Flash off

c: | f: /

Flash was great in its heyday when Macromedia ran the show, but since Adobe got their mitts on it, things have gone downhill rapidly.

In a moment of weakness I got one of those pizza+sides+movie deals from Dominos recently. Aside from the fact the movies on offer were all garbage, I fired up Chrome, made a best-of-the-bad-bunch selection, read the FAQ, put in the promo code and pressed play.

And that was where the problems started.

For close to six months now, Flash player has been giving me choppy audio and jerky footage on some (not all) videos on YouTube, DailyMotion, etc. It sounds like someone is clapping their hands on and off your ears about five or six times a second. I could put this down to bad encoding, ancient hardware or a browser incompatibility but it does it:

  • on my desktop
  • on my laptop
  • in Firefox, Chrome and Opera

and the only common thing between all that technology is Flash. I Googled and I’m not alone. Lots and lots and lots of annoyed people. Adobe Support cite the usual generic fixes without claiming any responsibility — disable this, enable that, try different browser, disable virus scanner, stand on one leg and poke your toe into the bathroom tap while clicking play, and so forth.

Bottom line is it doesn’t work and isn’t fit for purpose. But I’ve redeemed my promo code, damn well want to watch the movie I’ve rented and I’m not going to be beaten by Adobe of all people. So out comes the hacker in me.

Hack hack hack hackability, that’s the beauty of web

The movie site states that once the code is redeemed I have 48 hours to watch the film and I can do so as many times as I wish from the same machine as the one I redeemed the code on. That’s a lie. What they mean is that I can only watch the movie on the same browser. Because my first port of call was to try and switch to Firefox where I have the Video Download Helper add-on. Figured I could get it to sniff out the streamed video and stash it on my hard drive so I can play it offline with a standalone flash player that doesn’t exhibit the behaviour of the one in the browser.

No dice. “Code has already been redeemed.”

Rather than trying to reverse engineer the system to prevent duplicate authorization I went back to Chrome and browsed their app store for a similar add-on. It dutifully installed, and downloaded the .swf for the movie player itself but couldn’t locate the streamed video even after clicking Play.

So out came the web inspector where I could copy and paste the movie URL and its parameters to the player in a separate browser tab. Nope. I tried the same trick with the downloaded .swf player. Nope.

With desperation growing, onto the forums I trotted. Some recommended IDM which has a free trial, but that wouldn’t find the stream to download either. Some said you could do it by hand by copying out the URLs: been there, got the tea cosy.

Further down the thread someone suggested installing an older version of Flash. The links they provided redirected to the Flash download centre which of course tried to give me the latest version. I Googled some more and found a reliable link to a dusty corner of Adobe’s website with archived versions of the player on it, grabbed v10.3 for other browsers — the one immediately prior to the jump to 11 where the problems began — and double clicked.

Hulk smash Adobe

The message I got back: “You cannot install this as it’s not the latest version”.

That was a mistake. If there’s anything a piece of software should never do, it’s tell a hacker that they can’t do something, because it makes them more determined to do it.

So with the gloves well and truly off I squared up to the machine and did this:

  • Disconnected the LAN cable and turned off wireless so the software had nowhere to go and ask Uncle Adobe which version was the most recent.
  • Uninstalled the existing Flash player.
  • Double-clicked the 10.3 installer.

Success. After a browser restart, Firefox reported it was running the 10.3 plugin and played back videos that were hitherto unplayable.

I restarted Chrome too, resubmitted the promo code and sat back… to enjoy the choppy audio version again.




Hulk really smash Google

Turns out that Chrome doesn’t use the Flash player installed on the local machine. No, in their infinite wisdom at giving consumers zero choice, Google bake the Flash player right into their browser so it’s always running the bleeding edge version that doesn’t bleeding work.

So off I trot to the address bar and pop in about:plugins. Sure enough, there it is, v11.whatever installed and enabled. Disabling it and restarting the browser just made every site mad because I had the audacity to not have the plugin installed. I was hoping that might then offer me the choice of picking up the system player, but no.

Couldn’t find any reference to the system Flash version in about:plugins until I spotted a little ‘Details’ twisty button in the top right corner. Opening that panel showed me two versions of Flash available; the built-in and the system one.

Victory at last. Of course, restarting the film resulted in Chrome giving me some simpering dialog box about the fact I’m not running the latest version and how I would be directly responsible for the Internet eating the first born child of every Russian if I didn’t use the most recent codebase, but I just told it to shut up. Incidentally, you can get it to stop whining by clicking the Always allow checkbox in about:plugins.

Take that, Adobe / Google: I win, you lose.

As it turns out, the movie was utter shit, but it didn’t matter. Even Troll 2 would have felt good.

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