In November 2010 I removed the Adobe Flash Player plug-in from my iMac and have never re-installed it. This broke a number of websites but there were some simple workarounds to get things going again. In the case of YouTube I installed Connor McKay’s YouTube5 Safari Extension which had been working very well until recently. Note that YouTube does have an experimental HTML5 Player which I have tried but it has some limitations and the YouTube5 Safari Extension seemed like the better option (use one or other, not both).
On June 20 I tried watching a YouTube video which had been playing fine before and got a message saying “The Adobe Flash Player is required for video playback”. Needless to say I was not happy. I tried other videos and some worked as normal but many gave the same message. I also noticed that the problem videos did in fact start playing but within a second or so they were interrupted, which was particularly galling because it meant that playback clearly did not require the Adobe Flash Player – the message was untrue and it was just that Google didn’t want us to view the videos.
I searched the Google Product Forums for reports of this problem and when I found nothing I posted one myself, see Why is Flash suddenly required for many videos? The next day there were already a number of responses from people who were having the same problem, so at least I knew it wasn’t just me. There was also an annoying and irrelevant response from anmoose which simply said “YouTube has been using the Flash player since 2005. It seems odd that you’re just now finding that out”. YouTube had been working fine for us, this was a new problem clearly resulting from something Google had changed in the last couple of days.
I then found that this was also being discussed on the YouTube5 website (most recent comments are at the bottom of the page so you have to scroll down). It appeared that the problem was only affecting videos with ads (which explained why some still worked) and that it didn’t affect embedded YouTube video. I commented that I was seeing the problem and gave a link to my thread on the Google Product Forums. Connor reported on his efforts to find a fix but the best he could do was add Flash blocking functionality to his extension and suggest that people install the Flash plugin, which I was not willing to do. Joacim suggested joining the YouTube “Feather” Beta which is apparently a low latency version for slow connections (at least one other person had success with that). I decided on a different approach which was to make Safari pretend I was on an iPad. This fools YouTube into serving the mobile version, which actually works very well in Safari for OS X and does not require Flash (to do this you first have to go to Safari’s Advanced Preferences and enable “Show Develop menu in menu bar” after which you can switch User Agent in the Develop menu). The trouble with this solution as I soon found out is that some videos won’t play on mobile devices!
Actually I already knew that, an example being my own video You’ve got one on your tail. If you try to watch it on a mobile device you will get the message “The content owner has not made this video available on mobiles”. It wasn’t actually me that imposed the restriction. What happened is that I used audio from the Public Enemy track “Son of a Bush” which resulted in a Content ID match. It is therefore really Warner Music Group that decided not to make my video available on mobiles.
I was already using the AdBlock extension so it was simple to add the rule and it worked a treat. It wasn’t long though before I noticed a side effect – clicking the “Like” button on YouTube no longer had any effect (same with “Add to” etc). I can work around this by temporarily disabling AdBlock but clearly that is not optimal. It is disappointing that in this day and age Google would deliberately introduce an unnecessary dependence on a proprietary browser plug-in. Presumably they thought it would somehow increase advertising revenue. My stubborn refusal to install the plug-in makes life difficult at times but I am not ready to give in yet!