When John Gruber talks, I listen. I’m far from the only Gruber fan on the Apple block, as his website’s eleventy billion monthly unique visitors prove.
So when Gruber wrote Going Flash-Free on Mac OS X, and How to Cheat When You Need It last November, I took his lesson to heart. I uninstalled Flash, and launched Chrome (which embeds its own copy of Flash) on those occasions that I really needed to use Flash.
John’s post explains the appeal of this approach. Flash hogs processor time, decimates battery life, and is used far more often to share content I don’t care about (chiefly, ads and horrid website intros). A lot of Apple guys whose opinion you should trust complain about Flash’s obvious weaknesses. I was delighted to remove it almost completely from my system.
Until I wasn’t.
John’s solution makes good sense. The major alternative for savvy Mac users—and one which John himself has highlighted numerous times—is ClickToFlash. ClickToFlash blocks Flash content from loading until you click on it. It makes webpages look like this:
In his November post, John wrote:
To me this is better, and in some way more honest, than using ClickToFlash. Without Flash installed, Safari effectively tells websites you visit, “Hey, I don’t have Flash installed”, which allows the sites to send alternative content. Static images instead of Flash for ads, for example. With ClickToFlash, Safari is effectively telling websites you visit, “Yes, sure, I have Flash installed,” but then not actually loading Flash content. I see far fewer “Flash missing” boxes in web pages now than I did with ClickToFlash.
I’m not sure I completely buy John’s “honesty” argument. He’s referencing the notion that more capable websites — ones which smarty detect whether you support Flash — can show you image ads only if they know you don’t have Flash installed; they’ll attempt (and fail) to show you Flash ads with ClickToFlash.
But if those websites want to be certain that I can see their ads in 2011, then, they simply must use those image alternatives. Short of detecting ClickToFlash, that’s their only option to guarantee Flash blockers see ads, since John’s right that folks who use ClickToFlash (and its ilk) appear to web servers as having Flash installed.
And I suppose it’s not entirely honest for John to tell websites that he doesn’t have Flash installed, right? Because he does, via his Chrome installation. If websites are attempting to measure how many folks have Flash available, John’s Safari stats are deceptive, since he can indeed view Flash over in Chrome. (Similarly, when John and I fire up Chrome to load Flash, we inflate webpage’s view counts loading them an extra time, and confuse the issue even further about who does and doesn’t have Flash.)
That’s not my primary reason for abandoning the Flash-free approach and reverting to ClickToFlash, though.
My issue is that it’s just a little too hard.
It’s easy enough to open a URL from Safari in Chrome; John’s post now points to an AppleScript by TJ Luoma that does precisely that. But I use NetNewsWire, too, so now I need another AppleScript to open its frontmost Flash-necessitating URL in Chrome. I use Google Voice’s Flash-based VoIP service through Gmail for calls; that requires Flash, too. If I want to use Mailplane or Fluid for Gmail, then, I’m stuck without that feature if I leave Flash uninstalled.
And I’m a Safari guy, not a Chrome guy. I don’t want to keep going back to Chrome on those occasions I do need Flash. I want to live in a single web browser, and still avoid the pain that Flash entails.
So I’m back to ClickToFlash. It’s painless to install, and it works like magic. As I write these words, I’ve got a couple dozen tabs open, along with Mailplane. Mailplane’s the only one where Flash is allowed (for Google Voice); the browser tabs are adorned with numerous ClickToFlash boxes. And my Mac Book Pro’s CPU is pegged at 88% idle.
I’d love to go back to being completely Flash-free, as God, Jobs, and Gruber intended. But until the web makes a little more progress, ClickToFlash is the next best thing.