Its now been a couple of months since I removed Flash from my Mac & I thought it might be useful to share some of my experiences, both good & bad. It hasn’t been 100% plain sailing but my Mac now definitely runs quieter, lasts longer and my browser no longer crashes on a daily basis!
Why remove Flash?
You may be asking, why would I want to remove Flash? My reasons for removing Flash are:
- It makes the fans on my Mac go crazy
- It reduces the battery life
- I got sick of Safari freezing up and eventually crashing (almost daily!)
There are also other, more politically charged issues, such as it not being terribly good at accessibility or the fact that it doesn’t run well on mobile/tablet devices1. But these weren’t really of any consequence when considering removing Flash from my desktop machine.
John Gruber explains the process of removing Flash from you system. He also outlines a work around for sites that still need Flash by installing Chrome & using it for sites that require Flash. Chrome comes bundled with its own version of the Flash plugin that doesn’t need to be installed at the system level, which makes it a great solution for the occasional Flash website. As I have to regularly test code in a number of browsers I already had Chrome installed, so this was a pretty easy work around for me.
Instead of having to copy and paste URL’s between Safari & Chrome when you land on a website that absolutely needs Flash, I installed the ‘Open in Chrome’ Safari Extension. This, via a small proxy app, lets you add an icon to Safari’s toolbar which opens the current page in Chrome. It works really well and definitely improves the workflow2. This differs a little from Grubers suggestion but having this button works better for me.
I’d also highly recommend installing the YouTube5 Safari Extension, which in the authors own words:
removes the need to use flash on YouTube by converting all videos to their HTML5 video tag equivalents. It also has the added benefits of decreased CPU usage compared to flash, and the removal of in-video ads.
Update (05/08/11) Joseph Schmitt posted an alternative to the YouTube5 extension for anyone currently having problem with the plugin. Its called Embedinator and produces largely the same result as YouTube5 but using a slightly different technique.
Problem Sites I visit regularly
Here are some of the sites that I visit regularly that have been an issue since removing Flash:
Like most people I know, I use Google Analytics to track my sites usage, unfortunately the charts/maps require Flash and won’t display.
Videos don’t work.
Video/Audio don’t work
Music Promo Sites (Fatdrop/React Promo)
By default, Flash is required to play audio. There is a setting hidden in your account details to enable HTML5 audio support which worked a treat for me!
Ironically, I found the solution to most of the above sites was to use iOS instead of my Mac. I can check my GA stats quickly using Analytics App (although still use Chrome for a proper analysis) & video for both Facebook & iPlayer work perfectly on the iPhone/iPad.
The only common use I have for Flash that I didn’t find a suitable work around for was listening to promo music.
Common uses for Flash on the web
When browsing without Flash you notice just how many sites make use of Flash in someway or another. Most of these use-cases could be just as adequately solved using HTML5, especially as browser parity improves.
This has to be the most common use of Flash on the web. HTML5 has an answer to this in the form of the
<video> tag. This however isn’t without its complexity, as things currently stand video needs to be encoded in at least two formats to work across all the browsers, h.264 (Safari/IE) and Ogg Theora or VP8/WebM (Chrome/Firefox/Opera).
There are also issues with lack of DRM support which will likely prevent uptake from large copyright holders.
With all that said, the most frustrating thing about the use of Flash for video is that many sites already provide an h.264 feed for iOS, they just don’t enable access via the desktop. The iPlayer & Facebook are both examples of this!
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I suspect Flash will be filling this void for a while yet.
Traditionally, rich visualisations such as graphs & charts have either been presented as pre-rendered images or by using Flash. HTML5 gives us the canvas and SVG support which both provide ways of generating compelling alternatives.
One of the biggest bugbears of web-designers has always been the incredible small number of web safe fonts that can be used. Flash once again stepped in to meet this need and sIFR was born. sIFR enabled custom typography on a website without its visitors having to have the required fonts installed. It was however horrible to use!
We now have
@font-face support which is far easier to implement and provides a better end user experience. Even the author suggests using
@font-face instead of sIFR:
Given that we’re well into 2011 at the time of writing, you should really think twice about deploying sIFR. Instead, have a look at Typekit or Fontdeck. There hasn’t been an update to sIFR since October 2008, and consequently it’s probably riddled with bugs. Seriously, don’t use it. It’s unsupported software.
Typekit and the like offer a great selection of commercial fonts but if you’re on a budget Google have also made available many public domain fonts via their own Webfonts API.
Animation (mainly adverts!)
To be honest, missing out on adverts on the web is no major hardship! However, more broadly speaking animations are a good thing & this is an area where HTML5 has a number of alternatives. The
canvas is one possibility but I think a better solution is to take advantage of CSS3 animations/transitions where all text used is accessible & indexable. The tooling to creating CSS3 based animations are also starting to become available, be sure to check out Sencha Animator.
Was it worth the hassle?
In a word, yes! There are, as I’ve outlined, still a few cases where I need to fire up Chrome to view a specific site but on the whole the pros far outweigh the cons.
My laptop battery does last longer, my fans don’t go crazy just browsing the web and Safari no longer falls over on a daily basis. Also, Safari in general is much more responsive and, completely anecdotally, the OS feels a lot quicker. I’ve also noticed that CSS3 transitions seem to be a lot smoother and less prone to timing jitters, perhaps this is due to the reduced memory footprint of Safari sans plugin?
That said, I do believe Flash still has its place. It would however just be good to see the unnecessary uses for flash diminish and be replaced with solid HTML5 alternatives.