If you follow this blog then you may recall me railing against websites that require the use of the Adobe Flash browser plug-in, which I removed from my iMac in November 2010 and never reinstalled. I watch quite a lot of YouTube (too much to be honest) and lack of Flash was a challenge. For a long time my solution was to use Connor McKay’s YouTube5 Safari Extension but in September 2014, when I had turned off Extensions for some reason, I noticed that YouTube seemed to be working fine – presumably it had started serving HTML5 to browsers without Flash. A few days ago YouTube went further and announced that they are now serving HTML5 by default (at least in Chrome, IE 11, Safari 8 and beta versions of Firefox). They are also deprecating “old style” Flash <object> embeds and their Flash API.
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.
First a little bit of background. I am a Mac user and I do all my browsing in Safari. Over a year ago I installed ClickToFlash which “Blocks evil Adobe Flash”. I can view Flash content with a single click if I want, but otherwise it doesn’t get to hog my CPU or distract my eyeballs.
So until recently when I went to my Dashboard on this blog there was no graph visible in the Stats section – just a grey box with the word “Flash” in the middle. Clicking on the box loaded the graph. Well today when I went to my Dashboard the graph appeared right away, so it seems like it must no longer be implemented using Flash. I am a bit out of touch with web design so I don’t know what it is using instead. Looking at the page source I see “id=stats-graph” where the graph is displayed, and the only other place “stats-graph” is used is inside a jQuery structure.
Has anyone else noticed this change? Is it documented somewhere?
Update 2010-10-03: WordPress announced the ditching of Flash a couple of weeks after the fact (and six days after I blogged about it) – see Sexy Stats.