FlashBlock for Chrome (and Firefox)

There's been a lot of discussion in blog circles about Apple's move to virtually block all Flash content from their iPod/iPhone/iPad products. Apple's claim is that Flash is buggy, insecure and kills the battery. Meanwhile, a full Flash player still hasn't been released on any Mobile phone OS to date (Android 2.2 has the 10.1 beta, which hasn't been overly successful).

I'm not sure where I stand on the issue. On one hand, Flash seems almost necessary for something like that iPad, that's supposed to be the ultimate browsing device. Without it, much of the existing rich web content cannot be viewed, and in many cases there are no alternatives other than getting off the couch and turning on your proper PC. On the other hand, Apple can choose to do whatever they want with their platform. If Symbian didn't have Flash, or LiMo, or some other obscure manufacturer specific phone OS, would anyone kick up such a storm? It seems people are either annoyed at the omission since it takes away from the usefulness of the iDevices, or people are just Apple-bashing.

Anyhow, I recently came across the FlashBlock plugin for Google Chrome (also available for Firefox), and decided to give it a try to see the world from an iPad user's perspective. The plugin is very simple: it prevents any Flash content from loading, and instead replaces the container with an icon to indicate the blocked content. Clicking the icon will then load the content as if it was never blocked.

I've been using this for a few weeks now, and I love it! Not because I never want to see Flash, but because I only want to load what I want to see. So all those Flash banners and ads on various websites (especially some of the tech blogs) don't chew up my precious CPU cycles anymore, and don't drive me crazy with constant spinning wheels in the corner of my peripheral vision.

I still click the icons though, mostly on streaming videos. But also on a few other things, like Google Analytics charts, my University web-pages, the odd Flash-only website or two, etc. The choice is there, and if I had to choose all or nothing, I'd choose all. Apple's argument that all video content can be encoded in HTML5 is weak. That may be true, but it will take a long time (longer than the product lifespan of current iDevices). Other non-video, non-spinning-ad-wheel content will also take a long while to be phased out, and not having it accessible from your latest gadget can be a real pain.

The solution to only load Flash on request is already there in the latest Android browser, and this is a perfect solution for users. That is, you can either disabled it system wide, enable it system-wide, or leave it as 'on-demand' so that you get to choose when to kick it into gear on specific web pages. Android++; Apple--;

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