Web Development

IT pro vents frustration with Flash and wants your feedback

In this guest contributor post, TR member Deadly Ernest talks about his growing frustration with embedded Flash in Web sites. He invites his TR peers to take a few polls concerning the use of Flash and continue the conversation in the discussion thread.
This post and polls were written by TechRepublic member Deadly Ernest.

Flash and Flash Player can be useful additions to your Web site, but do you go overboard with them? Many Web sites now embed Flash files, and some even have interactive Flash. A recent question appeared on TechRepublic about how to embed these movies or animations, and so I think it's time to discuss the use of such files.

I've seen many Web sites that use Flash to allow people to see a film or advanced animation. However, I always question (in my mind) if it was absolutely necessary for them to use Flash -- a proprietary code that needs a special player -- and not an industry standard movie type that's openly available for use by all and doesn't requires special proprietary software to run and view. For example, why use Flash and not an AVI or MPEG file?

This was especially brought to mind when a TR member asked for help converting an MPEG file to a Flash file in order to embed it in his Web site. This, in turn, made me wonder if that particular Web site was created in Dreamweaver, and if it makes it hard for him to use any movie player other than Flash. What really worries me is the growing trend to build Web sites in Flash only, so that you can't see a thing unless you have the latest Flash Player.

The problem with this trend for the actual operation of the site is that the page takes longer to download, plus visitors must have a proprietary Flash Player -- and they don't have a choice in deciding whether to watch the Flash movie or not. Like many people, when I go to a Web site for the second or third time, I don't have any interest at all in watching the fancy Flash advertisement on the welcome screen. I also get a bit put out by having to wait for the thing to download before I can navigate past that screen.

Worse still are the interactive Flash sites, because you can't use them at all without the latest Flash Player (which isn't always available for every operating system platform), and you have to wait until they completely download. Quite often, I get fed up with waiting and leave these Web sites, and I know that I'm not the only one who's frustrated by the amount of time it takes to download these proprietary media files and being forced to watch them.

With this in mind, I wish to ask the following poll questions:

Format preference

Automatic download

Required plug-ins

The actual cost of Flash

About

Sonja Thompson has worked for TechRepublic since October of 1999. She is currently a Senior Editor and the host of the Smartphones and Tablets blogs.

40 comments
wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

A am not really for or against Flash player, but I do have a question. I have played around with development in Flash a little so I have a small idea of it's capabilities. There are lots of ways to simply play a movie clip, but Flash adds an interactive aspect to the web site that I think would be complicated to do otherwise. I personally am not a fan of HTML and javascript. How else would you deliver interactive multimedia content if Flash player wasn't an option? Would this other delivery method have some of the same file size problems and vulnerabilities that flash has? It seems to me that any product that has a lot of capabilities usually also has security vulnerabilities or the configuration is nightmarish. Bill

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

A lot of stuff is done as interactive when it need not be. I too hate javascript. You can do some stuff as hotlinks within html, most data collection is done via the use of code better designed for that like Perl and Ruby, etc. If what you want to put up is a small interactive game, well Flash is a good option. But it shouldn't start unless the user clicks on something specific to activate it, and it should load until then either. For a general web page HTML is more than sufficient 90% of the time, and the bulk of the other cases are needing stronger code like Perl or Ruby as they're on-line stores. Two big things against Flash, 1. the current Adobe Flash Player does NOT perform well on all platforms and many of the interactive components do not operate properly in all browsers - as it's tailored towards Windows. 2. High end security gateways block all files they can not fully scan, so unless they have an AV scanner that has paid Adobe for access to the Flash code, some Flash material will be blocked. ... However, the keys in this issue are the auto download and auto start and having the page usable if I don't have a working Flash player.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

