When it comes to erasing your tracks on the web, nothing is more pernicious and difficult to delete than the Flash-based cookie. Technically known as “local shared objects,” Flash cookies don’t go away when you clear your browser-based cookies. Instead they hang around, potentially collecting data without your knowledge or consent.
To delete Flash cookies you have to navigate through the Flash Player settings dialog. Unfortunately most users don’t know how to do that and Adobe has, until now, put very little effort into simplifying the process (it has at least made Flash respect the “private browsing” mode in modern browsers).
Now Adobe is finally taking some steps toward simplifying the process of deleting Flash cookies. The company has announced it is working on a new API that will allow your browser to delete Flash cookies along with the rest of your cookies. For now only Mozilla and Google are working on the API with Adobe, but presumably Adobe is talking to Microsoft and Apple as well.
While there’s no shipping code at this point, if the API were to make it into Firefox and Chrome it would give users an easy-to-find menu for quickly clearly Flash cookies. Adobe’s blog post says users can expect to see the changes “in the first half of the year.”
The move would no doubt by a small boon to privacy, but as Ars Technica points out, Flash cookies aren’t the only source of hard-to-defeat, persistant online tracking. For instance, the dreaded “evercookie” stores data in no less than 13 places and is nearly impossible for the average user to delete.
Still, for those annoyed at the complexities of deleting Flash cookies, things may soon, thankfully, get a bit simpler.
Miniature Food photo by Stéphanie Kilgast/Flickr/CC
Windows users on the dev channel should see the update arrive automatically. We should note that the sandbox does have some bugs and may break other parts of the browser — this is a developer release, after all. Once the kinks are ironed out, all of these sandboxing features will begin making their way into proper stable Chrome releases.
Google’s Chromium team has been working with Adobe to build better Flash controls into Chrome, and to utilize Chrome’s sandboxing technology for the plug-in. Google says Wednesday’s update makes Chrome the only browser on XP that sandboxes Flash. For more about sandboxing and how Chrome is implementing it, read the overview post on the Chromium blog from October. Also, Wednesday’s release comes less than a month after Chrome introduced click-to-play controls for Flash and other plug-ins.
Adobe’s Flash Player is the most widely-used browser plug-in on the web, and it’s the dominant choice for video playback and games online. Even so, the technology gets beat up for performance issues and its security shortcomings, and it’s still falling out of favor among standards enthusiasts who are pushing HTML5 as the better solution for displaying multimedia in the browser.
[Updated, see below] Adobe has released the first beta of Flash Player 10.2, an update that focuses primarily on speed and performance improvements. New in Flash 10.2 is something Adobe calls “Stage Video hardware acceleration,” which the company claims will “decrease processor usage and enable higher frame rates, reduced memory usage, and greater pixel fidelity and quality.” And the hardware acceleration technology does do all of these things, though your mileage will vary depending on what kind of hardware and software you’re using.
To try out the new Flash Player 10.2 beta, head over the Adobe download page. Be aware that, while 10.2 appears to be relatively stable, it is a beta release and there may be bugs.
The Stage Video hardware acceleration means that Flash Player 10.2 can leverage your graphics card for not just H.264 hardware decoding (which works in Flash Player 10.1) but also color conversion, scaling, and blitting.
Adobe’s press release makes a rather bold claim: “using Stage Video, we’ve seen laptops play smooth 1080p HD video with just over 0% CPU usage.”
Sadly, we have not seen such results. While we won’t argue with the smoothness of the playback in this new release, Flash is still going to use quite a bit of your PC’s CPU. Based on my testing (done on a Macbook Pro laptop using both Firefox 4b7 and Safari 5, and a Mac Pro tower using the same browsers — Wired is an all-Mac office), while CPU usage is down in Flash 10.2, it’s still a long way from zero.
Update: Since this article was published, we’ve been hearing from you, our awesome readers, in the comments and over e-mail. Some things to note: The new beta performs much better on Windows computers than it does under Mac OS X. Also, full hardware acceleration on Mac OS X requires Snow Leopard or later, otherwise it falls back to using software rendering in the CPU. Thanks for the comments, and keep them coming!
On our Macs, we tested several 1080p videos on YouTube in Flash Player 10.1 and found that on average the 10.1 plugin used between 44-48 percent CPU. Watching the same movie in Flash 10.2 did drop the CPU usage down to the 18-22 percent range, but definitely not zero.
Worse, running the same tests on Adobe’s Stage Video optimized demos, Flash 10.2 actually performed worse than than it did on normal 1080p movies with the cpu usage varying widely between 5 and 60 percent (the 18-20 percent range appears to be the norm).
The short story is that, while Flash 10.2 does offer decreased processor usage, it doesn’t quite live up to Adobe’s claims. While Flash Player 10.2′s performance falls short of the hype, there’s no question that it’s a huge leap forward in terms of performance. The smaller CPU footprint alone is well worth the upgrade, provided you don’t mind running beta software. So far Adobe has not set a final release data for Flash 10.2.
One other thing to keep in mind: to take advantage of the new Stage Video tools, sites like YouTube and Vimeo will need to alter their video players. So, it may be some time before the full benefit of Stage Video’s improvements makes it to your day-to-day web browsing.
As for other new features in this release, there’s Internet Explorer 9 GPU support and support for fullscreen mode with dual monitors — meaning that you can have a movie on one screen and keep working on another.
