Whats Wrong With Flash

MacromediaFlash is a product used to produce hip (they use the word "engaging") presentations for use on the web. I like it, some people (HTML gurus seem prone to this) don't.

Summary of annoyances:

As of 2012, I'd say the single greatest annoyance about Flash is that it pretty much only runs on Intel x86 computers. A few years ago this was a non-issue because everybody used a PC to browse the internet and thus it was safe to assume that everybody had the Flash plugin. Then Steve Jobs's iOS-powered devices were released, which were later followed by Android-powered devices, everybody wanted a new awesome smartphone or tablet, and now mobile internet traffic accounts for about 10% of the global internet traffic (due to large numbers this translates into millions and millions of people).

Problem is... Flash runs terrible on embedded devices, and that's if it runs. Steve Jobs made it a point of declaring Adobe Flash verboten on all iOS devices. Android sometimes supports it but there's no guarantee. I'm not sure about Windows Mobile or Blackberry OS. But if my Samsung Galaxy Ace coughs with applications that run on regular Dalvik Java, I can't imagine how painfully it would die if subjected to something like running Flash.

Also, the ModemBound problem is returning, because bandwidth rates are far more expensive on mobile networks, and in order to avoid maxing out your phone bill or depleting your pre-paid megabytes it is crucial to keep data transfer to a minimum. Flash completely violates this and thus it requires being a rich bourgeois with money to burn on a faux-unlimited data plan.

-- DaNuke?

The thing that bothers me most about MacromediaFlash is when it's overused. If I'm visiting a Web site looking for some drivers, I don't want to be "engaged" by a five minute Flash slideshow that I can't skip. Swooshy effects (in moderation) are fine. -- RogerLipscombe

I really love the "Skip" button.

Yeah -- when it shows up.

One recent critique of 99% of Flash usage by JakobNielsen: "117 design guidelines for Flash usability." NuffSaid.

It needs to be brought to the attention of some website designers that they are losing audience in this way. If, on the other hand, they're not interested in those people who leave early, that's fine. It's just a question of knowing your audience, and knowing what they'll tolerate or enjoy. I guess I just don't have enough patience. -- RogerLipscombe

If you want to download something quickly (possibly from a PlainText browser), you should be able to. However, for those with nice connections and lots of time, I have no problem with Flash. What it does, it does exceedingly well. It's just I don't (most of the time) like what it does. Designers must either include a "No Flash" link or risk losing visitors. Of course, if it's a cartoon site that isn't a problem. But when the likes of VersionTracker? and such rely on Flash, there is a problem. -- MatthewTheobalds

Flash pages often violate ContentOverForm. On the other hand, Flash is really good for cartoons, ala http://www.wildbrain.com/.

But how do you separate content from presentation?

Content is the information you're interested in, and form is the information you're not interested in. Imagine the sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." in Olde Englishe font. If I'm interested in the activities of the fox, then the sentence itself is the content, and the shapes of the letters are mere form. If, as is more likely, I want to know what the font looks like, then the shapes of the letters are the content, and the sentence itself is just the form.

Moving back to Flash: if I just want a price list, then a flashy splash page with lots of animation is form, and pointless form at that. And if I want to see animation, then poof: the animation is content.

The thing is, 99% of the time, users just want the price list. (The other 1% of the time is either people visiting cartoon sites, or Web animators checking out each other's stuff.) So a rough generalization to "Flash is form, not content" is justified (with the usual caveats about justification). -- GeorgePaci

Concur. I am driven away at a high velocity by sites that use Flash (and other multimedia gimmicks) to present significant content. This is a problem with my former home church's Web site. The Flash intro takes about 4 minutes to load on a 56K dialup connection. Until it is fully loaded you can't even see the [Skip Intro] button. Oy! Even with my current DSL connection I don't use sites that are Flash laden and pokey. Separate information from presentation, please. -- MartySchrader

I thought I'd update this page as it (and its topic) are a bit dated. While Flash certainly had its look-I-made-a-flaming-logo stage...It has certainly grown up in the past 18 months. In its newfound adulthood (XML parser, pseudo objects, local serialization, etc), it certainly competes with alternative client-side technologies such as Swing and JavaScript. For the rapid development of a platform-independent enterprise GUI, Flash components are an excellent choice. Look around, you'll see that Flash isn't just for intros anymore.

