Options for reducing Flash usage when browsing in Safari

While Flash is still a popular plug-in that is being refined by Adobe, it may still cause crashes and excessive system usage. Here are some methods of reducing its usage in Safari and other browsers.

Topher Kessler MacFixIt Editor
Topher, an avid Mac user for the past 15 years, has been a contributing author to MacFixIt since the spring of 2008. One of his passions is troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware at home and in the workplace.
Topher Kessler
3 min read

For the past couple of years, Adobe Flash has been attacked by Apple for being a clunky add-on that causes numerous crashes and other problems for Safari and other Web browsers on the Mac. Given the advancements in HTML5, Flash has been slated as unnecessary by Steve Jobs and others who have been promoting the new HTML5 standard's features as an alternative for rendering Web media and other rich content.

Despite these efforts, Adobe has managed to improve Flash and add a number of new features such as hardware acceleration to the handling of images and video, which have greatly reduced its CPU usage and memory footprints. However, these benefits are situation-specific and in many cases the plug-in still uses far more resources, especially if multiple Web pages are open and using the plug-in.

This can be a problem since many Web sites use Flash for advertisements in addition to offering video content, which can result in heavy usage of the plug-in, even when browsing sites that are not media-centric. Because of the prevalence of Flash on the Web, some people may wish to reduce or control when Flash loads.

While uninstalling Flash is one option for some people, this will not work for others since alternatives to Flash have not yet caught up to its usage. For these people, there are a number of extensions and plug-ins available for Safari that will allow you to manage Flash content on your system while keeping the plug-in installed.

My recommendations
The first Safari extension I recommend for people who want to have a better handle on Web content is Safari AdBlock. Since numerous advertisements are distributed using Flash, having Safari AdBlock installed will prevent these from using Flash. While AdBlock does not block all advertisements, it does identify a majority of them and is overall a useful add-on to have.

Plugin Customs blocking YouTube videos
With Plugin Customs installed, this screen will show over Flash content, and the browser will only play the content when you click it.

AdBlock does not block all Flash content, so the second recommendation is Plugin Customs, which is a tool that blocks plug-ins from loading unless you click the section of the page where the plug-in's content is loading. It is similar to the popular ClickToFlash plug-in, but is more encompassing and will manage other plug-ins like Java, Google Earth, and QuickTime in addition to Flash.

With these two extensions installed in Safari, you can have much better control over Flash and other plug-in content on the pages you browse.

Safari Extensions Preferences
Safari Extensions can be managed in Safari's preferences. While I have ClickToFlash installed along with Plugin Customs, I currently have it disabled to prevent duplication of content blocking.

Other plug-ins
Beside AdBlock and Plugin Customs, there are some more specific Safari add-ons that can help you manage Flash content. The first is the common ClickToFlash extension and its more encompassing ClickToPlugin cousin which, like Plugin Customs, will tackle more than just Flash. Both of these extensions can be found at the github extensions download page.

A new extension that was recently released is Flash to HTML5, which will force Safari to use an HTML5 player for video content, if the Web site is coded to provide it. This plug-in is focused for YouTube, which has an experimental HTML5 player but will sometimes load the Flash version even though the HTML5 player is available. With FlashToHTML5 installed, Safari will default to using the HTML5 player and will only load Flash if there is no option for using HTML5.

While these extensions will work in Safari, there are similar ones that will work for Firefox for those who use that browser, which include AdBlock Plus, FlashBlock, Flash Killer, and Plugins Toggler.

Do you have any plug-in or extensions recommendations for Safari that will help handle the loading of Flash or other plug-ins? Let us know in the comments!

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