Three reasons why Adobe Flash is hated

In the Adobe-shaped bubble of MAX 2009 in Los Angeles, Flash is the answer to everything, almost. That impression was reinforced yesterday when Chief Technology Officer Kevin Lynch spoke of his ambition to make AIR, the Flash-based out of browser runtime, into a universal runtime for SmartPhones, as I reported yesterday on The Register.

Many users and developers have a different perspective, and you can easily find examples in the comments on the piece linked above. I was also struck by the loud and spontaneous cheer accorded Opera’s Bruce Lawson when he presented HTML 5 as an alternative to Flash and Silverlight at the Future of Web Applications conference last week.

So why is Flash hated? Three main reasons come to mind.

The first is because most of the Flash content that we see is marketing and advertising. Most users prefer web sites that are ad-free, or at least where the advertising is low-key. On the marketing side, there are still plenty of occasions where you want to skip the intro. When I link to Adobe’s home page for MAX 2009, I always link to the Sessions page, not the home page which auto-plays a Flash movie with sound – because I think users would rather get straight to the content, rather than be startled or embarrassed by an unexpected broadcast. Fellow journalist Jon Honeyball tweeted recently:

using a blocker to rid myself of unwanted flash nonsense on web pages. And most of it is unwanted and unnecessary rubbish

A more nuanced angle on this same problem is that Flash developers are inclined to add a little bling to their applications, even if it is not marketing as such. Users who like applications that are sparse and lean react against this.

The second reason is that Flash can be detrimental to browser performance. There are two angles on this. One is that bugs or performance characteristics in the Flash Player, combined with perhaps badly written Flash content, can cause slowdowns or at worst lock-ups in the browser. The other is that much Flash content downloads a lot of data, to create its multimedia effects. This makes Flash pages larger and therefore slower. It is a consideration that matters particularly on mobile devices with slow or intermittent connections, which is why not everyone welcomes the prospect of full Flash on every SmartPhone.

Third, there are those who do not regard Flash as part of the open web, and want to see web content that can be rendered completely without the use of a proprietary runtime, and web standards controlled by a cross-industry group rather than by a single vendor. There could be political, ethical or pragmatic reasons behind this view; but it is one that is still strongly felt, as shown by the reaction to Lawson’s comments at FOWA.

Before you tell me, I realise that there are also plenty of reasons to like Flash; and I am not going to attempt to iterate them here. My argument is that even those who love Flash need to recognise that users with negative perceptions may have good reasons for them. From this perspective, Apple’s resistance to Flash on the iPhone is a force for good, since it compels web developers to continue offering non-Flash content.

It also follows that anything Adobe can do to mitigate these problems will strengthen its campaign to get Flash everywhere. I am thinking of things like improved performance and reduced memory footprint in the player, and better handling of errant applications; demonstrating lean and mean Flash usage in its own sites and examples; and continuing to open the Flash runtime and its future to cross-industry input, even at the expense of relinquishing some control.

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7 thoughts on “Three reasons why Adobe Flash is hated”

  1. I can come up with more reasons:

    It is yet one more application to keep up to date, due to frequent security patches.

    The upgrade mechanism is obnoxious. Last night, when Firefox prompted me to update flash, Adobe tried to add a trial version of some commercial anti-virus software to the download, as an opt-out, rather than an opt-in. Especially for a security patch, this is of noxious; it is only marginally better than a Trojan horse. The default link for the installer wanted to use Adobe’s useless “download manager” rather than just downloading the installer itself.

    Flash makes the browser misbehave. When a Flash application has focus, most of the keyboard shortcuts for the browser no longer work. The problem is compounded by Flash developers who use controls which don’t even resemble OS standard controls, like “scrollbars” which render his four pixels wide and don’t have any paging features.

    But I think the number one reason that people hate Flash is the tendency of Flash developers to use it when standard HTML would work just fine. I think relatively few people complain about YouTube using Flash to show videos; Flash is a good fit for this. But when Flash developers start using Flash to render menus on a webpage, add a scrolling text area, and other things which HTML arguably works better for, then Flash is seen as the problem, rather than the developer’s choice.

  2. Surely these are “problems” for geek dom and not for users. Bad design, content and useability are everywhere regardless of platform and should never be excused.

    The average internet user, (I say this knowing that most of the people who read this are not in this category) just want a great experience they couldnt care less what the developer has used to create it, in fact if they are wondering it isnt working properly.

    Convergence needs something to meld them all together – we arent going to be shackled to our desktops for ever (thank god!) user engagement and functionality is the only thing that matters not what camp you are in.

  3. I’m a Flash Developer. I do not build ads or banners. Please like me 🙂

    Jokes aside, and I can understand the haters at times. But the technology is not at fault here, it’s the way it is used – and that does not just apply to Flash.

    To think that HTML5 is the solution to all the web’s problems is very short sighted. ‘Open’ does not equal good, and proprietary does not equal bad. Plus the Flash Player plugin is about the only thing that isn’t yet completely open: the SWF format is open, the compiler is, the framework is, and there’s a lot of open source tooling available too.
    On the flipside, if big ad money was being spent heavily to draw your attention to annoying HTML5 based banners that autoplay video (in low quality for now 😉 what would your friend do then? Block all HTML5 based content I guess.

  4. On the flipside, if big ad money was being spent heavily to draw your attention to annoying HTML5 based banners that autoplay video (in low quality for now what would your friend do then? Block all HTML5 based content I guess.

    A very good point. Long live Flash!


  5. While, I agree that flash ads are very annoying. If flash and Silverlight didn’t exist, the ads would just be presented in another way.

    I like rich content and well presented websites. But I also want the sites I visit to be lean, efficient and stable. Similarly, I want any ads I see to be unobtrusive. The second an ad becomes intrusive, its root URL gets added to a blocker and I don’t see any advertising from that company.

  6. Without the ads, many of the sites we all visit would not exist. Journalists couldn’t make a living. We’d all become less informed. As the saying goes ‘money makes the world go round.’ Its the same for the Apps market, film/tv content etc. etc. To use an IT company phrase, at some point these people/organisations need to ‘monetize’ their content. Would the people who moan about these ads, or the developers of applications that suppress them rather pay per click to visit anything useful in their web browser. Good news! Mr. Murdoch has just granted your wish.

    Now back to Flash.

  7. There is a huge difference between “a Flash ad” and “a Flash ad which takes over your browser, brings your PC to its knees and eats your bandwidth”.

    Most ads are fine but when listening to music or if your ISP has a small “fair usage” quota, its REALLY annoying for adverts to disturb you or risk pushing you over your bandwidth quota.

    Even worse if you are using mobile web stuck on GPRS.

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