Google has fulfilled a promise to build Adobe Systems’ Flash Player into Chrome, a move that helps keep the beleaguered plug-in relevant despite significant efforts to replace it.
Chrome 5.0.376.86, the stable version of Chrome released Thursday, extends the plug-in to the mainstream version of Google’s browser. Previously it was only in the developer and beta releases, and because of some hiccups it was disabled for a time there.
The new version also fixes five security bugs, including one involving a cross-site scripting vulnerability that had been fixed earlier but that recurred.
Flash has been a dominant component for building the richer aspects of the Web, notably games and streaming video, and programmers have relied on it to bridge compatibility and feature differences among browsers. But browser makers have long chafed at how Flash programs could crash the browser and confuse its user interface, and long-running work to reproduce many Flash abilities in Web standards is steadily maturing.
Apple has been most vocal about opposition to Flash, including a strongly worded letter from CEO Steve Jobs enumerating what he sees as Flash shortcomings and a ban that keeps Flash off iOS devices–the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.
Despite Flash’s drawbacks and mixed reputation, though, it’s unarguably widely used on the Web, and Adobe is working to keep it relevant, most recently through the Flash Player 10.1 release that works on mobile phones as well as computers. Here, Adobe and Google have a tight alliance: Android phones are the first to get Flash support, and Chrome now has it built in. That means among other things that it will automatically be updated through Chrome’s behind-the-scenes upgrade technology.
To reduce Flash problems in Firefox, Mozilla just released Firefox 3.6.4 that walls off plug-ins into a separate area of computer memory where they can do less harm. The feature is enabled only on Windows and Linux so far but is under developent for Mac OS X.
Update 6:32 a.m. PDT: Those who like Chrome but not Flash can type “about:plugins” into the Chrome address bar to see a list of plug-ins and a “disable” button to shut down what isn’t wanted. In addition, in the “under the hood” section of the control panel, the “content settings” options lets people selectively block or enable various plug-ins for specific Web sites.