Flash Player 10.1: definitely improved, but how much?

Flash Player 10.1: definitely improved, but how much?

Summary: Last month I called Adobe's Flash "the new Vista," and wondered out loud about Adobe's commitment to fixing its reliability and security problems. Now that Flash Player 10.1 has been officially released, I have some initial, very preliminary data to help answer some of those questions.

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Last month I called Adobe's Flash "the new Vista," and wondered out loud about Adobe's commitment to fixing its reliability and security problems.

Now that Flash Player 10.1 has been officially released, I have some initial, very preliminary data to help answer the reliability question, as well as some simple tests to see whether performance is any better with this new version.

On reliability, the 10.1 upgrade gets a big thumbs up. I have yet to see a crash or slowdown related to it. In fact, the Windows reliability index has spiked up dramatically on my wife's PC, which had been experiencing a browser crash (harmless but annoying) at least once a day and often several times daily. As I noted in my earlier post, Windows Error Reporting had flagged the Flash Player as the culprit, but no amount of troubleshooting or tweaking would make the crashes stop. Apparently, the bug that was causing her crashes was fixed in Flash Player 10.1, as this Reliability Report visually attests.

See that depressing top row made up of red X's? It's dominated by "Internet Explorer stopped working" messages, virtually all of them directly traceable to Flash Player 10.0. Since installing the 10.1 upgrade on June 15, this PC hasn't seen a single hiccup in everyday use.

As for performance, one of the big changes touted for Flash Player 10.1 is support for hardware-accelerated HD video playback. Late last year, when this version was still in beta, AnandTech found dramatically reduced CPU usage in video playback on a low-powered system equipped with Nvidia ION graphics. For my tests I used more powerful desktop hardware. I played back some 1080p programming from YouTube and CBS.com in Internet Explorer 8 on Windows 7 and found significant improvements on a three-year-old quad-core Intel PC with an ATI Radeon 4800 series graphics card and the latest Windows 7 drivers. Using Flash Player 10.0, total CPU usage was consistently over 40%. After the upgrade to the 10.1 player, CPU usage dropped by more than 10% on average, to a level consistently below 30%.

On my main desktop PC, which has an i7-920 CPU and an Nvidia GeForce 9600 GS graphics adapter (also with up-to-date drivers), I don't have comparison specs from the previous version, but with Flash Player 10.1 CPU usage was well under 10% for the same clips, played back at full screen resolution on a 1920x1080 monitor. (The green line represents total CPU usage over time. The blue line represents total available CPU resources.)

For multiple Windows-based systems, playback quality was almost glitch-free and very watchable.

The upgrade experience was greatly improved as well. In all cases, the actual installation took literally seconds, with a clean-looking installer that is a vast improvement over the Flash setup engine I had grown to know so well from many uninstalls and reinstalls over the past year. It was so fast that I was initially skeptical it had succeeded. It wasn't perfect at updating plugins for other browsers. On a copy of Firefox with an out-of-date Flash plugin, I couldn't get the new version to install properly until I uninstalled the old one. Likewise, it took a second install before Google Chrome recognized the new Flash plugin.

Still, that's much better than the experience on a 2009 Mac with a dual-core CPU and Nvidia 9400M graphics. I had updated Safari to version 5.0 the day it was released, and then installed the OS X 10.6.4 upgrade a few days later when it was released. After installing the Flash Player 10.1 upgrade, I was able to play back content in Firefox, but not in Safari. In fact, I eventually discovered, every Safari plugin (including those installed by Apple) was unavailable in Safari. Opening the Installed Plug-ins page from Safari's Help menu revealed a completely blank page. (I found at least one other report on Apple's support forums of a user with identical symptoms.)

I eventually solved the problem through brute force, deleting the shared Library/Internet Plug-Ins folder. The Flash installation, as it turns out, had gone just fine; it was the Safari upgrade that had failed. That's ironic, given Apple's repeated public flogging of Flash as a bad actor in the Mac world.

