Recently, Firefox 6 was released. Aside of a small snag with the grayed out URL bar that I blogged about earlier, it has been a smooth ride.
There was a small change that I didn’t really raise a fuss over: TenFourFox, the fork of Firefox that still supports PowerPC architecture on Mac OS X, ceased supporting plugins. Short summary: Plugins have always been a pain in the butt for web browser developers from security and stability standpoint, so Firefox developers are finally doing something about it (among other things, there’s now out-of-process sandboxing). The only plugin most people need is Flash, and Flash hasn’t been updated on PPC in ages, which is pretty damn major, considering Flash’s track record in security circles.
So, how has the life worked out without Flash?
I’m among the people who haven’t really needed plugins for anything in particular - the only major user of plugins is YouTube.
Now, YouTube is essentially off limits. There’s HTML5/WebM playback option, but unfortunately, my PowerBook G4 is too slow to play WebM videos adequately. In fact, my Linux desktop (Athlon XP 3000+) is too slow to play WebM videos adequately. I think it has something to do with Firefox’s page rendering system, because VLC is able to play 640x480 WebM videos adequately on both computers; it’s pretty odd that 360p videos go to slideshow city. Furthermore, on Flash, I was unable to play YouTube videos adequately on anything higher than 240p. Both VLC and MacTubes easily play 360p videos.
Now, I’ve been using MacTubes for about a week, and life has been good. The only major roadblocks are, actually, just fairly major oversights in YouTube itself.
First major roadblock in YouTube usability is the embedded player. While it’s good that people can conveniently make links to YouTube videos and show the YouTube thumbnails on the pages, that’s honestly all I’ve lately used YouTube embedded players for; I just always clicked the “watch this video on YouTube” button. Now that Flash broke, it highlighted another big problem with the embeds: there’s no graceful degradation in the embed code, so all I’ll now see is TenFourFox’s warning that plugins are gone, and there’s no actual way to go to YouTube to watch the video.
GreaseMonkey to rescue! Back before I even found the “watch this video on YouTube” button (how’s that for usability failure?), I wrote a hopefully helpful userscript that “unembeds” the YouTube player. Now I’ve blown the dust off and added a mode where it runs all the time. No more warnings about lack of Flash on most pages! I can actually watch videos moderately conveniently with MacTubes!
Here’s what it looks like on your average web page:
All I really need the YouTube site now for is full channel stuff, finding related videos and comments. Those things aren’t viewable on MacTubes, which sort of limits its usefulness. MacTubes does have one pretty big point in its favour: There’s absolutely no autoplaying content.
In short, it seems that by using a native client like MacTubes in conjunction with YouTube website itself actually improves YouTube’s usability. YouTube’s website does websitey stuff, while video player does videoplayery stuff.
I’ve also been using Miro in addition to MacTubes, and I think YouTube should really consider developing better APIs for native clients. What most people need is organising their favourite channels and watching or downloading the videos on appropriate sizes. Miro won’t stream YouTube videos, and I don’t think Miro lets me even specify the preferred video quality. Also somewhat ridiculously MacTubes needs three separate player components for the video content, though fortunately it works most of the time if I just tell it to use QuickTime. YouTube officially does not support video downloads for most content - completely ignoring the fact that everyone does it, and that video remixing is one of the things that made the site what it is now. Sites like Twitter have grown because, not despite, of the fact that there are native clients and a well-defined API. YouTube is probably the most backward of the major Web 2.0 sites - and they certainly could benefit from a bit of improvement.
I have high hopes for the future. The fact that I could kill Flash pretty painlessly is a good indicator of how good the future will be. Perhaps, when the Firefox video performance improves a bit, life will return to normal. Since there are still good uses for Flash, I won’t say “good riddance” yet, but I think it’s pretty appropriate to already say this: good riddance as a video platform, Flash.