or whatever you call it!
It all started when I decided – for reasons I cannot remember – to look up the Army careers website…
No, actually it had started to happen a while before then. Screen freezes right when I was right in the middle of working on something. No mouse, no keyboard, no programme manager. No way out but to reboot the damn thing, which was taking a good few minutes. And of course, if I had been writing, up to ten minutes of lost work that needed redoing.
A long and freezing road
I found out there’s a thing called the ‘Event Viewer’ (Settings > Control Panel > Administrative Tools in Windows XP) that lists system errors and links to Windows help to explain them. I found out that the system was looking for a non-existent driver for my old Tiscali modem. After some tut-tutting, I altered the culpable registry entry following a helpful discussion board post.
Screen freezes became less frequent, but continued. I decided that I may have more registry problems, so I bought and used a proprietary registry cleaner, not having read the helpful discussion board post “Registry Cleaners may cause your system to become unstable“.
My system speeded up considerably but still hung when I was browsing. By now I was starting to realise that screen freezes only still happened when videos were playing somewhwere on the screen. At first I blamed Firefox, which could fall over within seconds of starting up, but IE6 was just better, not perfect or anywhere near.
The penny was starting to drop. I updated Flash and there was an improvement. Much Flash content would play, but advanced content with both audio and video would crash sooner rather than later.
I did some Uni modules with Computerwoman, since when she has become a bit of a techie. Her workroom is very poor ‘feng shui’, littered as it is with disembowelled machines and other bits of kit. She suspects, as I do, that a RAM upgrade could be helpful and kindly gives me one.
The Army Careers website starts with an over the top Flash presentation featuring a battlefield overflown by whirring helicopters. With a RAM upgrade, we can get the thing to load properly in IE7 but the first whirring helicopter crashes – the screen that is.
Computerwoman expresses some surprise as even Henry, her absolute worstest machine bought at Aldi has no problem displaying a tedious stream of whirring helicopters. She decides it might be malware.
This means we wait six hours while my machine is hotwired to a laptop containing Bullguard and then is rescanned with spybot We do find and exterminate some malware, but not the error. Computerwoman replaces the video card and reinstalls Windows, but neither make any difference. She decides that my machine must stay in her emergency ward for further treatment.
When I get it back from her she has tuned it up the best she can, but the most we can get is two whirring helicopters. She now thinks there may be an obscure software conflict and I think she’s probably right.
Why I hate Macromedia Shockwave Adobe etc
The reason I’m telling you all this is to show what a trouble the malfunctioning of Flash on my machine has caused – literally days of work without much result.
I’ve never been much of a fan ever since Flash presentations first started getting used by some sites as a prelude to opening the main pages. The presentations were, well, flashy but low on content and most people just skipped them.
But my real grudge against Flash is that it does not tell you what’s going on:
- It does not tell you that it’s going to crash your browser, losing all your uncompleted work and open pages. No chance of an “Internet Explorer/Firefox has encountered a problem and needs to close” type message.
- It does not tell you when a new version of Flashplayer becomes available, even though an update could considerably improve performance.
Adobe can manage this pretty effectively with Acrobat Reader, so why not with Flashplayer?
- It does not tell you that you may need to tweak other parts of your software setup to get optimum results.
It was only when I started delving round the Adobe site that I found out that I might need to update other software, or even that there are separate versions of Flashplayer for Internet Explorer and Firefox. Again there are many software downloads that can tell you they need another update to run successfully, so why not Flash?
- Web designers should provide alternative content to Flash but often don’t and do not tell you that they haven’t, so that all you get is a blank space on your screen.
Of course that’s what blind people are getting treated to all the time. Two cheers for W3C! In many cases, like the Army Careers website all you get is an invitation to download Flashplayer, which at least alerts you that you are missing some content.
Why do have to have this Flash stuff anyway? An animated gif or a more standard video technique will usually do the job without the instability. After all the tweaks I’ve made to my set up it still won’t work all the time and I don’t see why I should buy another machine (complete with Vista, but that’s another story) to resolve one obscure problem.
Surely it couldn’t be that Flash is just some sort of status symbol amongs the web design fraternity?…
What to do if it happens to you
I don’t think I’m alone in having problems with Flash. A friend of mine recently sent out copies of her first article for “The Naval Architect” – a geat read if you’re into marine technicalities. The trouble was it was in FlashBook, an electronic book format that crashed Firefox when I opened page 2. In fact so many people had problems with the format that she had to send it out again in Word.
Now I’m no expert on Flash technicalities, but here’s my simple three step guide to living with Flash:-
1) Turn it off. Set your browser to disable Flash using Tools > Internet Options in IE Options > Manage Add ons > Plugins in Firefox. On the whole you won’t miss much and you can always switch it on again if you really need it, having prepared that you may be about for yet another freeze.
2) If you’ve got to use it, take a look at the Adobe website to make sure you’ve got the latest version and check out what other software you may need. I ended up downloading Quicktime Player and a thing called Shockwave Director (?). Why did I need them? – dunno, they didn’t tell me. Did they make a difference – might well have, it’s hard to be sure.
3) If like me you are working on Word documents while you are browsing, set them to autosave every minute (Tools > Options > Save). Then you get a recovered version of your file with virtually nothing missing after the reboot.
After following my own tips, running antivirus and malware scans and deleting temporary internet files, I can announce that I actually managed to view an endless stream of whirring helicopters on the Army Careers website in Firefox last week …until I turned the sound on.
Colin Taylor is a careers adviser and freelance writer who has been publishing careers and employment related material for over five years. Find out more about him at http://www.coltext.com