Ditch Flash, go open, have no regret

It’s hard to take sides in the he-said-she-said technology wars when everyone has an interest at stake. Steve Jobs panned Flash and called it slow and buggy, which many of us dismissed at the time. On second thought, it’s completely true. Ars Technica has confirmed that running Flash can kill your battery up to 33% faster. Plus, it’s supposedly responsible for a huge percentage of crashes on the Mac.

What you probably don’t know is that you can go totally flash free on the Mac – today! The solution I am using brings Firefox in to play video in HTML5 instead. Firefox, unlike other browsers, has refused to support the h.264 codec in favor of Google’s open WebM one. If you want to know why that must be done and we are lucky to have companies like Mozilla and Google standing up for it, you must read this essay. Written a while ago, the essay explains why h.264 is dangerous – like GIF and MP3 before it, the company who owns the codec is planning to allow open licensing until it is adopted universally, and then begin charging content providers up the wazoo even while they make free players. WebM, on the other hand, might have slightly worse quality but is totally open. And all of YouTube is available in WebM as well.

Also luckily, Chrome contains its own version of Flash, so you will be using it as a backup whenever you need Flash to access something (hopefully increasingly rarely.) So here’s the guide, adapted from John Gruber’s guide, which you can use if you want to do this on Safari. It’s of moderate difficulty but I think most people can figure it out. It should take about 15 minutes and save you hours of battery time and frustration!

  1. If your flash player is in the default location, you should find it in /Library/Internet Plug-Ins/. Move “Flash Player.plugin”, “flashplayer.xpt”, and “NP-PPC-Dir-Shockwave” out of that folder and into a new folder you create next to it named “Internet Plug-Ins (Disabled)”.
  2. Download the latest Firefox 4 beta. Be the envy of your peers. You may want to rename your old Firefox so that it doesn’t get overwritten and you can go back to using it if you want. Be sure to drag the current Firefox icon out of your dock and the new program into it, to make sure you’re launching the correct version.
  3. Install this script. It will turn videos with the old-style embed tag into HTML5 embeds. A bar will pop up at the top of your screen, choose to allow it. (I have compiled it myself from Mahmoud Al-Qudsi’s script which I compiled in order to save you the hassle of downloading the Greasemonkey beta)
  4. Go to the YouTube HTML5 beta page and opt in to the trial
  5. Download Chrome browser. It has Flash built in and will be a backup for you if you absolutely need to access something in Flash or h.264
  6. Enjoy an open, free web! With Firefox you won’t have access to h.264 video, but you have all of YouTube and there will likely be a plugin soon to show h.264 video in Firefox. In the meantime, though, you always have Chrome as a backup and are supporting web standards (have you read the essay yet?)
  7. If you need to watch full screen video, hit the full screen button. It zooms the video to the size of your browser – now press Command-Shift-F to make your browser fullscreen.

And there you have it! I already notice a speed boost now that I’ve got less junk in the trunk.

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