Adobe Flash is everywhere. It’s used in videos, in video games, in websites and more. And it’s incredibly useful. But it also gets a bad rap for being a processor hog. I’m using Linux, so I haven’t always had the greatest Flash experience in the world, although I personally think it’s getting better (and haven’t really seen the high CPU usage other people complain about), but there are definitely times when Flash can get in the way. Yes, I’m talking about Flash ads that make noise or otherwise take my screen over the minute my mouse moves over them, but also about videos that start playing immediately or audio that starts playing when I don’t want it. I want Flash installed, and I want it to work when I want it to, but I’d like to be able to be able to control how it works, or on what websites it works. For those times, thankfully, there is Flash Block.
I’m using Flash Block as a Google Chrome extension. I realize there are Flash Block implementations for other browsers, but everything I’ll discuss in this article directly relates to the Google Chrome version, just so there’s no confusion about why a particular feature or shortcoming wasn’t mentioned.
Flash Block is fantastic. The idea behind it is that you don’t always want Flash running automatically; in fact, it takes the opposite approach… you never want Flash to run automatically. Instead of not allowing Flash to run at all, however, Flash Block leaves the Flash elements in place, but stops them from appearing. Instead, you’ll get a gray rectangle where the Flash element would otherwise be, with a small icon instead of the content. To start the content playing (regardless of whether it’s a banner ad, a video or a game), simply click the icon, or anywhere in the darkened area. The missing element will immediately load as it would have were Flash Block not installed.
Of course, there are some websites when this behavior isn’t desirable. Sometimes you want Flash to start when you load the page. YouTube is a good example of this, at least for me. When I visit YouTube and click on a video, I am telling YouTube I want to watch that video. So for me, to then have to click the video in order to start it is wasted motion, and a waste of time. Thankfully, Flash Block can be customized. Once Flash Block is installed, you’ll see a new icon in the URL bar. Click this to bring up a little window, then select the option to “Always allow flash on this site” and the page will work as if Flash Block wasn’t installed. Doing so ads the website to your whitelist, which can be edited from the options page.
From the options page, you can also elect to show or hide the address bar icon (everything you can do from the icon can be accomplished via the options page), as well as choose the placement of the placeholder icon. You can also choose to only show the icon as you mouse over the darkened area, and even the transparency of that area can be adjusted. Finally, while this extension is called Flash Block, you also have the option to block page elements using Microsoft Silverlight as well. This isn’t a huge deal for me, as I don’t have Silverlight installed (or its open source port – Moonlight), but I have in the past, and if I do install it again, Flash Block being able to block Silverlight sites as well would be useful as well.
All in all, Flash Block is a great extension. It isn’t difficult to configure and use (in fact, it can be used effectively with no configuration, immediately after installing), and while there aren’t tons of options available, the ones present are logical, and I don’t really know what else is really “missing” from it. The whitelist is a nice feature as well, as it allows users to use Flash with no restrictions on some websites, while blocking it on others. This is the kind of extension not everyone is going to “ooh” and “ahh” over, of course. I’ve known about similar extensions for years, but only installed this one recently. Still, having now used it, I can honestly say it would have been smart to have tried it before I did, and I feel comfortable saying that anyone even slightly annoyed by loud or obnoxious Flash elements would be doing themselves a favor to try this out.