August 03, 2010, 9:00 AM — In June of this year, the Adobe Flash team released version 10.1 of the Flash plugin/player. This was the version that would fix all the problems Flash had. No more bogging down of browsers. No more eating your CPU alive. Runs just as perfectly on every handheld (but the iPhone) as it does on desktops. If you had a complaint about Flash, 10.1 would fix it.
In short, this was to be the Magic Unicorn release.
Okay, I'm slightly exaggerating. But only if you base "exaggeration" on "reality". At the height of the Flash/iPhone nontroversy, the Flash team was pretty much off in impossible land about what 10.1 would do. So let's take a look at how things have really improved or not, on Mac OS X. (Yes, I know, I can hear the Flash team howling already. I should only test Flash on Windows I suppose. Oh well, not happening.)
For my uses, there were a set of specific things that made me absolutely hate Flash. In order of importance to me:
- The constant browser stalls/lockups that happen when loading content, aka "Flash crashed my browser". (Note to the overly pedantic: Yes. That's a crash. When my browser is not capable of functioning, that's a crash. The browser may not have crashed to the point where it quits, but if Flash makes it unusable, regardless of how long, Flash crashed the browser.)
- That maddening "There's a slow script, what do you want to do" dialog that was modal to the page, and did more to slow things down than any script speed issue.
- The Flash Settings and Global settings, aka, "The Second Worst UI In Production Today." (Notes is still worse. Notes is always worse.)
- CPU usage when playing Flash content.
So, on number one: Dismal, dismal failure. Loading Flash content, no matter how large or small, complicated or simple, causes my browser to spinlock for any number of seconds or minutes. I'm not sure of the upper end, but on the low end, it's never shorter than the time taken to start Activity monitor and force-quit the "Flash Player (Safari Internet plug-in)" process. (Yes, I know about Click2Flash. I highly recommend it. I don't use it, because I like being able to see how bad things are without any additional variables. Also, I'm kind of masochistic.) I can say without hesitation or qualification that Flash 10.1 has in no way, shape, nor form improved my single biggest complaint about the plugin, nor has it made me even come close to wishing it was on the iPhone.
Number 2: Somewhat better, although it's hard to tell, since the sites that normally hit it may have cleaned up their scripting. The dialog itself has a much better design, and is easier to deal with. Amusingly, I did see it when I was writing this post. Where? Even more amusingly, while I was bringing up the Flash Global Settings. No, really:
Honestly, this needs to go away. It's useless, since I don't know what script for what content on what part of the page is causing the problem. Nor do I know what the better option is. So really, it's completely unhelpful or even useful as a notification.
Number 3: Nope. Not a scintilla of improvement. Flash settings are just as bad and fractured as ever. UI tip: When you have to include the following:
Note: The Settings Manager that you see above is not an image; it is the actual Settings Manager. Click the tabs to see different panels, and click the options in the panels to change your Adobe Flash Player settings.
in your settings UI, that UI has failed. Completely. Yet, version after version, there it is, just as unchanged and unintuitive as ever. It is however, at least bigger than the "local" settings for specific Flash content, so there is at least some small chance that you can read the type in the settings. What is it with the 6-point type Adobe uses here. I'm not saying the settings have to be 1200x1200 pixels in size with 128-point type, but come on people. But yeah, settings fail.
Number 4: No, but I care less about this one. First, unlike say, the first item, Adobe was up front...okay, they did somewhat warn Mac users that we're not getting hardware acceleration, and so CPU usage by Flash will not be much better, if any better in 10.1. It was hidden in gobs of "IT'S NOT OUR FAULT, APPLE'S BEING MEAN", but it was there. So okay, you warned me. Also, when I'm playing Flash content, it's actually doing something. I can live with CPU usage by a process that's actually doing something far more than that same process locking up my browser because I was just trying to load a web page. It's not any better, but this one never really bothered me.
So how do I grade 10.1? I give it a grade of "Meh, fail". It's not actually fixed a single problem I or a lot of people were having. It's reduced the occurrence of a few annoyances, but that's not a fix, that's a reduction in problem frequency. There's a difference. I know there's an alpha that allows hardware acceleration on a small number of graphics cards, on 10.6.4 or earlier, but that doesn't fix anything I really care about.
Maybe in Flash 11, "The Even More Magical Unicorn" release, we'll see some improvement. Maybe.