Custom cursors get some love in this release, too, with Flash Player 10.2 handing off the job to the operating system rather than using resources to manually draw custom cursors. The beta also improves text rendering, adding sub-pixel rendering enhancements that should make your typography look a bit nicer and more readable.
It’s worth noting that the Flash Player 10.2 beta does not replace the Flash Player “Square” preview release — in other words, Flash Player 10.2 still isn’t 64-bit native. If 64-bit support is important to you, stick with the Flash Player “Square” preview.
After spending many months on development and beta testing, Adobe has released the latest version of its Flash Player.
You can download Flash Player 10.1 for Mac, Windows and Linux at Adobe’s website. You’ll need to shut down all of your browsers while it installs. There’s a version of Flash Player 10.1 coming for Android, but it won’t be ready until later this summer. A beta version is available in the Android Marketplace if you want to test it out.
Microsoft’s competing Silverlight plug-in for video is winning hearts and minds, reaching 60% penetration on web-connected PCs this spring. Adobe says over 95% of web-connected PCs have Flash Player installed.
Persons of great influence are turning their backs on Flash, but Adobe is hoping this update will spark an attitude change. It has rolled in dozens of improvements which directly address the issues of performance, security and power consumption.
As we first saw in the beta release, the runtime has been re-written to consume less system memory, and Flash Player will automatically shut off if it detects that memory is running low. It can also prioritize the amount of processing power being used by each instance of Flash Player that’s running. So if you have several browser tabs open with Flash content displayed in each tab, the movie you’re watching right now will stay running at full power while the idle instances are dialed back or shut off.
These enhancements should prevent nasty problems like Flash Player causing your browser to crash or your entire OS to freeze, which is usually the result of more Flash than your computer can handle at once — something netbook owners know all too well. Mac users will also notice a significant improvement, as the Flash team says it has paid particular attention to Mac OS X and Safari issues in this release.
On the security front, the new Flash Player will fully honor the rules of your browser’s private browsing mode by not caching any data on the local system while private browsing is enabled.
There are a raft of video improvements — we get hardware-accelerated H.264 video decoding, better HTTP streaming that supports dynamic bitrates for live video streams, and support for peer-assisted video streams (aka “Multicasting”). There’s also a new buffering system, so you can pause, rewind and fast-forward streaming video just like you’re watching it on a DVR (as long as the provider is allowing for it).
There’s no mention here of support for the new WebM video format, which Google, Opera and Mozilla launched last month to serve as an open alternative to H.264. But Adobe has pledged support for WebM in Flash Player, so hopefully we’ll see it sooner rather than later.
However, Flash Player 10.1 does support multi-touch input surfaces, one of Steve Jobs’ sticking points in his “Thoughts on Flash” essay about why Apple isn’t supporting the technology. Multi-touch capability isn’t likely to change Apple’s mind about inviting Flash to the table, but this feature will be a huge boon to those Android tablets that are supposed to be showing up any day now to kill the iPad.
This is obviously a huge release for Adobe, as it comes at a time when the company is under attack for its platform’s pitfalls. So, why the weak-sounding 10.1 numbering, which gives the impression that it’s just an incremental upgrade? Wouldn’t it have been better if they had called it Flash Player 11 since there’s so much new here?
We can save the “This Flash Goes to 11″ headline for the next time around.
Another bit of Adobe software got an update today: AIR. We’ll have more on that later.
Adobe has released the first beta for Flash 10.1, the next major milestone for the Flash Player plugin.
Flash 10.1 is an important update not just for its enhanced speed and new features, but also for Adobe to show that there is in fact still a place for Flash on the web.
Flash’s ubiquity as the solution for web video and animations has been challenged recently; first by HTML5, which gives developers a standardized way to embed audio, video and animation without resorting to Flash, and also by Apple’s decision to ban Flash from its iPhone/iPad platform.
While we expect HTML5 to slowly but surely replace Flash for common tasks like web audio and video, the plugin still offers many features HTML5 doesn’t and Flash 10.1 builds on those strengths with several new features.
The two most interesting features for web developers are the new priority tag in the Flash HTML embed code and the peer-assisted networking features.
The priority tag is especially helpful for speeding up page load times on netbooks and mobile devices since it allows developers to lower the priority of a Flash movie. Set the priority tag to something low and your Flash movie won’t try to load until the rest of the page is already finished. That means faster page load times and no waiting around for large Flash movies before you see the surrounding content.
The peer-assisted networking builds on Flash’s existing P2P capabilities to offer peer-based streaming media — think BitTorrent in your Flash player. However, don’t look for Flash-based torrent clients, what’s more likely are browser-based VOIP apps, better chat features in Flash games, improved conferencing applications and possibly even P2P radio streaming.
Other new features available in Flash 10.1 include support for the host browser’s “private browsing” mode (Flash won’t accept cookies or other local objects when you’re in “private” mode), a new accelerometer class (don’t even think about using it for the iPhone), hardware video decoding, much better performance and more.
For now Flash 10.1 is a beta release, so it’s a bit soon to start using the new features in the wild. But if you’d like to test them out, head over to the Adobe Labs download page and grab a copy (be sure to use the uninstaller to delete your existing Flash Player before you install the new version). The updated Flash for Mobile client will reportedly be arriving later in 2010.