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Is Adobe Flash's allure dimming?

Since Apple unveiled its iPad tablet last week -- perhaps you've heard of it by now? -- there's been a lot of chatter in techie circles about a feature missing from that touch-screen device: support for Adobe Flash.

This set of formats and the free Flash Player required to view them constitute one of the more polarizing technologies on the Web.

Flash has made some great things possible online: streaming video at sites ranging from Hulu to YouTube, Google Street View interactive panoramas and a variety of rich, interactive interfaces. The nearly ubiquitous deployment of Flash has also largely eliminated the need to install other multimedia browser plug-ins, such as RealNetworks' increasingly marginalized RealPlayer.

But pushy, tasteless Web developers have abused Flash to unleash a plague of distracting animated site introductions and nagging advertisements. Flash can also be a resource hog, especially outside of Windows. Flash also requires frequent security updates to fix flaws attacked by hackers -- and there are so many out-of-date releases of the Flash player in circulation that the latest version of Mozilla Firefox now warns users to update those and other obsolete plug-ins.

When Apple shipped the iPhone in 2007, it left out Flash entirely -- and has yet to include it since, even though Adobe has since signed up other smartphone developers for an upcoming, mobile-optimized version of the Flash player.

The iPad will continue that tradition -- as the audience at the iPad unveiling saw when chief executive Steve Jobs brought up the New York Times' home page on the device, complete with the blue-Lego icon Apple's Safari browser displays when it doesn't have a plug-in required by a page. (There's almost no chance that a company as detail-oriented as Apple put on such a public display of incompatibility by accident.)

But set aside the iPad -- the iPhone, the iPod touch and other Flash-less devices already make up an increasing chunk of the Web audience. At the popular Lifehacker site, for example, the number of visitors without Flash has tripled to just over 6 percent. That's not a large number, but it's big enough for smart Web developers to pay attention -- just as, tech blogger Robert Scoble noted on Saturday, they had to switch to Web standards to accommodate the small but growing number of users using the first versions of Firefox.

Does that make the Flash Player the next RealPlayer? I'm not so sure. Although a new standard for Web coding, HTML5, allows for more interactive content and makes it easier to embed audio and video, Web browsers differ in the sort of HTML5 video they can handle on their own. Firefox can play a royalty-free format called Theora, while Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari support the competing H.264 format. In other words, Flash provides a much more compatible video solution.

In a blog post last week, Adobe Photoshop product manager John Nack defended his colleagues' software on those grounds while acknowledging its issues. Comparing Flash's widespread deployment and support with the halting, fragmented nature of other attempts at standardizing Web multimedia, he borrowed Winston Churchill's line about democracy to call Flash "the worst except for all the others ever tried."

That may be the case. But one thing does seem impossible to dispute: The animated Flash site intro needs to die. Can we at least agree on that? We can argue about all of the other Flash content in the comments below.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  February 1, 2010; 1:56 PM ET
Categories:  Security , The Web  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Boxee and Hulu vie to bring Web video to your TV
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I've been a Flash hater for a number of years. Google "Flash Sucks" and you'll be surprised how many others there are.

There has been some recent talk about HTML 5 and the use of H.264, which has some licensing issues that could come around to haunt the web. It's not necessarily a cut and dried solution.

Posted by: idiparker | February 1, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Definitely agree about the obnoxiousness of Flash intros, Rob. I dislike all splash pages but those using Flash are the worst. Can't understand the logic of *preventing* people from getting information from a business site. I don't want to embarrass any particular business owner with an example -- because singling out just one would be unfair -- but readers, try visiting restaurant sites and you'll see lots of Flash-iness, and none of it helpful.

Posted by: 5232news | February 1, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

This is the kind of posting that I, as a person not qualified to comment on Flash, greatly appreciate. No one else is going to tell me this kind of stuff, which is important and likely useful sooner or later, probably sooner. Thanks.

Posted by: danjose | February 1, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

You just gave a great idea...I'm going to get my peeps to work on a Theora/H.264 hybrid and call it SkipIntro. You are 100% correct, those things need to be banished.

Posted by: Croquethed | February 2, 2010 6:33 AM | Report abuse

Try Readability! You put it in your bookmark bar and click on it as soon as you get to one of those obnoxious Flash laden, advertising heavy sites. It parses the page and show you just the text! It's fantastic.

It's also helpful in situations where the web designers have made the text's font size too small-- instead of keyboard or tab bar clicking multiple times to get the right size, just click the Readability bookmark.

No, I have nothing to do with the software, its company, or its designers. And I have no doubt there are others programs that do the same thing, saving us from all the buzzin', bloomin', confusin' distractions!

Posted by: Astrogal | February 2, 2010 8:14 AM | Report abuse

I hate Flash when it doesn't add to the site (think: Ads, useless "intro" segments, etc).

