Flash: (don’t) click here to download plugin

The dreaded “Download plugin” icon

Here’s above the cute, user-friendly icon I get when visiting web sites such as Google Video, Youtube, Dailymotion, Google Analytics… and countless others, including all blog posts with an embedded video. Needless to say, clicking on the icon doesn’t yield anything other than a “sorry, your operating system is not supported” message.

Contrary to popular belief, Adobe Flash:

  • is neither open nor standard, meaning its technical specification is not public;
  • is a complex format, meaning it’s not easy to write compatible implementations (clones) — currently there are none; the above point makes that extremely unlikely to happen in the near future;
  • is not portable, meaning its use is limited to Adobe-approved operating systems: Windows, MacOS, Solaris and Linux (and the Linux plugin itself is quite outdated). No FreeBSD, no NetBSD, no OpenBSD… the Flash license even explicitly forbids its use on non-Adobe-approved operating systems, excluding any kind of emulation as a stopgap measure;
  • requires a plugin;
  • is not the web, not even web 2.0.

Don’t think this is all obvious for everyone: I was recently amazed to read in a French amateur video magazine, who should know better, that Flash requires no plugin and runs on any computer, any operating system. This is so blatantly wrong that I wrote them and they mostly replied that it’s almost true, at least enough for their readers purposes (!); exactly the same kind of argument we heard years ago about Internet-Explorer-only websites.

This means that the current situation with the Flash format is even worse than the situation with the Word formats, which are currently more or less supported by open source software such as Openoffice.

Next time you upload a nice video to Youtube or send it to your friends… or next time you add cool-looking animations to your web site using Flash… try to have all of this in mind: a lot of people just can’t use Flash. So unless you add some provision for Flash-less users (such as Google Video allowing you to download the video in its original, non-Flash, easily playable format), your site will just be unusable for them.

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4 thoughts on “Flash: (don’t) click here to download plugin”

  1. I think that the next version of ffmpeg will be able to encode and decode flash video. Writing a portable plugin should be easier then.

  2. Honestly there is a bit of FUD in your post. One version of the Adobe license did forbid running the Flash plugin on non-officially-blessed operating systems (I don’t want to write “non-supported”, since I don’t believe they commit to any level of actual support even on the designated operating environments), but this was quickly clarified, and a new license was produced that allows again to run the plugin in ohter environments (under the user’s sole responsibility, which seems fair enough to me).

    Another unfortunate point is, however obnoxious those people who post flash videos are, I don’t think they’re cutting themselves from a lot of people. Compared to the count of Windows and Mac users who can just click the funny icon and get the plugin to install automatically, that’s just a tiny population.

    Oh, and I finally gave in and patched my dynamic linker so that I can now run the Linux Flash plugin version 7 on my FreeBSD laptop with the linuxpluginwrapper. It’s working like a charm, and I now have the pleasure of being able to waste valuable time watching stupid movies at work.

  3. One more argument to nout use Flash in any significant way on a website: it is not crawled in any way by the big search engine, thus if your content is embedded in flash, the crawlers will see it as a more or less empty web site, and will maybe even not be indexed.

    Thus, if you want to be referenced a minima (meaning that people wil be able to find your site when they don’t remember the exact URL but only a few keywords), don’t use flash.

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