Flash Media on the Web  
by Nicole Hernandez

With the advent of what appears to be a 'media boom' on the Internet, I think it's time for a reminder about accessible media on the web. Where new ideas like Dovetail, Yahoo! Current, Google Current, Memocast, Videoegg, MSN Soapbox, AOL Video, and tons more.. are jumping along on the same bandwagon that has made YouTube into a huge success, we have issues that continue to arise.

The biggest issue for me with most of those companies is the format in which most require you to watch videos - that being Flash. Now, don't get me wrong, I like Flash for displaying video. In fact, I prefer flash to most media options because if used sensibly, it doesn't require severe hacking of your Linux install to view videos. Note that I said 'used sensibly' -- most do not. It is the job of the web developer or media person to decide the format videos play in, and to make that choice well, they need to know what versions are compatible with what operating systems. Sorry if that sounds like actual work, but research is part of the job of being a web developer. This applies to more than just Flash - you need to check what kinds of support there is for any kind of media you intend to use, you need to know whether this is something that comes supported in the base install or if they would have had to be tech-savvy enough to install it manually. It's about understanding your user.

My first issue with Flash movies - the version of Flash player required. You absolutely need to check what versions are compatible with which operating systems. Read the specs, that is what they are there for. If you hop on over to the Flash section on the Adobe site, and dig around a bit you will find the following system requirements documents:

Now, I hope you'll go and read those documents, but I'll summarize here: The only Flash player version inherently available for all Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and Solaris is Flash 7.

Unfortunately, a lot of sites are not using Flash 7 player requirements to display their content. My daughter players games on NickJr and PlayhouseDisney - or she did. They started changing their content over to types not inherently supported by Linux, and now that has become an issue. (Yes, Linux has changed. If my 6 year old can use it, so can you.) A friend of mine tends to place the blame on Flash itself for this, and is boycotting them based on the fact that they aren't releasing more system compatible versions of the player. While I agree with this in part, I place the majority of the blame on the web developers and media designers. It truly is quite simple to allow the most users to access your content - remember common denominators in mathematics? - use Flash 7 player output.

It's simple to do. Using Flash: File -> Publish Settings -> Flash (tab) -> Version (dropdown) -> Select Flash 7.

Now why is YouTube so successful? They have the right idea. From their troubleshooting page (emphasis mine):

Next, check to see if your system meets these requirements for running the Video Viewer:
* Macromedia Flash Player 7.0+ plug-in
* Windows 2000 or higher with latest updates installed
* Mac OS X 10.3 or higher
* Firefox 1.1+, IE 5.0+, or Safari 1.0+
* Broadband connection with 500+ Kbps

While there are lots of new media companies on the web - if they are not implementing their ideas from the start with all users in mind, then they are missing the boat. When there is a simple solution to making your media viewing content accessible to other people - there is no excuse for not doing it.

End Note: If you would like to read the original article, it is online here.

About the Author

Nicole Hernandez is a web developer with a specialty in web standards and accessibility. She is the owner of Website Style and publishes technical articles on her blog called Beyond Caffeine.

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