Flash: the new RealPlayer

Flash is just another legacy media player following the slow decline towards irrelevance.

Do you remember when everyone had to install RealPlayer to get streaming audio to work? And how Real abused their position by shovelling unwanted software and intrusive updates along with RealPlayer—to the extent that the BBC had negotiated their own less-invasive build of RealPlayer to avoid subjecting the innocent public to the regular version? And how we were all so happy not to have to use it any more?

Where’s RealPlayer now? I can’t remember the last time I used it or installed it. It’s just another piece of dead proprietary software. And good riddance!

Mo has written a provocative piece on the (shrinking) market penetration of Flash:

And so we’re beginning to arrive at a situation where Flash authors are, for the first time, confronted with a situation where Flash isn’t in a position of unanimous support: the proportion of users without Flash support is growing, and it’s growing quite quickly. From a business perspective, there is a tipping point at which you have to make a decision, based on the numbers.

I’d go further.

I’ve been using FlashBlock (on Firefox and, more recently, Chrome) for several months. This replaces embedded Flash with a placeholder; on clicking the placeholder, the Flash is restored to the page.

As a result, I’ve only seen Flash I really want to see. And this, it seems, is not very much at all.

Adobe’s Linux support for Flash has never been great—in fact, it’s seldom even reached basic competence—but when the plugin was recently revealed to be vulnerable yet again—this time, to remote code execution on every platform it runs on—they threw in the towel entirely, and withdrew the 64-bit Linux plugin.

This left me with three options:

  1. Continue to use the vulnerable plugin;
  2. Use a wrapper to get the 32-bit plugin working; or
  3. Uninstall Flash entirely.

The months of running with FlashBlock gave me the confidence to choose the third option.

And do you know what? I’m really happy not having Flash. Missing out on gaudy advertising or poorly-implemented ‘rich’ typography or flashturbated marketing sites is a bonus.

In fact, all Flash is really actually useful for is as a media player. But the major video hosting sites—such as YouTube and Vimeo—have HTML5 video versions of most content, and for the odd YouTube videos that isn’t available as HTML5, youtube-dl does a fine job. I’ve got my own solution for the iPlayer.

For ad-hoc video hosting, it’s often possible to grab the video filename out of the HTML and download it. And if not, well, it tends not to be that important.

I’ve been running without Flash at home for a month or so now, and I’m quite happy that way.

Now, if only the BBC would stop trying to extend life support to this dying patient (as they ended up doing for RealPlayer back in the day), we could get on with burying it.


  1. Samo

    Wrote at 2010-07-23 11:44 UTC using Safari 533.16 on Mac OS X:

    Heh, switch Linux and FlashBlock for OS X and ClickToFlash and you get my exact views on Flash.
  2. Nonso

    Wrote at 2010-07-24 15:12 UTC using Chrome 5.0.375.99 on Windows XP:

    I enjoy your solution to BBC iplayer, keep up the good work.

    However, I am not looking forward to Flash dying and participating in its burial. I am rather looking forward to it getting opened someday (that will be the day).

    Flash is a good technology and has its other uses apart from watching videos and advertising.
  3. Tim

    Wrote at 2010-07-31 23:24 UTC using Firefox 3.5.9 on Linux:

    The things I hated about realplayer (and I did hate it) were the bundled software you mention and nauseating advertising everywhere.

    In contrast I don’t recall the flash plugin trying to install anything other than itself (maybe a yahoo toolbar option I’ve forgotten?). And although it is commonly used for adverts flash itself doesn’t force them upon you.

    So I don’t like adverts, but that’s why I have adblock (the clue’s in the name). Blocking all flash content because I don’t like a particular use would be like uninstalling my browser because of a few offensive sites. And I generally just avoid marketing sites (flashturbated or otherwise).

    I still see flash around a lot in places like slideshows (flickr) and document viewers (eg the lib dem manifesto on their election site, for all it was worth). Maybe HTML5 will take over but presently the idea is laughable. I haven’t tried any HTML5 animation authorware but the flash tools don’t have any competition anywhere close (unlike realplayer which had loads of other video options biting at its heels).

    All that said, I tried flashblock a few months ago, but it drove me nuts. How do I know if flash content is of interest until I’ve seen it? So I have to click all the boxes, which is much worse than just ignoring them, or removing the ones that annoy me (adblock again).

    I think there’s still some mileage in flash if they can make it work where it counts.

    Just my two-penneth.
  4. Paul Battley

    Wrote at 2010-08-01 11:18 UTC using Chrome 6.0.477.0 on Linux:

    Tim, most of the examples you cite strike me as exactly the kind of thing that should not be done in Flash. Document readers, for example: in no example I’ve ever seen has rendering text in Flash improved its appearance, usability or accessibility. There’s no purpose to rendering a PDF in the browser using Flash: computers can already view PDFs, and do so much more efficiently. Even my mobile phone has a PDF reader!

    I saw the Lib Dem manifesto in Flash. I wasn’t impressed: it should have been HTML. It would have been better as HTML.

    Flickr-style slideshows are trivially easy in HTML (and you don’t need HTML5, either). Why add a layer of Flash? It achieves nothing.

    You’re right that the tools for creating animations in HTML5 aren’t there, but animation is more often a distraction that the actual content for which I visited the page.