Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gone in a Flash: Flashblock and ClickToFlash

My Web browsing experience just got a whole lot better and your can too.

We all know the annoyance of Web ads written in Flash or videos played through Flash that do everything possible to get our attention, no matter how much we want to just get on with the task that got us to this site in the first place. Not to mention the fact that Mac and Linux users can speak to the fact that Flash likes to suck your processor dry of cycles while those Flash-saddled pages are open on your Web browser.

Up until recently, Web surfers had no power in controlling these less-than-user-friendly uses of Flash. Then just a couple of months ago I discovered a life-changing plug-in for Safari called ClickToFlash. This 524KB download is a plug-in to WebKit - the HTML parsing engine behind Safari and many other Mac OS X apps that support Web page displays - and it's job is simple. Any page you view that has Flash on it will suspend those Flash programs from running until you give them the okay.

The results are liberating. Flash programs are no longer automatically loaded, their space on the page reserved with the image to the right appearing. For those times you really do want to see the Flash ad, just click the word "Flash" and that ad you selected loads up immediately.

Sounds easy enough? It is. And its not just Safari users who are in on the fun. There's a similar plug-in called Flashblock for Firefox and Chrome that performs the same function.

I'm not naive enough to believe that obtrusive uses of Flash are going to disappear anytime soon. But with these two plug-ins the power has changed hands from Web designers, who could dictate that their content be viewed with Flash, to users who can choose if it's worth loading Flash to view that content. Hmm, letting the user have some control on the presentation of the content. Was that not one of the original intentions of World Wide Web?

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