As for what's wrong with Flash: A commandline compiler, and try/catch would be nice... -- MikeMontagna

What about FlashRemoting? Is anyone using it? It seems, IMHO, that a MacromediaFlash interface with a J2EE application server behind it is the way to go for future web applications? I haven't had the time to study it though. Anybody has? If so, could you please comment? I think that FlashRemoting is the thing that will make you ignore everything that is wrong with flash up to today. -- AlexandreFreire? (8oct2002)

I agree - Flash has become an excellent choice when you need/desire a rich user interface with advanced functionality, but need/desire it to be attached to a Web-based application. FlashRemoting is certainly promising (they have a UI for the J2EE PetStore application implemented with FlashRemoting at but the XML capabilities also help. I've worked with a Flash developer/web-designer to use HTTP and XML to produce a very slick UI that makes calls into servlets.

Bottom line is that Flash offers a very reasonable alternative to HTML+JavaScript, allowing the UI to do much more with much less effort. -- EricRizzo?

The new version of Flash just came out not too long ago (it is Sept 17/03 today) and I recently got my hands on a copy. I have the Flash MX 2004 Pro version and I am very excited about the possibilities this offers to software developers. It now supports ActionScript2, which is now a proper OO language with JavaLike? Class development such as class B extends A implements C. It has private/public variables/methods and proper constructors, very, very nice. It also includes a nice event system as well as exception catching methods. I am actually writing a LightWeight? planning tool for ExtremeProgramming projects using Flash. The thing is that people are beginning to require much more out of software than they ever have in the past, it used to be that users were happy with software that worked, even though it was hard to use and hideously ugly. Then they began to require software that worked and that wasn't so hard to use. Now we are seeing users demanding working, UserFriendly software that looks really good (think Mac OSX) - Flash allows you to provide all this.

Also, it now has a special Menu component that allows you to customize the ContextMenu, although Macromedia still puts in its little bits giving it credit for the FlashPlayer?, although I heard that this can be hacked out. -- CondredgeDole

It now supports ActionScript2, which is now a proper OO language with JavaLike?? Class development such as class B extends A implements C.

In fact, ActionScript is an (apparently not-quite-complete) implementation of EcmaScript (ECMA 262), which is the standard scripting language derived from JavaScript. It is therefore more appropriate to say that it supports JavaScriptLike? OO development. (I suppose that'll just whip up the old debate as to whether a PrototypeBasedLanguage is OO or not...) Obviously the host environment is a completely different ObjectModel from the DocumentObjectModel found in Web pages within browsers, but it's worthwhile to emphasize (once again) the distinction between the JavaScript language and its environment. -- NickFitzsimons

SVG (ScalableVectorGraphics) is an open standard vector graphics markup that can do much the same as Flash using generic CGI, JPS or ASP to generate it from the Web server. Versions are available for PDAs (PersonalDigitalAssistant) such as PocketPC and Palm (there is even a TinySVG in the works for Internet phones) gets around ModemBound and reliance on a single vendor to some extent. Browser (client-side) plug-ins are generally free built-in to Mozilla, etc, and to create it does not need proprietary software (text-based like HTML and XML). Scriptable also using regular JavaScript, simpler and more flexible than plain DHTML, and faster to load than Java applets.

Flash is one of those browser features that has inspired people to offer add-ons to remove it. One of the best is the "click-to-play" plug-in offered at http://ted.mielczarek.org/code/mozilla/. It shows a red box where the flash should be, and the file is neither loaded nor played until you explicitly click on it. Works wonders on advertising, and combined with Mozilla's "don't animate images" setting means that the vast majority of webpages have no animation on them anymore. (The "Nuke Any Object" plug-in is also worth trying, though it's trickier to use correctly.)

In the same vein - I use FlashBlock? - at least until mozilla implements native flash blocking. There's also a GoogleChrome extension
I don't like stuff moving on a web page I browse. So I use FlashBlock? (I don't actually have MacromediaFlash installed, the flashblock keeps a plugin dialog from popping up) and have animation completely disabled in MozillaFirefox. This makes web browsing much less obnoxious. I don't think I'd be able to tolerate browsing most of the web without this setup. -- BruceIde
If you're only interested in pure content (i.e. text) and have no interest in visually oriented or multimedia content then I think most browsers still provide the option to disable image viewing too. You may find that this improves your browsing experience if you are ModemBound or a ModernDinosaur. Also, turning down the colour setting on your television may provide a more visually appealing black and white image with no extraneous colour information. (There used to be a little program for IE that was called something like "Toggle Images.exe")

Not what's wrong with Flash itself but with the license of its.

The Flash file format specification is free for reading so that you can write a library to create Flash file. However, you can not use the spec. to create a library that read/manipulate/render existing flash file. That's pretty bad kind of license.

See also: ToggleYourFlash
See ModemBound

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