Adobe Flash has been both a gift and a curse wrapped up in the same package. It's a sluggish, often insecure and horribly bloated way to watch a video and play games on your computer. For years, Flash for Linux users was even worse: audio was out of sync with the video and you needed a special wrapper to play Flash videos on 64-bit Linux distributions. Even though things have gotten better in terms of compatibility, security still remains poor.
In this article, I'll examine the practicality of going without Flash, what sites still require it.
The case against Flash in Linux
Setting aside the recent security issues with Flash, there is also the matter of it no longer being actively supported under Linux. Yes, it's being patched for Linux users. And of course, Google's Chrome browser maintains their own variant of Flash called Pepper Flash. But if you prefer not to use Chrome, you're pretty much married to either using Adobe Flash's dated offering or forgoing Flash altogether.
Why in the world would anyone want to use a product like this to watch videos? As it turns out, no one does. Major websites have already begun the process of making sure HTML5 video elements are available instead of relying on Flash exclusively. The two major websites that come to mind are YouTube and Vimeo. Both will provide on-demand video playback with modern HTML5 video element supported browsers like Firefox.
The real problem is there are still websites that many people use that rely on Flash for elements of their content. I've seen instances of Flash being used for everything from video playback to advertising. Heck, even Google's own FeedBurner is still using Flash to display the feed stats graph for your dashboard. The exact file in question is called up as /fb/static/OverTimeGraph.swf, and it's not showing any signs of being updated. And this is Google. Folks...Google is still using Flash.
Worst offenders list
The absolute worst offenders that still rely on Flash as part of their website design are local news agencies. This includes everything from newspapers on the Web to TV stations. It used to be many of these same sources would bother Linux users with user-agent nonsense wrappers for their Flash content. Today they've stopped doing this, and now it's just unplayable altogether.
One of the worst offenders for TV stations on the Web are those still using legacy Brightcove Player embeds. Now to be clear, Brightcove is capable of playing HTML5-based video. It appears that there's still content being produced using the Legacy Studio that apparently isn't playing well with non-Flash enabled browsers.
The second worst offenders are sites like Cartoon Network. Visit their page to watch content for your kids and you'll find yourself looking at "This website requires the Flash 10.1 (or higher) player." Well surely Disney will work, right? Nope, you'll see "Sorry, but your device does not support the playback of this video." And this doesn't even include the Flash games on these websites that you won't be playing if you lack the right version of Flash installed.
Flash is just too common
For those folks who want to get their local TV news from their Linux PCs, you're going to require Flash. And because the most common playback device these days is running iOS or Android, there has been little cause for these media sources to change things over from Flash to something supporting open standards. It's a mobile world, after all.
The best thing we can do to overcome minor annoyances like this is to use the tools that are available to us. For most, this will mean tablets over PCs. And for others, this means tolerating Flash until we can truly say it's no longer needed. The Linux community still believes the rest of the world cares about software security or not using dangerously insecure plugins. Sadly, this isn't the case. I've even seen real estate agents using Java-based house tours on their websites. Java, on a website, in 2015 – it's still being done.
Folks, let me pour a cold glass of reality onto this entire anti-Flash situation. Outside of IT folks and geeks, no one honestly cares. It's sad, but true. Ask any random person coming out of the grocery store in a typical town (not in Seattle or Silicon Valley) and you'll find most people have no idea what you're talking about.
So is the solution education? Of course not, no one is concerned about it. Much like the ongoing credit card security breaches, folks will react with shock over the evening news and promptly forget it by breakfast the next morning. The fact is that unless there is an immediate pain to experience, non-geeky people won't react the same way as the tech community.
When it comes to keeping Flash and other related security concerns in check, there are only two things you need to concern yourself with. First, use software like Firefox that will just shut down the problem in its tracks. Second, make sure your software is up to date and apply the same updates for your family. Because the rest of your family won't care, it's up to you to care for them.
As for the rest of the folks out there blissfully unaware, I wouldn't worry too much. Like all security vulnerabilities, it'll receive a poor mention on the 6 o'clock news and those watching it will be concerned until dinner is over. Even after being told what to do, these individuals won't do anything about updating Flash, much less removing it. Eventually, those folks will receive an alert to update Flash and out of a sense of annoyance, will update it.
How to hurt Flash properly
I hate to say it, but all of the social hogwash about "killing Flash" is meaningless without real teeth. And as I've expressed above, the only way to kill it is to stop using it. This obviously isn't happening. The only way to even make the smallest dent in Adobe's Flash nightmare is to take a guerrilla warfare approach to it, but with a legal, security precautionary twist.
Anyone and everyone with administrator capabilities near a PC running Flash would need to remove it. This translates into local PC repair shops offering free "system checks" and removing Flash as a result. Also, anyone who is arms reach of a PC running Flash would need to remove it, with permission of course. The biggest targets would be folks who use their PCs to access Flash content from their local news, kids websites, and Flash game sites. Places like this would see the biggest impact. If this was repeated enough, there might be enough incentive for content providers to finally dump Flash as a standard. Is it possible to use Linux without Flash? Of course it is, however it's not Linux users that are the problem...it's everyone else!
What say you? Do you in all seriousness believe the masses are ready to dump Flash? If so, share your arguments and be sure to include non-Linux users in there as well.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.