Mac OS X 10.6.5 included fixes for 55 vulnerabilities in Adobe’s Flash Player. This is part of the reason why Apple have now stopped shipping Flash on all new Macs. Of course users can install the Flash plug-in themselves but having Flash installed can reduce battery runtime by up to a third (see Ars Technica review of the 11″ MacBook Air), so there are good reasons to avoid it. The problem is that although Flash is a proprietary technology controlled by Adobe it is widely used to serve video on the web. This situation arose because although HTML has always included a tag for embedding static images it has not until relatively recently had a tag for embedding video. With HTML5 that has all changed but Microsoft have been dragging their feet and Internet Explorer (unlike all the other major browsers) does not yet support HTML5 video. This means that websites have been slow to adopt the new technology because they generally need to support IE users. However, with the success of Apple’s iPhone and iPad (neither of which support Flash) content providers have been given a kick up the backside and an increasing number of websites are now able to serve HTML5 video.
For a long time I had been using the ClickToFlash Safari plugin to block Flash on my iMac. One of the main benefits was the elimination of all those distracting Flash adverts but when I did want to watch a Flash video I could play it with a single click. The problem was that Safari was telling websites “Yes, I have Flash” so they were not serving alternative content when available. About a month ago I read that Steven Frank had removed the Flash plugin from his Mac altogether and I followed his lead, installing the YouTube5 Safari Extension so that I could still watch stuff on YouTube.
After removing Flash from my iMac I found that certain things no longer worked, for example Google Street View, the flickr slideshow and the excellent TED website. However, I then read about the iPad user agent string trick on Daring Fireball. The “Develop” menu in Safari has a “User Agent” option and if you set it to “Mobile Safari 3.2.2 – iPad” then websites think you are browsing on an iPad and may well give you something that works without Flash. The trick doesn’t always work but I am going to persevere with my self-imposed exile, partly out of stubbornness, partly in solidarity with people who are using devices that can’t do Flash, and partly to inform webmasters through their logs that there are people who run Mac OS X without Flash.
So what do I miss most? That is easy – the BBC. I am subscribed to the BBC news feed via RSS and often go to a story that consists mainly of an embedded video where I just get a message telling me I need to install Flash. Although the BBC site apparently works on an iPad it goes to some lengths to check that you are really on an iPad and is not fooled by changing the user agent string. This is very annoying and there doesn’t seem to be a way around it. I have no idea why the BBC is going out of its way to unnecessarily force users to install a proprietary plug-in. The same thing applies to BBC iPlayer on the web but here there is a workaround – I use a command line tool called get_iplayer.