Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard): No longer drops frames when playing Flash videos in the background

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
November 20th, 2007 • 3:54 pm

Here’s one improvement in Mac OS X 10.5 that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere yet.

Prior to Mac OS X 10.5, when you were playing a Flash video (such as a YouTube clip) in a Safari window and you switched that window to the background while the video was still playing, Mac OS X would immediately start dropping frames and only play a few frames per second for the video clip in question.

I was never able to determine exactly what the reason for this was. After all, Mac OS X was perfectly capable of continuing to play QuickTime movies in the background without dropping frames.

Since the frame-dropping also affected non-video Flash animations, it obviously had something to do with the Flash plug-in. But was it a flaw in the plug-in itself, which is developed by a third-party (Macromedia and more recently Adobe) and has a fairly bad reputation as a resource hog, or was it a flaw in the Internet plug-in architecture in Mac OS X?

I still don’t know, but what I do know is that, in Mac OS X 10.5 no longer drops frames when playing Flash video clips in web pages in the background.

Since a Flash player plug-in update (version 9.0 r98) was required to be able to view Flash video clips in Safari 3.0 in Mac OS X 10.5, I still do not know whether this is something that was addressed by Apple in Mac OS X 10.5 (including Safari 3.0) itself or whether it is something that Adobe addressed in its own plug-in update. (I have yet to install the Mac OS X 10.4.11 update on a machine running Tiger, which would enable me to verify whether this is something that is also fixed in Safari 3.0 for Mac OS X 10.4.)

Ultimately, the source and nature of the fix matters little to the end user. The bottom line is that Mac OS X 10.5 no longer drops frames, and that Flash video clips play as smoothly as QuickTime movies in the Mac OS X environment, regardless of whether they are in the foreground window or not. It took a long time to achieve this, but it’s yet another sign that Mac OS X is maturing as an operating system or that third-party developers, including the more Mac-hostile ones such as Adobe and Microsoft, are finally starting to tap its full potential.

(Of course, as soon as I say that, I fully expect Microsoft to drop a new version of Office, i.e. Office 2008, that is even slower than the pathetic Office 2004 suite—which, lest we forget, is still running in Rosetta emulation on Intel Macs. But with some developers, you simply can’t afford to have expectations of any kind. Otherwise you are bound to be cruelly disappointed.)

2 Responses to “Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard): No longer drops frames when playing Flash videos in the background”

  1. ianhilbert says:

    Surfin’ Safari:Background Music

    (2) Plugins
    Plugins are another area where work can occur while a Safari window is in the background. The Mac plugin framework is really archaic (in Safari and Firefox). Many plugins do animation and work based off being pumped “null events” in which they do processing. The faster you pump these events, the faster animations will occur, and the more CPU will be used. Safari 2 actually throttles these events aggressively to background windows and background tabs.

    However what we found when we did this was that users complained about the “slow plugin” problem of background windows. They wanted to be able watch videos or listen to audio through browser plugins and have another app active. In other words users *wanted* the browser to be working actively for them even while in the background. We have actually changed our behavior in the latest WebKit to only throttle backround tabs. Background windows are no longer throttled so that plugins can animate properly at normal speed. We expect that some users still won’t be happy with this change in the one case of wanting to listen to audio in a background tab, but we had to draw the line somewhere.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Thanks for the clarification. So it does sound like it’s an improvement in Safari 3.0 itself (and presumably applies in Mac OS X 10.4.11 as well).

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