As a person who can't get far from computers (for a variety of reasons), I'm a fan of online "virtual desktops". So far, they tend to be split 'tween Flash-based ( and java-based (Glide, Startforce) and the flash-based Ghost easily outpaces the others, largely due to Flash's performance vs Java.

I concur, however, with Jobs' basic assertion: Flash is buggy and contributes to Firefox's massive memory hoggishness, definitely NOT "features" my small-memoried, Instant-On iPod Touch device needs.

No, let's see what HTML5 can bring to the table... and how Apple's gonna keep HTML5 from eating the AppStore's lunch. Death to Flash!

Posted by: Bush--notrelated | February 2, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

IF Adobe allowed end-users to ALWAYS be able to halt flash animations, it would be a fine thing. But they've made it a tool of abuse (and health risk for migraine/seizure sufferers), by leaving it up to the advertisers whether we have the option to control anything Flash-related. Hence the popularity of Flashblock, Ad-block, etc. I'm no Mac fan, but I also am no fan of Flash. I wonder if HTML5 gives users some control back?

Posted by: LKGnyc | February 3, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Flash is a dead man walking. It causes more browser crashes than any other plugin.

For those annoying websites that cling to Flash for their ads and distractions, a nice little utility called "Click To Flash" is the answer.

Adobe is either too cheap to fix the many issues or it realizes that open-source HTML5 is the future and is cutting its losses. Good riddance.

I applaud Apple and other mobile device non-Flash supporters for moving on & supporting open non-proprietary standards rather than clinging to yesterday's tech. It's a shame that most companies aren't so forward-thinking. Recall the gasps when Apple first removed the 3.5" disc drives from their computers. Windows users breathlessly explained how this as a major handicap, yet no Mac user ever suffered - they instead used USB memory sticks which were dramatically faster and better in every way. Sometimes newer standards really are better (ieee 1394, USB) and sometimes they are not (HDMI, most video codecs).

Posted by: roule | February 3, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

What many non-iPhone/iPod touch and Apple TV owners do not realize is that you hardly miss Flash. Many of the sites that use Flash have created apps that do not, including the New York Times, USA Today and TIME. There is an H.264 YouTube app on these devices and on the iPad - good video without Flash.

Apple has good reason to disdain Flash - it is the main cause of crashes for Safari and taxes the system even with it is not causing crashes. Adobe has known about Flash's problems for years and not fixed them. Consumers in the know use a Flash blocker on their computers. They turn on Flash only if they want to see a video or chart. The most popular is Click to Flash. It makes Internet life more livable.

Posted by: query0 | February 4, 2010 2:17 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Pegoraro,

With all due respect, you seem to be allowing only negative comments regarding Flash to appear on your blog. You failed to post my comment from two days ago, and that is sad. I wasn't abusive or profane. In fact, you have chosen to post comments such as "Death to Flash!".

Unlike most people who comment, I actually work with the technology being bashed. The fact remains, Flash is much more than just video and annoying ads. Another fact is the HTML 5 "stack" (HTML, JS, CSS)can not technically replace all the functionality of the Flash platform. I wish good luck to anyone who believes that to be a truth.

One final word, HTML 5 will be abused to an even greater degree when it comes to serving annoying animated ads. Besides video, that is what one of the core uses will be, simplistic tween style animations using the canvas tag. At least there are Flash blockers available, how will people block the "standard" HTML 5 ads without turning off the entire site(Assuming it's all HTML 5)? Perhaps there will be a solution, I haven't read any word on this as of yet.....


Posted by: rkdresden | February 4, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Flash does have issues with crashing browsers and Adobe hasn't done enough to deal with it, probably because they've enjoyed dominance. Maybe they will get moving now.

I'm an Apple fan, but some of their beef with Flash isn't just about the crashing and bugs, it's for strategic business purposes.

But I have to say, Flash allows for some incredible stuff on the web, interactive multimedia that you can't get easily with other technologies and that can't be replaced with standard video. Since it's early days there have been Flash haters and Flash Intro bashers, but it's like most tools, if used with some artistic taste with the user in mind, Flash is a great tool. And not many web developers use the Flash Intro anymore, so we can probably stop talking so much about that as a BIG problem. And yes, some sites are laden with Flash ads, but if it wasn't Flash ads it would be animated GIFs and videos, also memory hogs and annoying. Don't blame Flash for that, blame cheesy developers. Though people (often with a snobby attitude) have been trying to put the genie back in the bottle, you won't stop multimedia on the web - and not every web user just wants to read - some actually enjoy animation and video (note the success of television!). So whether it's Flash or some other technology in its place, we'll need people with taste creating the content.

Posted by: Sullyville | February 4, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

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