seem that most web designers aren’t in a hurry to make the switch, at least on desktop browsers. They have, however, been busy adapting their content to function on the ever growing population of iOS devices. For example, both YouTube and the New York Times have no trouble displaying content on the iPad. Advertisers on the Times have even moved to HTML 5 on the device. Yet, in Safari, many YouTube videos simply aren’t converted to play in HTML 5 and the overall experience is lacking; Videos seem to generally load and stream less effectively than their Flash powered counterparts and the HTML 5 player isn’t so visually striking, even from a minimalist perspective. Some content on the Times website will still require you to download Adobe’s software if you visit the site from your newly purchased Mac. Gruber has suggested masquerades and extensions to jump over those hurdles, but it’s strange that they are required at all. Why the discrepancy? In most cases, it does makes sense for web designers to create different sites depending on the devices they are being accessed from. Adapting content and layout to conform to the specific strength and weaknesses of different devices is essential. What’s more apt to cause head scratching are those sites which display the same content in the same structure on both the Mac and iOS yet default to showing Flash content on one and HTML 5 on the other. What’s the reasoning behind that? On this point, differentiating between the mobile web and the desktop web seems redundant, wasteful and unnecessary.

Yet despite all my qualms and worries, I plan to continue living Flashless and I’ll continue to make the recommendation to anyone whom I think may benefit from this lifestyle. If you’re using older hardware, especially laptops, the difference it makes will be impressive. Even just switching to using Chrome exclusively will be a net positive. The built in Flash player is that much less demanding. A lot of web content hasn’t shown up to the party yet, but strides are being made, especially because of the impact of the iPhone and iPad. It’s faint, but the writing is on the wall for Adobe Flash.

I promise, 7 months is more than you’ll ever need to be convinced of that.


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      what Shadoe Huard...saying about being flashless. Although
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