March 08, 2010, 7:15 AM — by Kevin Purdy - Apple's doing it. Google's getting there. And Microsoft is quietly moving toward it. Big names in tech are trying to leave Adobe's Flash plug-in behind, citing stability and energy efficiency concerns. Can the average web surfer take the plunge? Not entirely, but with the right tools, you can mostly forgo Flash.
You may still need Flash for the rare site that absolutely refuses to work without it, so don't uninstall it from your system. Instead, use an add-on to keep Flash blocked from your browser unless you specifically allow it. Firefox has FlashBlock, as does Google Chrome. Internet Explorer users can install Toggle Flash, and then right-click their toolbar and select "Customize" to ensure its little red button is visible. Mac users who roll with Safari can give ClickToFlash or SafariStand a go. Chrome has also recently picked up a "Content Settings" button in its Options dialog that allows users to block use of plug-ins on every site except those they manually approve -- it's worth investigating if you really only need Flash working on a handful of sites.
That's all well and good, but what about your lunchtime YouTube fix? If you're using Chrome or Safari on any OS, or Internet Explorer with Google's Chrome Frame installed, you can actually view most videos in their native H.264 format, streaming straight to your browser, through the magic of HTML5. You'll need to sign into a valid YouTube/Google account and then head to Youtube.com/html5 and click the "Join the HTML5 beta" link at the bottom. From then on, the majority of YouTube's videos that can support no-Flash streaming will play inside a strikingly similar video player. The high-definition video site Vimeo also offers an HTML5-based player for the same range of browsers, accessed by clicking the "Switch to HTML5 Player" link below any video, and Dailymotion offers an OpenVideo section that, while tailored toward Firefox users, will also work on Chrome and other browser setups, though likely with hiccups.
What happens when you reach a site that needs Flash for the most basic navigation and use? The high-minded answer is to write a calm, concise, and courteous email to the site's webmaster (listed at the very bottom of each page, usually), asking them to take pity on users without Flash. Then again, more and more developers are taking this into consideration, as owners of iPhones and other web-enabled but Flash-free phones become a larger part of their audience. With that in mind, check to see if that site has a mobile-centered version -- usually m.somewebsite.com, mobile.somewebsite.com, or occasionally somewebsite.com/i -- and use that from your desktop browser, at least until the world comes around to your principled stance on plug-ins.