Graphics & design software

Farewell to Flash

For awhile now, I’ve been battling some maddeningly persistent, mysterious technical gremlins that have infested my MacBook Air. The machine would work just great. Then, without warning, it would get miserably slow -- the cursor would turn into a spinning beach ball, apps would refuse to respond either briefly or until I rebooted, and the fan would go on full-blast.

I repaired the solid-state disk using Apple’s Disk Utility. I cleared my caches. I blamed my browser and switched to another one. (At various points, I’ve used Safari, Chrome, and, most recently, Firefox as my primary browser.) Some of these tactics seemed to help -- emphasis on “seemed” -- but they didn’t resolve the situation permanently.

When the Mac was in one of its moods, it was no fun at all. That’s one reason why I’ve found myself using my iPad 2 (equipped with a Zagg keyboard) more often than the Air over the past three months. But I never stopped wanting the Mac to work better.

Then it struck me. The iPad, unlike any Mac or Windows PC I’ve ever used, is pretty much bulletproof. It doesn’t get bogged down. It has no equivalent of the spinning beach ball. Even its worst technical problems can almost always be fixed by powering it down.

And -- in case you hadn’t heard -- it doesn’t run Adobe’s Flash. New Macs don’t come with Flash, but I reflexively installed it on mine.

Last night, I was using the MacBook Air and it went from running just fine to seizing up. On a whim, I disabled Flash Player in Firefox. The computer instantly -- and I mean instantly -- became its old self again. Several hours later, it’s still happy and healthy, and so am I. I believe I’ve finally diagnosed the problem. (If I’d been paying attention, I would have been able to do so a long time ago.)

My MacBook Air, is, incidentally, a  model with 2GB of RAM. Memory’s a bit tight, and I think that having a few browser tabs with Flash content open at one time was capable of rendering the computer unusable. But with Flash deactivated, it’s once again the laptop I knew and loved, and 2GB is plenty of space -- even for heavy-duty applications such as Photoshop. I won’t be surprised if my battery life improves meaningfully, too.

Will I miss Flash Player? Maybe, in certain instances. Much of the video I’ve encountered plays without it (in part because I’ve opted in to YouTube’s HTML5 version). But if I find myself needing Flash -- for instance, if I absolutely must play Bejeweled Blitz -- that’s okay. It’s easy enough to briefly enable it in Firefox, do my business, and then shut it off again.

(I’m still not sure if I’ll give Flash the boot in Windows; generally speaking, it seems to perform better over there than it ever has in OS X.)

I don’t take any particular pleasure in evicting Flash from my Mac. I first encountered the technology way back in 1994, when it was part of an obscure piece of software called FutureSplash SmartSketch, and thought it was cool from the start. I fondly remember the Flash of a decade or so that was mean, lean, and useful. It made the Web better.  But if Flash is capable of turning a reliable Mac into a basket case, there’s nothing it can do that would make it worth the performance hit and general hassle I’ve encountered. What a sad fate for a once-great piece of software.

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