Playing the same 1080p test clips in OS X produced a dramatically different experience than on Windows. At full screen, the clips were literally unwatchable, freezing and stuttering as the CPU tried and failed to keep up. Activity Monitor pegged CPU usage at roughly 160% (presumably counting 100% for each CPU core, unless Apple has somehow changed the laws of physics). Dropping back to the 720p version of the clip made it much more watchable, although CPU usage was still extremely high at 110% or more and playback remained glitchy. The difference? Flash Player 10.1 on Windows uses the graphics hardware to decode HD playback; the same version on the Mac doesn't. So while performance is improved, it's still borderline for high-quality content.

The final question, of course, is security, and that one won't be answered for a few more months. Adobe accelerated the release schedule of the 10.1 player in response to a zero-day security flaw. As of right now, at least, there are no known Flash-related security exploits in the wild. Is the new release more resistant to attack or will it need frequent critical updates as its predecessor did? Stay tuned.

What has your experience with the Flash Player 10.1 update been like? Tell me about it in the Talkback section below.

Topics: Security, Apple, Operating Systems, Processors, Windows

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Talkback

40 comments
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  • How's the Flash 10.1 update working for you?

    Have you noticed a difference in stability or performance?
    Ed Bott
    • Perhaps some...

      @Ed Bott ... But over all I still block it, unless needed.
      Snooki_smoosh_smoosh
    • Web ads now 25% more reliable

      @Ed Bott ... I got my Skip Intro update this morning. Er, I mean Flash update.
      When I brows to my favorite web sites, I can now be certain the page will be moved aside or covered over with Flash ads which render the text unreadable for some period of seconds until the advertiser is certain I've had to stare at it a while.
      God bless Flash and its enabling of intrusive web advertising.
      HollywoodDog
    • RE: Flash Player 10.1: definitely improved, but how much?

      @Ed Bott @Ed Bott My experience is exactly the opposite of your wife's. Ever since 10.1 has been installed on my Vista machine, IE8 crashes frequently where it never did before and the faulting module is always Flash10h.ocx. We have tried every solution found through searches and nothing works. It does it the most in Yahoo games which always worked fine before.
      dch48
    • RE: Flash Player 10.1: definitely improved, but how much?

      @Ed Bott
      Its not working for me as it won't install on a win7 64bit OS.
      pquinn34@...
      • Flash 10.1 not yet available for 64bit Mac/Windows OSes

        @pquinn34@: that's because Flash Player 10.1 is for 32bit Linux/Mac/Windows OSes. you'll have to wait for a 64bit Flash player for Windows platforms as Adobe has been pretty slow on its progress with 64bit Flash support and the 64bit Flash player for Linux systems hasn't had any updates for several months. sorry.
        ep-man
      • RE: Flash Player 10.1: definitely improved, but how much?

        @ep-man Flash 10.1 runs fine on Windows 64-bit - you just have to use the 32-bit version of Internet Explorer (or any other browser), not the native version of Internet Explorer.

        Come on, give Adobe a break, they've only had 8 years to get Flash working under 64-bit Windows. ;-)
        wright_is
      • RE: Flash Player 10.1: definitely improved, but how much?

        @wright_is: don't tell that to other 64bit Windows users who have already lost their patience with Adobe waiting for a native 64bit flash player for their 64bit windows systems. go check the adobe forums and you'll find a bunch of disgruntled people asking when adobe will provide a 64bit flash player. some had been asking for years as to when 64bit flash will be available. i don't blame them.
        ep-man
  • RE: Flash Player 10.1: definitely improved, but how much?

    You might want to note that the reason that Flash Player 10.1 doesn't use hardware acceleration on Mac OS X is because "The World's most Advanced Operating System" didn't support this until version 10.6.3. So, yet again it is Apple's fault, not Adobe's (although they enjoy blaming Adobe).
    arknu
    • RE: Flash Player 10.1: definitely improved, but how much?

      @arknu That's quite the conspiracy theory. Why would Adobe handicap Flash for 4% of desktop users?
      spivonious
      • RE: Flash Player 10.1: definitely improved, but how much?

