You might have noticed that a new Apple product launched recently. I’m not going to name it here, because the presstitutes have already flooded the Web with coverage of it to the point where people are suffering from the-Apple-device-that-must-not-be-named fatigue.
But an interesting controversy has arisen as a result of this release: Adobe’s Flash doesn’t run on it. People have been weighing in on article comments and forums, mocking the product and pointing out that “without Flash you don’t have the real Internet experience.”
Is that really true? Do you need Adobe Flash to actually enjoy being online? For me, the answer is clearly no. And I think a good argument can be made that the Internet is better off without it.
What’s Wrong with Flash
Let’s start by listing a few of the obvious problems with Flash. (I’m sure I’ve missed some others—feel free to list your gripes in the comments.)
1. As a certain CEO noted recently, “…it’s “…a CPU hog.” (Among other things.) The CEO in question, responsible for selling the product-that-must-not-be-named, apparently made this comment in a meeting with people from a major media outlet as he encouraged them to develop their site using HTML5 for video instead of Flash. According to Gawker:
“Jobs was brazen in his dismissal of Flash, people familiar with the meeting tell us. He repeated what he said at an Apple Town Hall recently, that Flash crashes Macs and is buggy.
But he also called Flash a “CPU hog,” a source of “security holes” and, in perhaps the most grievous insult a famous innovator can utter, a dying technology. Jobs said of Flash, “We don’t spend a lot of energy on old technology.” He then compared Flash to other obsolete systems Apple got people to ditch….”
(Although not everyone agrees that HTML5 is always better.)
2. Animated, pushy ads. Does an excess of animation and noise really make ads more effective? I doubt it. I suspect that they simply annoy people to the point where they tune them out or use some kind of Flash-blocker in their browsers. In the interests of full disclosure, I have advertising on some of my sites (including JimLynch.com) and, yes, some of the ads are Flash-based. I suppose I’m a bit of a hypocrite for complaining about it, but I’d still like to see the ad networks move away from using Flash.
3. Non-standard web page interfaces. It can be incredibly frustrating to deal with Flash-based Web page interfaces. Ugh. It’s as if some designers want to make it as difficult as possible to navigate their sites. I generally try to avoid even going to sites that are Flash-based, just to keep my blood pressure down. Take a look at the Assassin’s Creed 2 Web site for a good example. Why can’t companies just use a reasonably standard interface that doesn’t require Flash just for basic navigation? This is exactly what’s wrong with using Flash so heavily in a site. In many cases, CSS can do the job just as well.
4. The bugginess. At least on Mac OS X and Linux, Flash causes all sorts of problems, time and time again. On those OSes, the value of the content on Flash-based Web pages doesn’t come anywhere close to compensating for the bugs.
5. Flash Freaks. Believe it or not, there are people out there who seem to have a genuine fetish for this junky software. You see them all over the Web whenever somebody discusses the-product-that-must-not-be-named: They jump in immediately and heap scorn onto anyone who doesn’t like Flash, and they’ll shout how they don’t care that the product-that-must-not-be-named doesn’t run it. I used to think that the Linux Holy Warriors and Mac Cultists were as bad as it could get, but at least those folks were defending viable pieces of technology. The Flash Freaks are far worse and refuse to admit any of the disadvantages of the software they love.
The Web Without Adobe Flash
I decided recently to see what the modern Web was like without Flash, so I uninstalled it from one of my systems.
The first thing I noticed was that the Flash ads were gone. I still saw ads on Web pages I visited, but without most of the irritating animation. (Some pages used animated GIFs, but there were a lot fewer of those.) This meant that I also missed out on some parts of Web sites that used Flash—things like interactive slide shows and games weren’t viewable in my browser.
And you know what? I enjoyed not having Flash all over the place while browsing. The Web became a less obnoxious place, somewhat easier to navigate and find the information and entertainment I wanted.
True, there were certain other things that I couldn’t experience anymore. Facebook games, for example. (Though I’m not sure I miss harvesting my crops on Farmville for the 500,000th time!). But did I really need to be wasting my time with all of that in the first place? Eventually those games get very tiresome and not being able to play them was almost a relief.
It was similar to when I got rid of cable TV. The very idea is heresy to many people, but once I did it it was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. With a major distraction removed, I suddenly found my life quieter and more productive. I didn’t miss any of the junk content that had vanished.
I’m happy to see that sites like YouTube are already moving ahead vigorously with non-Flash versions. You can even try out YouTube using HTML5, though you’ll need to use one of the supported browsers (Safari, Chrome, or IE with Google Chrome Frame installed).
The HTML5 videos I’ve seen look and sound pretty darn good. You’re really not missing out on much. Not, not all videos are currently available in HTML5, but if you sign up for the beta and you don’t have Flash on your system, you can still browse around YouTube to see videos using HTML5 instead of Flash.
I dare you to try this yourself. Go ahead. If you haven’t already, get rid of Flash and see if you miss it as little as I did. My guess is that you won’t and that you’ll find yourself preferring a smoother, faster, gentler, and—dare I say it?—less “flashy” Web.
What’s your take on flash? Love it or hate it? Tell me in the comments.