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December 20th, 2006

Rant: How to disable Flash’s auto update? and what ยง$@}! were managers at Macromedia?

Filed under: Attitude,Cutting the crap,Technology,Web — jm @ 19:41

Today I suddenly got an “update available for your Flash-player” dialog, which means that Adobe had that crappy piece of spyware checking in with their servers every 30 days. I immediately wanted to turn it off. If you’re not interested in how Adobe fucked up Flash’s configuration, but only want to turn off Flash’s auto-update functionality, click here

But how do I turn it off?

I remembered that Flash has no control panel (where its settings would actually belong). It also has no entry in the program menu. Adobe deliberately makes it incredibly hard to configure Flash’s privacy settings, cache settings or auto-update settings. Instead, as I remembered because I searched for it once before, there’s a special page on Adobe’s servers that allows you (after you requested the page and thus provided them with all kinds of data) to access Flash’s settings dialog. If I hadn’t known that this thing existed, my search would have taken hours longer. Here’s what I had to do to find it:

  1. Go to Adobe.com

  2. Click on support.

  3. Click on Flash-player support, of course there’s no mention of the configuration site there, in fact there’s also no hint about it in the “support center” or the “FAQ”. 95% of all users are either lost or bored by now.

  4. Click on Search and search for “Flash configuration”. This provides no meaningful search result, but a category link to “Flash configuration”

  5. At this point the site becomes unbearably slow, which is not an issue with my DSL connection, as I can access every other part of Adobe.com just fine.

  6. Found a Technote titled: “IT Administration: Configuring Flash Player auto-update notification”.

  7. It says to go into the “Settings manager” located on the Macromedia website.

  8. However, the link doesn’t go to the settings manager, it goes to a page about the settings manager.

  9. From there, you can actually access the settings dialog, which has a helpful message below it that says

    “Note: The Settings Manager that you see above is not an image; it is the actual Settings Manager.”

    Obviously, even if a user stumbled upon the settings manager, they still don’t get it!

The solution

The breadcrumbs at the settings manager’s page show its path as: “Home / Support / Documentation / Flash Player Documentation”. It’s important that you note that it’s “Flash Player documentation”. So here’s how you access Flash’s settings (I’m not making this shit up):

  1. Go to Adobe.com

  2. Go to “Support > Documentation”

  3. Choose “Flash Player” (not “Flash”!) from the dropdown (yes, the size of the dropdown requires you to scroll down to get there)

  4. Click “Go”

  5. Behold the list of only one option

  6. Click the link titled “Flash Player 9 Help” with a link-text that reads “HTML”

  7. Click one of the links on the left to open the settings manager which then provides redundant navigation!

Or click this link to access Adobe Flash Player’s settings dialog!

This whole experience is sheer brilliance. I hope that everyone who ever worked on this feature was fired. There’s a beautiful passage in the book “The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams that describes this perfectly. A piece of dialog between the main character Arthur Dent and someone from the local council’s planning department, after Arthur found out that his house was going to get knocked down:

“You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to the building plans had you? I mean like actually telling anyone or anything.”
“But the plans were on display.”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a torch.”
“Ah, well the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look you found the notice didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of The Leopard'”