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Flash

I run a Red Hat server at work and am responsible for the bulk of the websites on it and for making sure the sites and databases run efficiently.

One of the labs recently redesigned some of its websites using Flash. They're not using Flash for any fancy animations, just for rollovers it seems. The guy who designed them says he wants to make the pages a little more interactive, but I'm not sure what he plans to do that he can't do with JavaScript, CSS, or Perl.

One concern I have is that I'm under the impression that Flash is a resource hog. I don't want something using up memory on the server needlessly. Also, it takes forever to load if you don't have a broadband connection.

The other concern is with accessibility. By using Flash, they are locking out anyone who doesn't have a fairly recent (probably version 4 or higher) graphical browser. Their intended audience is the scientific community, principally clinicians and researchers who are seeking information on gene chips. Many of these users simply, in my experience, won't be using the latest browsers to visit the site. Am I wrong? I'm of the opinion that if they're going to insist on using Flash, they should at least implement some browser detection and redirect users with non-Flash-compatible browsers to a non-Flash page. They are balking at this suggestion, as they seem to be under the illusion that everyone uses the latest Internet Explorer on Windows XP or 2000 and that only "compsci/engineering types" use lynx or other browsers that are not compatible with Flash.

I want your thoughts on this, since many of you are more experienced with this sort of thing than I am, and all of you are more experienced with this sort of thing than the folks I am dealing with. Thanks.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
slinkr
Jan. 17th, 2004 01:11 pm (UTC)
If you want to find out what browsers are being used to visit your site, it's pretty easy to do. Are you using something to analyze your HTTP traffic? If not, check out Analog (http://www.analog.cx). It's free and pretty powerful. I've used it at work to produce all kinds of reports. You should be able to use it to get a breakdown of User-Agent types from all your traffic. Having some numbers will make it easier to determine the impact of your concern. If you have access to potential users outside the lab, you could also interview some of them and see what they think about the browser and non-broadband issues.

As far as memory on the server goes, a few thoughts. First of all, Flash does most of its work on the client side. Second, the way that I'd go about figuring out whether this would be a problem is to make some attempts at peak traffic and then try to simulate those conditions. With Flash, using a load testing tool like Apache JMeter is going to be a bit trickier than with a straight HTML site, but it may still be doable. But if you're expecting 1000 researchers to hit this site at once, that's not the same set of concerns as if you're expecting 30 researchers to hit the site at once.

I admire your efforts to steer these folks away from using Flash for basic navigation. Getting some numbers to back you up may help you make your arguments more convincing.
fj
Jan. 17th, 2004 03:37 pm (UTC)
Actually having data of how many people do not use the latest browser is good, but what is also obvious is that the people making this site seem to not care. One would think the comp/sci/engineering people are the ones they want to reach at all costs. A designer is sheperding his baby here, and flashy stuff sells with people who hire them. Furthermore, telling the people who comissioned the site that it has a built in gate to only attract 'modern' and 'up-to-date' (almost 'hip') customers is pretty irresistible for people wanting to seem hip.

What I am saying is, don't get too invested in stopping the evil Flash on your server. Let it happen and complaints may start coming in soon enough, or you'll have actual stats to show it creates a bad load. By then the designer may be gone and you get a new site to work on.
am0
Jan. 19th, 2004 07:07 am (UTC)
Yes and no. Yes, using Flash will exclude a number of users. Not only that, using Flash poorly will cause problems that will drive people away. It isn't a simple technology to use correctly. A simpler technology should be used whenever possible.

No, the concern isn't users with older or strange browsers. Those who continue to use old browsers will increasingly remove themselves from the picture until they choose to upgrade, simply because everybody else is moving on into new technologies. And those who use experimental browsers like Ditto probably do so knowing they won't get optimum results -- and are prepared to go to another browser when unable to view a site.

You've got to remember, there are people out there trying to use the Internet with their PDA devices ... and, increasingly, they are able to obtain satisfactory results. Tomorrow's computer may be wearable or implanted within the body or nervous system. Lots of new things will be tried, most of which will fall by the wayside. I suspect Flash will fail when something easier to use comes along, which shouldn't be long now.

If you want to see what's coming in the next year, watch Tech TV. If you want to see what's just over that horizon, look at SourceForge.
volta
Jan. 21st, 2004 08:43 pm (UTC)
I do not have any numbers on how many people can/can not use flash, but I can tell you that even when I am sitting at a Flash-enabled browser, I configure it to disable Flash and make exceptions for specific places where I want it. I do not think that serving Flash is a resource-hog on the server, at least not any more than serving other equivelently sized files, but, again, I do not have any numbers to support that. It certainly is a resource-hog on the client, and often causes stability problems even with the latest hardware and software.

If they are targeting the scientific community, they need to accept the fact that some of their intended audience is probably still running Mosaic, as they have never seen the need to learn something newer. Sure, use Flash if you want, but make sure that everything still works if flash is not available.

I am always inclined to do things in the simplest, most flexible way possible. Flash is many things, but it is not that.
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