I know lots of people that want interactive content. They want things to autostart (hence why these people always need their PC rebuilt because it has a virus on it). I am not saying that this is the best way to do things, but I am pointing out that there is a market for it. Are you talking about Ruby and Perl providing back end capabilities or for user multimedia type functionality? I don't know of any online stores that use flash for store functionality. They may use it for advertising or product info (360 degree views). I don't know that Perl or ruby would be able to replace that. There are very few true cross platform players/programming languages. Java is usually touted as the most cross platform compatible, but I have seen lots comments about Java version incompatibility and code built on one platform not running on another platform. People also complain a lot about how slow java apps are. From what I have seen Perl is cross platform unless OS specific API's are called, but it is a pretty niche market and I don't think I have ever seen Perl script in a client side web page. HTML is very static which is why most Web 2.0 (I really hate that term) is heavy in client side scripting. Personally the only way I see to provide this type of capability is through client side scripting or a flash like player which both have their down sides.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

Interactive means I do things to make things happen. Auto start means it happens immediately. ALL web pages are client side scripting as the file has to be downloaded to my computer and run for me to see it. This happens regardless of what code you use. Before you start to design a web page you need to think about what you want it to do, and often it's best to make a couple of linked pages than try to shove it all on one page. Where you are just putting information out there for people to read, HTML is by far the best and easiest way to do this and uses the least bandwidth to do it. ALL static pages should be in html for best usage. If you want to display as movie of some sort this is best done by having a hot link which then downloads and displays the movie. For this purpose the use of an open source format like AVI or MPEG is best as it does NOT require any proprietary code and is easily scanned and played. If you want the person to provide you with information or collect data as in an on-line form completion for shopping etc, then you can use programs like Perl, Ruby, or other open codes to collect the data. The biggest problem I find with java scripts is they are slow because they usually are designed such that you're constantly reloading the very same content for most of the page when you swap pages, instead of just the new stuff. If you have many pages displaying the same information that information should only need to be downloaded to the client end once, frames in html does this splendidly and I'm told you can do something similar in java, but I've never seen it in java, just a complete reload of every damn little script that's exactly the same. This makes for very bloated sites that take a long time to download unless you have a high speed connection, which most of the world does NOT have. All the open code like html, mpeg, and avi operate perfectly across all platforms - with the minor exception of a couple of html code items slipped in by some browser makers like 'blink' tags.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

It's using your processor, your memory, your bandwidth, forcing a level of trust that is not warranted. If that isn't bad enough, it's a vector for malware, viruses, and identity theft. So for all that I get to buy something off 'you'. You'll have to forgive me I'm almost too excited to type....

makkh
makkh

The time when Flash was newly intro to the web world seems attractive...File size is small yet quality is still acceptable (clips & short movies), nice effects etc. I still think Flash does spice up the web, but just like chili, we don't need it pour entirely on every webpages.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

doesn't perform the same on all platforms doesn't help either. Add in some anti virus systems can't read it, so it can't be scanned, and it has been known to have malicious code embedded in it too, and you have enough concerns to be worried. If they made the code fully open so all the AV programs could scan it Flash wouldn't be such a concern security wise. But my biggest concern is the lack of uniform performance outside of Windows, and the way it gets heavily misused for doing the whole page in many cases. It really is a case of everyone wanting to shove the biggest and hottest chillies down your throat, regardless of if you can eat them or not.

michealcarpenter
michealcarpenter

I'm as tired of Flash as I am of Powerpoint. And it's always bothered me that many sites that use Flash don't offer a handicap accessible alternative. Having a Flash front-end to a site can stop a lot of folks from going any further.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

anyone who does use Flash with auto start etc. saying anything to try and justify why they do it? It seems we're fairly unanimous that is shouldn't be done, yet people do. The low numbers of votes compared to the number of web sites I see it on, makes me wonder if the majority of people who use Flash do so because they AREN'T professionals.

CG IT
CG IT

These flash ads are the Internets answer to TVs commercials. The difference is the commercial runs while your browsing. The biggest problem I see is blanket targeting. For instance I'm looking at Microsofts ad for Red Cross people-ready enterprise solutions that can improve efficiencies. NWhat did I get out of that ad? Red Cross is having a problem raising donation $$. I don't think IT can raise it for them. The ad would have been better had been better targeted in asking for donations.

