The new Macromedia Flash Player detection kit

With the announcement of Flash 8 today, Macromedia also quietly pushed out their new detection kit. The detection kit has has been around for the last few versions of Flash, and usually changes with each version to include whatever the latest trends in Flash detection are.

It’s no wonder then, that the latest version uses Javascript as the suggested detection method. Unfortuntely, it’s not perfect. While it’s a good first try, it is greatly lacking in a few basic needs of most web developers. Here’s the issues I have with it:

  • Inline Javascript code (and lots of it) – Who wants to copy a bunch of Javascript and VBscript onto every single page that uses Flash? While it might be possible to move the Javascript into an external file, you would still have a small amount of VBScript on each page (or another external file to include). I’m not sure why they decided to leave in the VBScript when there are other reliable ways to create and test for ActiveX objects. Also: what happens if you need to upgrade the Javascript for some reason? While the code should be very futureproof, you never know when a bug might pop up, and you’ll be stuck editing all of your HTML files that have Flash movies included in them.
  • Tough to modify the code – It suffers from the same drawbacks as most Javascript embed techniques – placing tons of Javascript document.write() calls and writing out your object or embed tags to the page. This is a hassle to edit if you need to make changes, and makes it very tough for designers who don’t know Javascript to go in and modify attributes.
  • It’s not valid HTML or XHTML – Valid XHTML documents aren’t for everyone, but when you have clients specifically asking for them it’s nice to be able to deliver. The new detection doesn’t even come close to validating.

If you want to compare the new Macromedia detection to my FlashObject script, check out this new article that shows how to use it:

Best Practices for Flash Player Detection

Then compare the steps needed to get that working with using FlashObject:

  1. Include single .js file.
  2. Add a few lines of code (see example of bare minimum).
  3. Sit back, relax.

I think the choice is clear.

Now when you downloaded the new detection kit you may have noticed another folder hiding out in there with the name of “Express Installation.” This is Macrmedia’s new way of upgrading your Flash player without the need to go to macromedia and download the new plugin. I’ll be writing up a new entry soon that gives some tips and best practices on using this method in the very near future.

Proper Flash embedding: FlashObject Best Practices

UPDATE (7-24-2005): This page refers to an old version of the FlashObject script. For questions or comments, or to download the script, please refer to the permanent home of the FlashObject script.

This post is a continuation of a previous post. Read this for more background information on the FlashObject embed method.

In the months since I posted the FlashObject embed I’ve had a chance to talk to a number of developers and use it in a few high traffic projects. In doing so I’ve picked up some tips and best practices that I’ll be outlining here. I’ve also revamped the FlashObject script so it’s a bit more light weight and fixed a few small bugs.

What’s new?

  1. Alternate content is no longer written to the page by default – You may still use the fo.altText variable to add alternate content to your pages, but it is not recommended. The way to display alternate content in your pages with Flash content would be to place the alternate content on your page, and then specify the ID of the element with your content inside. The FlashObject script then writes your Flash content inside that element, replacing your alternate text/content so the end user with Flash will never see it, but users with no Javascript or without the required Flash version will see the alternate content. Google will also index your alternate content since it is just plain HTML.

    Here is an example of what your embed should look like:

    <div id="flashcontent">
      Place your alternate content here and users without the Flash plugin 
      or with Javascript turned off will see this. 
      Include a link to <a href="?detectflash=false">bypass the detection</a> 
      if you wish.
    <script type="text/javascript">
     // <![CDATA[
      var fo = new FlashObject("fo_tester.swf", "fo_tester", "300", "150", 6, "#336699");
     // ]]>

    Because of this change, you should always specify the ID of an element to write your Flash content into. You should also be sure to always include alternate content on the page. If your Flash movie is purely decorational, you can leave the div empty, similar to using empty alt attributes (alt="") on decorational images. Also note that with the new version you need to place your Javascript that writes the Flash content after the element that will contain your Flash content, as in the example above.

  2. Support for pulling variables from the URL string when using anchors – There have been some discussion about Flash state tracking and direct or ‘deep linking.’ Most of the methods rely on parsing variables from the URL when the movie loads, so now you can pull vars out using the built in function getQueryParamValue().


    If your URL is:


    You can pass those vars into your Flash movie by using the following code:

    var fo = new FlashObject("fo_tester.swf", "fo_tester", "300", "150", 6, "#336699");
    fo.addVariable("var1", getQueryParamValue("var1"));
    fo.addVariable("var2", getQueryParamValue("var2"));

    The same works for normal URL parameters in URLs such as:


Just to recap some of the things posted in the previous FlashObject post, here’s some of the thinking behind the FlashObject embed method:

Why Javascript?

Javascript is the best overall solution for a number of reasons, among them:

  1. With Javascript you can detect the presence of the Flash Player on your user’s system and either display the Flash content or leave the existing (X)HTML on the page. This is also a huge advantage when it comes to search engine indexing since the alternate content is on the page and will be indexed as normal content. This also prevents novice users from seeing Internet Explorer’s ActiveX install box, which on Windows systems pre-SP2 is a very scary thing these days with all the Spyware and Malware running around on the internet. On most other browsers, you’ll likely see some empty box where the Flash content should be, sometimes with a broken image or puzzle piece icon which most novice users have no idea what to do with (Should they click on it? Is it part of the site?). If you include well written upgrade/install instructions in your alternate content, all of these problems are avoided.
  2. No Extra configuration files for each Flash movie. Some alternate methods of embedding Flash content in XHTML documents include using extra configuration files or ‘holder’ movies that load in other movies. With this method there is no need for any extra files aside from the single .js file.
  3. Easy to serve different content to different browsers. I worked on a project recently that made extensive use of the wmode=transparent option. Well when you are using IE or Firefox you can use wmode=transparent with the Flash 6 player, but if you are using Apple’s Safari browser, you need Flash player 7 to see the content properly. So in the embeds on the page, we required Safari users to have the Flash 7 player, and everyone else the Flash 6 player. Without Javascript we would have had to force everyone to upgrade to Flash player 7, something we didn’t want to do, even though the Flash 7 player has a pretty high penetration percentage.

