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U Need Flash

The cosy relationship between Adobe, YouTube, and content owners.

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Yes, Steve Jobs said Flash sucks, and he was right. Yes, Apple stopped shipping Flash on their products, and that was a good move. Yes, it can be frustrating at times at YouTube to see how many clips are (unnecessarily) dependent on Flash. Yes, it's a crying shame to see how great HTML5 is, how crappy Flash is, and still after all these years of beta testing, the engineers at YouTube still haven't dumped the sorry thing. But there's a reason. And that reason is money.

Running OS X without Flash against YouTube (and with a tool like Clipothèque) can reveal a lot that's not otherwise apparent. There's a whole world of DRM intrigue going on behind the curtains.

A few introductory points.

  • HTML5 is brilliant, easy on resources, fast, and an open source standard.
  • There is no skulduggery with HTML5, and that's the problem.
  • Flash is an utter kludge held together by a company that long ago lost the ambition to make good products.
  • Flash can also hide cookies on your system and control who can view what.
  • IP owners don't like it when you embed their clips. They want to force you to view those clips at YouTube.
  • There are exceptions to the above. For example, Twitter can embed almost anything.
  • That means that the YouTube code is checking where the play request is coming from.
  • There are clips at YouTube that require Flash without really needing it.
  • These clips can be embedded and played on a system without Flash.
  • Some 30 companies with interests in movies and music have special agreements with YouTube.

YouTube and Google have been running the YouTube HTML5 beta for a long time. For a stretch of perhaps three months at the beginning of 2012, they let all their clips run as HTML5. Those were good months. But it can't have been popular with the content owners.

There are a lot of free full-length movies available on YouTube today. Some of them cannot be embedded, some can. Some disappear after a while as the content owners discover their existence, others are simply overlooked.


You can test embeds locally without Clipothèque, but it's more tedious. Clipothèque is a free application available at this site. It was originally designed to create a way of collecting all sorts of clips, not just from YouTube. And it can play the clips in its own Preview window.

Here's YouTube telling you that you can't watch Albert Einstein's How I See the World without Flash.

And here's Clipothèque playing the same clip on an OS X system without Flash.

Note that Clipothèque's preview window uses WebKit code, so if Flash isn't installed on the system, it can't be accessed.

Here's a clip from the Beatles anthology being blocked by Sony ATV.

Yet here's the same clip being played at YouTube.

Things get dicier still when one takes organisations like GEMA into account. GEMA represent Germany, the third biggest music market in the world, but Google still can't reach an agreement with them after all these years. Germans can't see the same clips as the rest of the world.

A recent example was the music video by Walk off the Earth for their Columbia single Red Hands. Germans can see the 'making of' video clip but not the real thing. And Flash makes this possible.

Spotify tried to tap the German market years ago. But to no avail. GEMA stood in the way. Today Germans can use Spotify - but it took years of negotiations with GEMA.

The official Red Hands video requires Flash and will not embed. The content is owned by Sony Music Entertainment. And it's not available in Germany at all.

The 'unedited' version of Red Hands is available at YouTube without Flash, can be embedded, and can be viewed in Germany.

Fuck off GEMA. -.- In Germany, the edited version is blocked... -.-
 - TheSteffisimo


Google's Chrome browser comes with Flash in the application bundle. The downside is Chrome likes to leave a lot of nasty files around, so a utility like Tracker is an absolute necessity.

Steve's Words

Steve was right. Flash sucks. It can slow down an older Mac to a crawl and even crash it. Flash does a lot of nasty things behind the scenes. And so forth.

Start at 02:40 in this clip from D8 2010. But embedding is controlled by FOX News Network, so you might be lucky, or you might not.

Then perhaps check Steve's blog piece on Flash at the links below. Steve cites poor performance, battery drain, and security amongst the key issues. The role Flash plays in catering to content providers has to be emphasised as well.

See Also
Apple/Steve Jobs: Thought on Flash
MacRumors: Adobe Discontinues Development of Flash Player on Mobile Devices
TechBlog: Adobe blocks new installs of Flash on Android. Good-bye, and good riddance!

Industry Watch: Clipothèque Standalone Rollout

The Technological: No News: Flash
Red Hat Diaries: Steve Jobs is Right
Red Hat Diaries: Jobs: Thoughts on Flash
Industry Watch: 'Click to Run': The Days of Flash
Industry Watch: Adobe Flash Makes Browsers Bite It

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