Jaqui
Jaqui

you just didn't grab the attention of the web designer group. you got the web developers. :) and we ALL know, web designers suck. ]:)

Jaqui
Jaqui

more people will do what I do, and NEVER install flash. if the content is important, it will NOT require any addon / plugin for me to access it. edit to add: I took a look at the Dolphin Community site script from Boonex. ran into a glitch after install. the admin pages for the site script were all completely blank. took a week of going through the script to find the problem, they have the site admin as flash. pretty stupid, what if you are in transit and need to deal with an emergency? your iphone/blackberry/palm doesn't have flash, so you just screwed the site until they can get to a system with flash installed.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

I use a plug-in to encrypt and decrypt email in a web interface because that capability is not provided by the browser. Personally I think that plug-ins add capabilities to the browser that they do not have and are not only necessary, but the best method for adding capability to a product. It is a modular way of providing a solution instead of having bloated code to provide all the functionality in a single monolithic application (what Windows is often called). Bill

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

plug in per se but 1. Using proprietary code plug ins that aren't always scannable by anti virus software because of that. 2. Having the content automatically activate without any use intervention. 3. The basic web page should be visible and usable without any plug in, the plug in should only relate to extra's on deeper pages.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

a web enabled phone to do any buying. Most people I know have the web side disabled. The ones who do use the web capability on a phone tend to use it to check email and addresses type stuff. They don't do any actual shopping over it. Advertising is on glossy paper mainly so it won't deteriorate so fast. Television advertising is a lot different to what you put up at your shop, mainly because on TV you have to grab their attention when they're already paying attention to something else. When they're at your shop you've already got their basic attention. Now you need to focus them on the products not blind them with glitz.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

Other than mobile phones being one of the fastest growing markets. There will always be a conflict between connections where there is a significant speed difference. That is why it is best to have different designs for them. Again, HTML doesn't provide the media content that high speed customers want and multimedia content takes too long to load. That is why 3 designs are a good idea. Practicality does not sell more than fancy otherwise advertisements wouldn't be printed on glossy paper with pictures of fast cars or pretty women. One of Intel's most successful advertising campaigns was the people painted blue dancing around on the screen. Don't see any practicality or even relevance there. Bill

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

"If I don't see it all up within 60 seconds I'm gone,' still applies, and without everyone having a high speed broadband connection, that's a huge share of the market walking away because of an excessively media rich web page. practicality will sell more than fancy to most people. A case here in rural NSW recently saw a company lose hundreds of thousands of dollars of sales because the new web designer loaded it up with lots of fancy media and it took way to long to download on the dial up connections 85% of the customers have - yeah no broadband in the country mate - the company is still unsure if they'll be still in full operation next year due to the lost income badly affecting their position in the market. One also wonders exactly what people are using mobile devices to browse web sites for and if there is enough potential market there to make it work while.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

A basic HTML page will not display good on a mobile device due to the screen size not the technology. That is why designers usually have a page optimized for mobile devices. Web designers are attempting to attract business. They design their web pages to appeal to the larges possible audience and there isn't a single inclusive technology that will allow a single page to meet everyone's wants. HTML pages can NOT provide the media content that the average user wants. Again that is why Web 2.0 is such a big buzz word right now. Bill

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

The Flash code is proprietary and the full code is NOT available to the AV makers unless they pay Adobe some big bucks and sign a NDA. There have been cases of malicious instructions being hidden in a Flash file in the past too. The problem about access to the full code applies to all proprietary code, however some companies do make it available to the AV companies, but not all. The problem with most scripts is that are run without any user intervention - the user should be allowed to decide if they want them to run or not. The vast majority of people using flash set it to run without user intervention when they can be set to require a user action. With regards to your final paragraph. Yes, it's the web designer as they choose which technology to use. The fact they need to make three versions shows, to me, they are doing it wrong. They make the extra work for themselves by having the Flash in there as an automatic activity. A basic style html page should be readily visible on mobile devices as well as normal computers. If you want the extra flash content to be available, then you have a hot link noting the extra flash content is available and they can click on that to get it IF they want it.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