        @spivonious That is no conspiracy theory, but fact. See http://www.macrumors.com/2010/04/22/apple-opens-door-to-hardware-accelerated-decoding-of-h-264-in-flash-and-other-platforms/
        So yes, it wasn't possible for Adobe to do hardware accelerated decoding on Mac OS X prior to 10.6.3. And somehow Apple still managed to blame Adobe for making Flash slow on the Mac. I'm not saying that it is entirely Apple's fault - just that it also isn't entirely Adobe's fault, which is what Apple wants you to think
        arknu
      • RE: Flash Player 10.1: definitely improved, but how much?

        @spivonious As arknu pointed out, Apple only recently opened up an API for Adobe. Also Adobe already has a beta of Flash Player 10.1 called Gala that enables hardware acceleration on the Mac and it can be found here:
        http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/flashplayer10/gala/

        Adobe has said they want a full beta cycle for Gala, to make sure it works fine and get out all the bugs before they release it to the public.
        Matt_Fabb@...
    • Mac OS X used it

      They didn't publish an API for others.

      Video performance is done to GPU acceleration. Supported good, unsupported bad. See the release notes for you architecture:

      http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/flashplayer10/releasenotes.pdf

      C'mon Adobe, a little Linux love (broadcom would be nice).
      Richard Flude
    • RE: Flash Player 10.1: definitely improved, but how much?

      @arknu Actually on my Mac, running 10.6.4 and Flash player 10.1, there is an option to enable hardware acceleration and it's ticked by default. Let me know if you went screenshots.
      nrturner
  • Better on Linux as well

    I use Adobe Flash Player both in Ubuntu 10.04 and in openSUSE 11.2. Mostly in Firefox 3.6.

    I noticed improved stability in Flash Player 10.1: Flash Player has caused no more Firefox crashes since the upgrade (it has never caused full system crashes).

    Nevertheless, it remains a closed source blob. The thing should definitely be open-sourced, in order to allow for speedier security fixes. It's a high profile attack target.
    pjotr123
    • RE: Flash Player 10.1: definitely improved, but how much?

      @pjotr123 Adobe's ActionScript Virtual Machine 2 that runs code inside of the Flash Player is actually an open source project hosted with Mozilla. Firefox's new JavaScript engine is actually based off of the JIT (Just In Time compiler) from the Flash Player.

      Also Adobe has said that they can never open source the whole Flash Player as there's codecs and other pieces of code in the player that doesn't not belong to them.

      Meanwhile, I doubt that the Flash Player will ever get to the point that they never get any security attacks. Any software that is as popular as the Flash Player makes itself a target to hackers, who will look for ways to find exploit it. The question becomes how quickly can Adobe respond to these security attacks and push out new patched versions of Flash.
      Matt_Fabb@...
      • RE: Flash Player 10.1: definitely improved, but how much?

        @Matt_Fabb@... Sun opened the whole Java code, and it contained much more lines of codes than Flash. This is just an excuse by Adobe to keep a tight control on their platform.
        atari_z
  • Sorry it took so look but Flash 10.1 just hung my IE as I was reading ZDNet

    no im not joking. just installed it last night to give it a test drive to see if I could lift the ban on it i imposed for all my desktops and laptops/netbooks. The ban remains, going to uninstall it now...
    Johnny Vegas
    • More details?

      @Johnny Vegas,

      Which version of IE? Did you use the uninstaller first? Can you confrm that the cause was the Flash Player from an error report or an event log entry? I'd be interested in seeing mopre tech details if so.
      Ed Bott
      • In my case F10.1 didn't crash yet, but brought 60% busy on double core 3GHz

        @Ed Bott: I have E6850 processor and I ran on the latest FF Adobe's own Flash showcase demo on their site (you may find it around the page with the announcement of 10.1 version). My videocard is NVidia 8800GTX/768MB with the latest drivers; the OS is W7Ultimate with the latest updates.

        So, <b>for now, Flash may die for all I care, sorry.</b>
        DDERSSS