Browsing without Flash

I’ve been browsing with a Flash-less Firefox 4 for the past week. I just upgraded to a new laptop, and rather than install Flash (and Flashblock :-) right away, I figured I’d try to go without for a while to see what the experience is like. This is my report.

In short — it’s still a pain to use the web without Flash. :-(

I’m probably a lighter-than-average Flash consumer… The vast majority of things I hit that used Flash were videos, and I occasionally ran across sites that were entirely built in Flash. I’m not really into online games at the moment, so the lack of certain addicting games didn’t bother me a bit. I can see how that would be a complete deal-breaker for some people, though.

Things are looking up, though. HTML5 video is here, so there’s a clear path for replacing Flash when just used for video. Unfortunately, Youtube still seems to default to requiring Flash unless you opt-in to their HTML5 Trial. And even that’s a mixed bag, because while most (all?) new videos are available in the WebM format, lots of older ones have yet to be reencoded (the exact pattern eludes me; some 4+ year old videos work fine, while some < 1 year old videos do not).

And then there’s Vimeo, which displays this particularly-aggravating error for all videos:

Is Firefox 4 not an “HTML5 compliant browser”?! Sigh.

While sites will take time to move away from Flash, there are some things in the browser we can start working on to help make living without Flash less painful.

1) We should implement click-to-play plugins — basically, build in the Flashblock add-on. This is good for a number of other reasons, but it would also let early unadopters choose to enable Flash selectively.

2) We need to make this infobar less OMG IN YOUR FACE.

And, ideally, some way of letting users indicate when they’re not interested in installing the plugin and to please stop nagging. (We already have the plugins.hide_infobar_for_missing_plugin pref, but that’s not per-plugin, and there’s no UI for it.)

3) Similarly, the “unknown plugin” placeholder UI should stop being pushy about offering to download plugins when you don’t want them. (And not even offer this in the first place if we don’t actually have a download available for that plugin type!)

Any other suggestions for ways to make a Flash-less browser more palatable to use?

About Justin Dolske

Mostly harmless.
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16 Responses to Browsing without Flash

  1. emmanuel says:

    this rick astley video is now available in html5 on youtube :-)

  2. Kroc Camen says:

    Finally, someone says it! I’ve been wanting Mozilla to tone down the Flash prompts since Firefox 2. I made Video for Everybody http://camendesign.com/code/video_for_everybody — an HTML5 video element with Flash fallback — specially so that it doesn’t cause the browser to prompt to install Flash so that it acts as a true fallback. HTML5 video if available, then Flash and if no Flash, just an image and links to download the video. Scummy sites keep bugging the end-user to install stuff they don’t want, videos on the web should not do the same as well.

    The thing with YouTube has to do with ads. If the video is using ads, it’s only served as Flash for now. Use the easy YouTube video downloader add-on to download the file as a WebM or MP4 to play locally.

    But yes, do something about the pushy Flash behaviour. Web developers need to start coding true fallbacks and not just worthless (and usually unstyled / poorly thought out) “Install Flash” messages.

  3. Matěj Cepl says:

    I am long-standing supporter of https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=422540 (and of course equivalents on another platforms … DirectShow and QuickTime should be supported as well), in essence doing the same what Epiphany, Safari, and Chromium do, leaving all this mess to the system where it belongs.

  4. kevin says:

    I use Firefox without Adobe Flash, for performance and security reasons. That is my primary browser. For the occasional page that needs Flash, I use the Firefox “Open With” extension to open that page in Chrome (I only use Chrome for flash pages). For me, the only sites I visit that really need flash are youtube and hulu.

  5. Ted Mielczarek says:

    I’ve been browsing Flash-free on my Ubuntu system (since Adobe is so terrible about security updates to the Linux Flash player), and I agree with all of these points. I notice you get the infobar even on Github, which presumably uses Flash just for some hidden functionality.

    I think it would also be interesting to try writing an add-on that used one of the Flash-in-HTML implementations to run Flash content natively. Flash videos would still be a barrier, unless you had an online transfixed to WebM.

  6. H5 says:

    As Kroc has said — “You need to upgrade your Adobe Flash Player to watch this video” = we want to show you ads.

    If the video isn’t available in webm, the error is different, something about your browser not supporting any of the available formats.

    It’s been a lot of time since I saw the latter, so maybe they’re all available in webm now, but then again I don’t really test the html5 mode much.

  7. Hub says:

    I have been doing that for a very long time.

    Flash block avoid the “in your face” missing plugin.

    Vimeo are just being #@^%$# (did you see which browser they link to?) because they don’t want to support anything else but H264 or Flash.

    In the end, like before, if I need Flash then I don’t need to see that website.

  8. Ed says:

    That is why i think it is easier for Adobe to work on Flash, making it 10x faster rather then having websites not uses it………

  9. I also don’t use flash anymore, not by software or hardware limitation, but by option. For youtube videos, I usually use minitube player, which can play any youtube video, or vlc for other videos and as I don’t like flash games, I don’t miss them :-)

    This popup “you need to install a plugin” on top of page also annoys me, and it’s good to know I can disable it. But I’d prefer a good user interface to configure it. Something like “Don’t show this popup again” using the new popup interface (like when you’re installing a new interface or click on the website favicon).

    I really hope live in a world when I don’t need to use proprietary technologies to have access to informations on web :-)

    ps: English isn’t my native language, so please forgive the errors in my comment :-)

  10. Brian says:

    There is no reason given to justify your arguments against Flash. It seems you don’t _like_ Flash, and that’s your perogative, but if websites want to require Flash, that is their perogative. Firefox’s role is to alert the user that the website requires a plug-in that is not installed and to offer a way to make the content work. It seems that Firefox is performing this role adequately, so I fail to see the point of your arguments.

  11. Justin Dolske says:

    Brian: this post wasn’t intended to be a critique of Flash’s role on the web, just what the current Firefox experience is without Flash installed. Shame you seem to be looking for a fight where none was intended.

  12. John says:

    Yeees, please! I am usually surfing with Flashblock + Flash plugin turned off, because it’s draining too much CPU power. I selectively activate the Flash plugin when I need it, but since this is not per site, I need Flashblock. As a heavy tab user, it’s no fun having Flash running in several tabs. So, Flash on-demand (not preloaded) and opt-in per site would be great. That’s one feature I like about Opera: You can activate plugins per site. On the other hand, with Google and Dailymotion moving towards in-browser-video, there’s not much of a use case for Flash anymore. If only Google would stop nagging…

  13. Brian says:

    Justin, I’m not looking for a fight, I just don’t see why Firefox should try to improve the experience of browsing webpages without the required plugins. Right now Firefox does what I feel is the correct action of prompting the user in an obvious way to install the required plugins.

  14. Bryan says:

    As an item to add.. the Mozilla Plugin Check displays the following text if you don’t have Flash:

    Missing FLASH?
    For your safety, Firefox has disabled your outdated version of Flash. Please upgrade to the latest version.

  15. Steve Fink says:

    Mostly, I’d just like it to tell me what mime-type (or whatever) I’m missing the plug-in for. I’ve heard that it isn’t exposed to avoid intimidating users or something, which is ridiculous. Fine, make me pref it on, or on a context menu, or whatever. Just don’t make me hunt for it through View Source.

    Just did a search. Bug 529523.

  16. That is why i think it is easier for Adobe to work on Flash, making it 10x faster rather then having websites not uses it

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