Problems with Flash Satay/pure Object tag embedding

The main issue with using any embed method that uses only object tags to embed any plugin on a page is that Safari ignores the param tags. For very basic embeds this isn’t a problem, but when you want to start passing in variables or change the background color of the movie without re-publishing it you start to run into problems.

The one area where using pure object tag embeds shine is in using XHTML pages that are sent with a mime type of application/xhtml+xml. Since the FlashObject script uses innerHTML and sometimes document.write, it is not compatible with pages sent with the application/xhtml+xml mime type. Currently I have no plans to update it to work with these pages, as there are many issues with creating object tags using the DOM because almost every browser engine handles it differently and has little quirks that make it very hard to work around. If you are interested in seeing some of the code it would take to embed Flash in XHTML documents, check out the excellent Javascript that comes along with sIFR 2.0.


Download the source to FlashObject 1.1.1.

Download the source to FlashObject 1.3.

View sample pages using FlashObject 1.2 in different Flash embed situations.

UPDATE (5-5-2005): If anyone is interested, Paul Newman has wrapped this script into a Dreamweaver extension. It costs $15 (or free to CommunityMX subscribers), but if you are a not-so-technical Dreamweaver user I think it would be worth it.

UPDATE (5-17-2005): Made a small change to the embed tag output. I changed the id attribute to a name attribute as Firefox needs it that way in order to use LiveConnect and talk to the plugin via Javascript.

Netscape 8 beta released

AOL has just released the first beta of Netscape 8.

Unfortunately it only runs on Windows machines, which means I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to check it out. It can use either the IE rendering engine or the Firefox (Gecko) engine, but I’m not sure which one it defaults to. I mentioned a while back that I was wary of the option to switch the rendering engine as most users will have no idea what it actually does even if they do delve into the options and find it there.

They also seem to have completely ignored any usability guidelines for Windows applications and gone with a non-standard application window layout. The menu bar is shifted to the left, and there is an amazing amount of clutter around the toolbars and tabs (View Screenshot).

This article even mentions how they “reduce browser clutter” by “including a ‘Multibar’ feature that combines up to 10 customizable toolbars into single buttons.” How they decided that giving users ‘up to 10 customizable toolbars’ would ‘reduce browser clutter’ is beyond me.

WordPress next / previous post links

I just added some next / previous post links to this blog. It was really easy to do it, and I think it is a very nice improvement. All of the functions are already built into WordPress, it was just a matter of finding them.

Here’s the PHP code to place where you want the links to show up:

<?php if($single) { ?>
<div class="nextprev">
<span class="prev"><?php previous_post('&lsaquo; %', '', 'yes', 'no'); ?></span>
<span class="next"><?php next_post('% &rsaquo;', '', 'yes', 'no'); ?></span>
<?php } ?>

And here’s the CSS I added to my stylesheet to get them to sit where I wanted them:

.nextprev {
    height: 1.5em;
.nextprev .prev {
    float: left;
.nextprev .next {
    float: right;

I’m not entirely sure they will stay. I might replace them with something different, like a “more posts in this category” or a “related posts” type setup. I like the idea of flipping through a blog in a linear fashion, and I think it suits this blog quite well since all the content is generally about interesting internet happenings or loosely related technical offerings.

Either way, it’s pretty simple to add them to your own blog, so enjoy!

What’s next for the iPod?

I just saw a post over on 37 signals blog asking whether the iPod is riding a wave of cool or a wave of usefulness.

… I’m wondering when the iPod will tip from cool to uncool. When everyone has something it begins to lose its luster. What can Apple do to ride the wave of coolness for as long as possible? Or is this product somehow immune because of its unique combination of coolness, usefulness, and stylishness? I wonder if the wave Apple is riding isn’t the “cool” wave afterall, but the “useful” wave masquerading as cool? Does anyone ever get tired of useful?

I see it like this: iPods are filling a gap that needed to be filled. People needed a portable way to listen to all those mp3s they downloaded from Napster, and the iPod was (and still is) the best way to do that.

However, I think the lives of all portable audio players are limited because cell phones are going to catch up soon. Why carry an iPod and a cellphone when you can plug some headphones into your phone and have all your music right there? Most new cell phones already play mp3 files, the only problem is storage, and that problem is becoming less and less every day as flash memory gets cheaper and bigger.

After that, we’ll see better digital cameras included in the phones. I’m not talking about replacing high end cameras, but have you noticed the flood of tiny cameras on the market? Nearly everyone I know has a tiny camera they carry around with them everywhere (not even including the cameras on their phones). Once these camera phones catch up to the little digital cameras, you have no reason to carry both gadgets.

Next comes the most interesting part: You start using your phone to download music directly from the iTunes store. Apple has already announced the partnership with Motorola, and I’m sure they understand that the life of the iPod is running out. Motorolapod Shuffle, anyone?

Now back to the camera: tons of people are already taking pictures with thier camera phones and e-mailing them directly to their friends, or posting them on the internet with sites like Flickr.

Why would I buy three different gadgets and fill up my pockets when I could combine them all into one? It’s only a matter of time before phone manufacturers add in more storage space for your mp3s, and hopefully they will stop blindly adding in mega pixels to their cameras and put some better lenses and CCD technology into the camera part of the phone.

UPDATE (02-14-2005): Sony Ericsson seems to agree with me, at least about the music part.