You keep mentioning this scannable by anti-virus software. Are you talking about the plug-in or the flash document it's self? Is this any different than a java applet, an office document or a PDF? If so then how? From what I have seen, most flash vulnerabilities cause the flash engine to crash which then allows access to the box. I have not heard of a flash applet installing a virus or other software on a machine through a standard working applet. Scripts are ran without any user intervention. I agree that it would be nice for a basic web page to be visible without a plugin, but that isn't the technology it is the web designer. This is one of the hidden costs of building web pages. Web pages usually have to be built two or three times to ensure the widest possible viewership. One for flash, one plain HTML, one for mobile web. Bill

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

exact quote: "one day more people will do what I do, and NEVER install flash. if the content is important, it will NOT require any addon / plugin for me to access it." You might notice the "any addon" which would preclude more than just the flash player. Bill

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

"Just because you can doesn't mean you should." If it isn't, it damn well should be.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I don't have a lot of time for flash anyway, but if you do have a hard on for it, there's no need to wave it in my face, is my opinion.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

too often they have it start automatically instead of having a 'play' button.

CG IT
CG IT

This stuff is the next generation of spam. Something you don't want to see, read or hear but unlike spam, you can't put it in a junk folder. Maybe advertisers who use junk mail will switch to flash ads and the junk mail will decrease by 80%. that's a plus.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

Which should make the web master wonder if it should be there at all, but it don't.

CG IT
CG IT

I think for advertising, its a bad deal plus it sucks up bandwidth. Having 20 or 30 people on the network all using flash, it gets a bit heavy on the inbound traffic

ian3880
ian3880

I'll start this discussion with input from an end user. I don't have unlimited bandwidth both in speed and megabytes. My internet connection is via Australia's NextG phone network which is quite expensive, particularly if I exceed my plan limit (1GB). On a good day I may reach download speeds in the vicinity of 2Gbs, but most users would be happy if they get to 500kbs. SO ... The first (usually 'Home' page) should be relatively simple, devoid of 'bling' (ie humungeous Flash presentations and high-res graphics) and then give me, the end user, the option of high-bandwidth mode, or continue in low bandwidth. If I select 'High bandwidth', then by all means go for whatever fancy presentations you like. Fortunately my browser of choice (Opera) allows me to work in 'low bandwidth' mode (F12). So, if a site doesn't display the information and/or product I want, I move on. I am of the 'NOW' generation - I won't wait for Flash junk to download. This means, in my case, the web designer has FAILED in his/her job. The whole aim of a well-presented web page is to keep the customer at the site, make it easy to find the product or service the customer wants, and get their on-line order. Some web pages fail in ALL three functions. If you have annoyed the customer with fancy graphics and presentations, then that customer will NEVER return to your site. I see this need for eye candy a bit like what a lot of architects do - design buildings for their OWN glory (ie to put on their resume). Usually such designs are quickly dated, are costly to build, impractical to live in, and expensive to maintain. See any similarities here? So, web designers/developers, have a real deep think about what you are ACTUALLY trying to do - and always keep the end-user in mind. Ultimately - it is the end user of your web site who pays your wages. Oh ... and yes ... Please validate your pages with W3C so ALL browsers can access the site as you intended, and don't write just for IE and Netscape by using old, outdated code cut-and-pasted from your University thesis!

Kenone
Kenone

I originally started running flash free on all servers as a security precaution. Then I got really annoyed with the 30 minute update cycle and started dumping it off of every machine that I used. I don't miss it at all. Some websites appear to be blank but they must not have anything important to me any way.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

they're mostly created by graphics artists and people whose main training has been in graphics art which included training on how to put together a lovely looking web page using something like Dreamweaver. So when they can't get enough work as a graphics artist they sideline doing web pages in Dreamweaver. Since they mostly live in major cities with very high speed broadband, they think everyone does and don't bother with proper testing for W3C etc.

Tink!
Tink!

Such a large percentage of websites - especially for larger and known companies, are Flash home pages. Back when everything was dial-up I loathed it. Now with high speed DSL I still loathe it! I don't go to the websites for fancy presentations about the company, I go there for QUICK and easily accessed information on a specific item or question. Oh sure most sites offer the "Skip" link, but it's still annoying!

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

which is often a small one at the bottom of the page

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

it was in the flash, at the end... WEB design firm, no longer about for some reason....

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