Google teams with Adobe to reduce Flash use in Chrome

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Image: Jon L. Jacobi

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Google and Adobe have teamed up to reduce Chrome’s battery usage by cutting down on the amount of Flash content the browser plays automatically.

The new functionality, enabled by default in the latest beta release of Chrome, will automatically pause bits of Flash content the browser determines “arent central to the webpage.” Important items, like the main video on a page, will play uninhibited. If Chrome pauses content that users want to see, they can click on it to resume playback. The change should make webpages with that sort of content load faster and reduce the amount of battery they use.

Google expects to move the Flash-blocking capabilities from Chrome’s beta channel to all users of its browser as soon as September. People who still want to see pages in all their Flash-laden glory can toggle the setting off by ticking “Run all plugin content” in Chrome’s content settings. To re-enable the automatic Flash blocking, toggle “Detect and run important plugin content.”

The changes could help Chrome, which has a reputation for being a battery hog relative to other browsers. Tommy Lee, a software engineer and power conservationist at Google, said the feature is aimed at allowing users to “surf the web longer before having to hunt for a power outlet.” (That said, he didn’t provide any concrete numbers about how much battery savings users could expect.)

It’s also potentially bad news for online advertisers who rely on Flash ads. Because that content isn’t central to enjoying a webpage, there’s a chance it will get stopped while a user is browsing rather than continue to run. That’s why Google’s AdWords service allows advertisers to convert new and existing flash campaigns into HTML5, so people will still see the same ads. The company also offers tools for building HTML5 ads, and will soon allow advertisers to upload their own HTML5 campaigns as well.

Getting advertisers away from Flash will also help with mobile advertising efforts from Google and other firms. None of the leading mobile platforms feature native support for Flash, so any advertisements made with it will be blocked from a growing percentage of web traffic. HTML5 ads, on the other hand, will run across devices.

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