In Which I Bid Flash Adieu

By  |  Monday, November 28, 2011 at 4:01 am

For awhile now, I’ve been battling some maddeningly persistent, mysterious technical gremlins that have infested my MacBook Air. The machine would work just great. Then, without warning, it would get miserably slow–the cursor would turn into a spinning beach ball, apps would refuse to respond either briefly or until I rebooted, and the fan would go on full-blast.

I repaired the solid-state disk using Apple’s Disk Utility. I cleared my caches. I blamed my browser and switched to another one. (At various points, I’ve used Safari, Chrome, and, most recently, Firefox as my primary browser.) Some of these tactics seemed to help–emphasis on “seemed”–but they didn’t resolve the situation permanently.

When the Mac was in one of its moods, it was no fun at all. That’s one reason why I’ve found myself using my iPad 2 (equipped with a Zagg keyboard) more often than the Air over the past three months. But I never stopped wanting the Mac to work better.

Then it struck me. The iPad, unlike any Mac or Windows PC I’ve ever used, is pretty much bulletproof. It doesn’t get bogged down. It has no equivalent of the spinning beach ball. Even its worst technical problems can almost always be fixed by powering it down.

And–in case you hadn’t heard–it doesn’t run Adobe’s Flash. New Macs don’t come with Flash, but I reflexively installed it on mine.

Last night, I was using the MacBook Air and it went from running just fine to seizing up. On a whim, I disabled Flash Player in Firefox. The computer instantly–and I mean instantly–became its old self again. Several hours later, it’s still happy and healthy, and so am I. I believe I’ve finally diagnosed the problem. (If I’d been paying attention, I would have been able to do so a long time ago.)

My MacBook Air, is, incidentally, a  model with 2GB of RAM. Memory’s a bit tight, and I think that having a few browser tabs with Flash content open at one time was capable of rendering the computer unusable. But with Flash deactivated, it’s once again the laptop I knew and loved, and 2GB is plenty of space–even for heavy-duty applications such as Photoshop. I won’t be surprised if my battery life improves meaningfully, too.

Will I miss Flash Player? Maybe, in certain instances. Much of the video I’ve encountered plays without it (in part because I’ve opted in to YouTube’s HTML5 version). But if I find myself needing Flash–for instance, if I absolutely must play Bejeweled Blitz–that’s okay. It’s easy enough to briefly enable it in Firefox, do my business, and then shut it off again.

(I’m still not sure if I’ll give Flash the boot in Windows; generally speaking, it seems to perform better over there than it ever has in OS X.)

I don’t take any particular pleasure in evicting Flash from my Mac. I first encountered the technology way back in 1994, when it was part of an obscure piece of software called FutureSplash SmartSketch, and thought it was cool from the start. I fondly remember the Flash of a decade or so that was mean, lean, and useful. It made the Web better.  But if Flash is capable of turning a reliable Mac into a basket case, there’s nothing it can do that would make it worth the performance hit and general hassle I’ve encountered. What a sad fate for a once-great piece of software.

 
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8 Comments For This Post

  1. Vendrazi Says:

    I removed Flash from my last MacBook Pro, and I've never installed in my current MacBook Air. Only when I really need to see Flash content, I use the Chrome browser, since that has Flash built in.

    I've also decided not to install any Microsoft software, which always killed performance on my MacBook Pro (even after I closed the application). I don't know if something was wonky with my settings or what, but it other applications work just as well or better.

  2. yvan165 Says:

    Thank you veeery much for this post, it has convinced me of what I had been wondering for a month now: Flash is behind my Mac slowdowns. So, my 2008 unibody MacBook (one of a kind, huh) is still up and running (fast).

    And thanks for the tip about HTML5 YouTube!

  3. Fred Says:

    I can recommend the Flashblock add-on for Firefox. Then you can choose when and where (which website) you'd like to use flash – and when not. This way you don't have to manually enable and disable Flash in Firefox all the time.

  4. WaltFrench Says:

    I made the switch about a year ago. It *IS* a bit annoying to see lots of video that presumes Flash is the better delivery vehicle on a Mac; fortunately there's a “user agent” option to tell sites I'm on an iPad and if that fails, there's always Chrome— even an “open in Chrome” menu option to make it easy. (Getting ready for a flight, I have 50 Safari pages open that I want to read but can tolerate a crash of Chrome 'cuz I'd only lose a video or two.)

    Adobe's recent announcement that it is giving up on Flash players for mobile browsers is a reminder that disruptive technologies — which is what Flash was: free user software for watching videos, etc., paid for by developers' tools licensing costs — don't always succeed. As long as Apple was just an asterisk on PC sales charts, they could get away with weak support. Now that we are in the middle of an explosion of mobile devices, all with modest CPU and RAM, it becomes obvious that Adobe was NEVER prepared to support multiple user platforms well.

    Welcome to the Brave New World. All will NOT be perfect. But as you've seen, it can be a lot better.

  5. A concerned person Says:

    With Apple openly announcing that they`re giving Flash the heave-ho and are chasing the HTML5 cookie, has it occured to anyone that they`re deliberately making it minimally bug up the Air or Macs when Flash is enabled in order to attempt to sway people from using it.

    Just a thought.

  6. The_Heraclitus Says:

    No. Android is problematic also…

  7. LarvaMoose Says:

    I followed John Gruber's advice on Daring Fireball about removing Flash from my Mac, and have never looked back. Longer battery life and cooler processor.
    http://daringfireball.net/2010/11/flash_free_and_

  8. Dave Says:

    My iPad slows down all the time. Especially Safari. I have to force close it and repoen it to get it to scroll smoothly.

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