Apple Is No Longer Bundling Flash Player With Mac OS X

The gist of the “Back to the Mac” theme of Apple’s press event this week is that the iPhone was derived from Mac OS X, the iPad from the iPhone, and now some of the good ideas from iOS are going back to the Mac. Several of those ideas were mentioned during the event. One, however, was not: a system that ships without Flash Player.

How so? Because the new MacBook Air models ship without Flash Player installed.

And the new Airs are not alone. They’re simply leading the way. I asked Apple whether this change would be applied across the entire Mac product line, and they confirmed to me that it would. Existing Macs currently in the retail channel naturally still have Flash Player preinstalled, but in the coming weeks, all new Macs will begin shipping without Flash Player.

To be clear, this is a significantly different situation than with iOS. With iOS, Flash not only isn’t preinstalled, it can’t be installed, period. With Mac OS X, users are free to download Flash Player from Adobe and install it themselves.

Apple spokesperson Bill Evans told me: “We’re happy to continue to support Flash on the Mac, and the best way for users to always have the most up to date and secure version is to download it directly from Adobe.”

That’s a big change. I’m not sure exactly when Apple began bundling Flash Player as a standard component in Mac OS, but it was long enough ago that it was not a mistake that I didn’t include the “X” in the name of the OS. If I had to guess, I’d say Mac OS 8.6 — around the time of the deal to bundle IE as the default Mac OS browser, or maybe even earlier. We’re talking ancient history.

This also absolves Apple of responsibility for the distribution of Flash Player security updates. Recall the controversy last year when Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) shipped with a slightly older version of Flash Player, with a few known security vulnerabilities. Henceforth, Flash Player security updates for Mac OS X are Adobe’s problem, not Apple’s.

In terms of Flash Player penetration for Mac OS X, perhaps this will have little effect. Maybe everyone (or just about everyone) will go ahead and download and install it themselves. But maybe not — especially if, in the coming future, Mac users become accustomed to installing third-party software solely through the Mac App Store. The initial terms of the Mac App Store state that it is solely for the distribution of standalone apps — plugins need not apply.

There are a lot of Mac users who’ve never known the joy of using an Adobe software installer, but who soon will.

When I first saw the news that the new Airs are shipping without Flash, it occurred to me this might account for some of their striking gains over the previous models in battery life. However, Apple told me that their “wireless productivity” battery life test was performed with Flash Player installed on the new MacBook Air models.

One question I have which remains unanswered from Apple: What about demo Macs in Apple retail stores? Will they be configured in factory condition, without Flash? It’s one thing for Flash content not to play on iOS devices, but it’d be another thing entirely for Flash content not to play on any device in the store. And but if they do install Flash Player for in-store demo machines, will it prove confusing to people when they take their new factory-condition Macs home and Flash isn’t there?

Update: Anecdotal evidence suggests that the demo Macs in the stores will not have Flash Player installed. Readers who’ve seen the new MacBook Air models in stores report that Flash is not installed.