Saturday, February 11, 2017

Life Without Flash and Java

Flash and Java were the most needed sources to be installed on most devices, if you’ve been surfing the web as long as I have, you’ll know that the old days were mostly about having everything run with Java, and fancy websites used to utilize Flash for animated effects, even simple parts of a website such as header navigation required flash.

Then web browser games became popular, which relied heavily on Flash and sometimes Java, they still do, but I think in terms of popularity, that has decreased over time.

Bank and school portals used to rely on Java fully, some, sadly, still rely on it till this day.
Because of all the attention, Flash and Java became a target for malicious content and attacks, and in many cases, even recently, they were brutally successful. A massive debate has been going in the security community on who’s to blame, some said that the companies behind those platforms were not taking the needed care it deserved, others debated because for example, Flash is closed sourced, it’s been impossible (or hard?) for others to create another platform with a better or a more secure system.

If you search Google about the security issues with Flash and Java, you’ll find at least a mile long worth of articles explaining some horror stories of devices compromised or rendered completely useless unless a format and a clean reinstall of the operating system is done, and worse.

Let’s also not forget that websites with videos or media also relied heavily on Flash, but thankfully and slowly, all the major players are starting to switch to HTML5, a Flash free experience.

I decided to take the step and not install Java or Flash, and see how it goes, so here is my report.

Life Without Java:
This was surprisingly easy, I’ve uninstalled Java months ago and since then I haven’t encountered a single situation where I needed Java to be installed, though I have read reports and comments that the main issue without Java is sometimes online banking or logging in to school systems.

Reports claim that the use of Java has decreased a lot, if you are worried about it affecting your regular activities online, then my suggestion to you would be uninstall Java, experience everything that you do normally and see if you actually need it, when it explicitly tell you that “You cannot view or interact with this service without Java”, then go ahead and install it, I would even recommend when that happens, to uninstall it after you’re done with that task.

Not having Java installed means it is one less source of vulnerability on your device, and you’ve actively decreased the resources used, there are not scheduled Java updates, no sources being loaded in the background so it will make your system happier.

One big issue from people was having Java installed because they play Minecraft, that is no longer the case, they have released a new update to their launcher which bundles a minimal version of Java into the installation. Basically they took the part they needed from the Java framework and excluded the rest, so, you can safely and without worry uninstall Java, Minecraft is now taking care of itself.

Life Without Flash:

I’ve only uninstalled Flash about two weeks ago, so my report could possibly be not as complete as it was with Java, though from the looks of it so far, it seems that Flash will not be on my installed programs list anytime soon.

I’ll be honest, this was not an easy decision, even though I know all the risks and how exploitable Flash can be, it is (or hopefully, was) a relied upon framework in many aspect of my online activities, especially when it comes to watching funny cat videos.

With  YouTube however, taking an awesome step of utilizing an HTML5 player, it kind of gave me the courage, in my theory, YouTube is a leader in its category, and many will follow its footsteps, they are not naive, and thankfully, so far, my guess was proven to be correct.

Some of the media services I’ve tried that offered an HTML5 alternatives include, but not limited to:
  • Youtube
  • Vimeo
  • Vine
  • Metacafe (Partially)
  • TED
  • IMDb
  • Dailymotion
  • SoundCloud
There are of course other media services that aren’t just about watching a quick video. The last couple of years, relying on web streaming to watch TV shows and movies has been gaining popularity and it looks like it will keep on going up the scale.

One of the biggest issues for those service providers on not switching from Flash to HTML5/MSE was advertising revenue and DRM, though since the HTML5 player initiative, that issue is no longer, well, an issue. HTML5 as an alternative has evolved since then, and is now fully capable of handling all the concerns those companies mentioned.

For example, Netflix has an HTML5 + Silverlight option to enjoy their streaming services, as mentioned by them here:

However, Hulu has yet to make that switch, but if I had to guess, it’s a question of when, not if. You can read the dated announcement they made about their thoughts on HTML5 and why they haven’t switched to it here:

As I mentioned though, all those concerns are now a thing of the past, especially with many devices that just don’t support Flash (ie: iOS devices), HTML5 will soon, hopefully, be their choice, or honestly if they can come up with an equally decent alternative, it would be great.

My suggestion, try living without Flash and see if it has an impact on your routine online activities, if it’s a big impact, then install it and for the love of everything that is sacred, keep it updated.

Caution: Google Chrome, Internet Explorer & Microsoft Edge
If you have decided to make the move to have a life without Flash, then you should know that Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge come bundled with Flash installed specifically for them. My suggestion is to either disable Flash from the browser’s settings or for a complete experience without Flash, install Mozilla Firefox web browser.

Flash and Java have been big names in the online world, both for the good side and the ugly vulnerable side, ever since I’ve uninstalled them I have a sigh of relief, two less sources of possible malicious attacks I won’t worry about anymore and knowing that I don’t have any resources being used to keep them running and updated is also a nice frosting on the cake.

In no way this is an easy decision to make, so my suggestion is always to experiment, you will not lose anything if you uninstall them, find out exactly if you need them or not before blindly installing them, the online media world is slowly changing, your preference of services could have made the switch already.

If you are forced to use them for specific services, I would highly recommend using them on a separate browser, for example, have Firefox as your main web browser, and Google Chrome just for that Hulu experience you need, assuming they still don’t support HTML5 players, this way you will be having the best of both worlds. With and without Flash/Java.

Know your options, and be safe.


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