Firefox developers are considering making web plugins like Adobe Flash an opt-in feature. Although there is still a long way to go before it’s ready for Firefox proper, switching to an opt-in, “click-to-play” approach for plugins could help make Firefox faster, more secure and a bit easier on the laptop battery.
A very early version of the “click-to-play” option for plugins is now available in the Firefox nightly channel. Once that’s installed you’ll need to type
about:config in your URL bar and then search for and enable the
plugins.click_to_play flag. Once that’s done visit a page with Flash content and it won’t load until you click on it.
While HTML5 lessens the need for Flash and other plugins, they’re still a big part of the web today. Even where HTML5 has had great success — like the video tag — it hasn’t yet solved every publisher’s problems and remains incapable of some of the things Flash can do. That means Flash will likely remain a necessary part of the web for at least a few more years. At the same time Flash and other plugins are often responsible for poor performance and security vulnerabilities. So if something is necessary, but can slow down your browser and can be the source of attacks, what do you do?
Another popular solution is the click-to-play approach that Mozilla developers are considering. It’s not a new solution, Chrome offers the option, but so far no web browser has yet made it the default behavior. Savvy users will already know that you don’t need to wait for Firefox to implement this feature to block Flash. If you’d like to prevent Flash from loading until you say so you can do that today with Flashblock (Safari users can try the Click to Flash add-on, Chrome will block plugins out of the box, see the Plugins section in Chrome’s settings).
Visit a webpage with embedded Flash content when Flashblock or similar is installed and you’ll see a static image where the Flash movie would normally be playing. Click the image and then the plugin loads. Because Flashblock blocks even things you don’t realize are Flash, for example banner ads, it can greatly reduce memory use and speed up your browser by preventing those elements from running in the background. Indeed Flashblock and its ilk are like ad-blockers, hard to live without once you’ve become accustomed to them.
Whether or not the click-to-play approach that Mozilla is considering will ever become the default behavior for Firefox remains to be seen. This very early release is rough around the edges and nowhere near ready for prime time, but the goal is to have it be part of — disabled, but part of — Firefox 14.