Getting Flash Under Control in Safari

If there’s one thing that consistently impresses me about my iPhones, iPads and Android devices, it’s how fast they are. My iPhone 5 in particular whizzes through web content, churning out video like butter on cellular or WiFi networks with ease. My 2008 iMac and 2012 15″ Retina MacBook Pro are both slower than I’d like when it comes to Internet use, sometimes slower than the iPhone at this point. And I’ve been looking for ways to speed them up.

Going Flash-less seemed to be the easiest answer. I’ve wanted to get Flash under control on my Macs for a while, to the point where I avoided installing it for months on the MacBook Pro. I find it just bogs up the whole system. That being said, Flash can be a necessary evil for many of us. So I’ve set out to find the best Flash alternatives for your Mac, and I’m happy to share some of the results with you now.

First Things First

The first thing you need to know is that you’re not deleting Flash Player from your Mac here. As great as that would be, I’ve spent many hours combing through tons of different ways to do this and completely eliminating Flash from your main machine is possibly the least efficient way available.

This is what you'll see if you uninstall Flash, constantly. You don't want to do that.

This is what you’ll see if you uninstall Flash, constantly. You don’t want to do that.

Most of what we’re going to do involves plugins or extensions, but they still require your Mac to have some sort of Flash architecture. So keep Flash on your computer. It’s not worth the hassle, and you’ll spend most of your time tearing your hair out.

Fixing Video Playback

First of all, let’s take care of the biggest and most obvious Flash problem: Youtube. We all know how much time we waste there. Don’t worry; I’ve got you covered: Google has an HTML5 trial available for Youtube, and you might already be enrolled automatically. (If you’re not, you can sign up here with one click.)

The HTML5 trial is great. It works with every modern browser and takes care of a lot of Youtube videos. There are a couple caveats: The first is that fullscreen videos aren’t technically supported and the second is that ads won’t play (oh, bummer!). In my testing though, I came to a quick realization: Vevo videos don’t play in the beta.

This is more like what you want to see. And ClickToPlugin does this trick.

This is more like what you want to see. And ClickToPlugin does this trick.

So what we’re going to do is another easy fix. You will want to install ClickToPlugin by either shopping for Extensions or grabbing it here. You’re not looking for ClickToFlash, but instead looking for ClickToPlugin. Installing it should be as easy as running the quick installer (or letting Safari do the work within the Extension Store web app).

The settings can be a little complicated for beginner users, but most people will never have to give these a second (or even first) thought.

The settings can be a little complicated for beginner users, but most people will never have to give these a second (or even first) thought.

Technically speaking, installing ClickToFlash would accomplish the same thing, but ClickToPlugin lets you control every plugin in Safari. It’s a fantastic little interface that really speeds up the web process on a whole, and quite simply, it works. The settings are a little complicated for beginners, but advanced users will love the extensions flexibility. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Set It and Forget It mantra, and this extension lets me do just that.

Bucking the System

There are going to be occasions where, no matter what you do, having a stable and running version of Flash is going to be a necessity. I’m taking some distance education courses right now, and the online lectures require Flash. I can run them on Safari with ClickToPlugin, but in situations where an entire website is dependent on Flash code (and not just certain elements of a page), running Flash natively does feel a little faster.

For that, I recommend Google Chrome. I know what you’re thinking, especially if you’re a dedicated Safari user, but hear me out. This isn’t as complicated as it sounds, since Safari ships with an “Open Page With” button. All you need to do is enable the Develop menu, which is under Safari/Preferences/Advanced. You’ll see a checkbox that says “Show Develop menu in bar.”

Ta-da! It's like magic.

Ta-da! It’s like magic.

Check off that box and you’ll have a new menu option right in between Bookmarks and Window. If you ever want a fully-flash capable version of whatever web page you’re on, make sure you have Chrome installed and select Open Page With Chrome. Chrome has a built-in Flash player that doesn’t take up as much CPU as the competition as a result. And when you’re done, you can just close Chrome.

Temporary Bandaids

For some people, trying to find Flash alternatives is going to be more pain than its worth. I’ve spent many hours scouring the web for the best options and trying out more than I care to count just so you don’t have to. And not everybody needs to go so far as to try and eliminate Flash (or get close to eliminating it).

But for some people — maybe people with older Macs or people who are noticing slower Internet performance than they used to — controlling Flash can make sense. This has really helped speed up the Internet on my five-year-old iMac. Less to load on a page means less bandwidth to worry about consuming every time I read anything.

But the problem isn’t going to go away. Right now, we’re in a time of transition away from Flash. Three years ago, I would have been fortunate to write an article like this (and maybe people would have thought it was presumptuously timed). Today, getting Flash off your Mac feels as normal as keeping it away from an iPhone.