Skip to navigation

PCPro-Computing in the Real World Printed from

Register to receive our regular email newsletter at

The newsletter contains links to our latest PC news, product reviews, features and how-to guides, plus special offers and competitions.

// Home / Blogs

Posted on February 20th, 2009 by Tom Arah

99% Flash Player Penetration – Too Good to be True?

Adobe makes much of the fact that its Flash player has become” the world’s most pervasive software platform” bridging the worlds of PC, Mac and Linux. Nowadays this claim is generally taken as read but ultimately it depends on the ubiquity of the Flash player as advertised on the Adobe site.

flash player stats

But should the claims be taken at face value?

Well let’s look at it in a bit more detail. At the time of writing there is a major headline:

“Flash content reaches 99.0% of Internet viewers”

followed by:  

“Adobe Flash Player is the world’s most pervasive software platform, used by over 2 million professionals and reaching 99.0% of Internet-enabled desktops in mature markets as well as a wide range of devices.”

“Over 2 million professionals!” Eat your heart out Dr Evil. Presumably they meant to say the Flash authoring tool is used by that number. Amusing, but hardly reassuring.

Sure enough look at the PC Penetration page and you’ll see that the latest estimate (December 2008) for Flash player penetration is 947 million users out of a total 956 million internet-connected devices. No doubt with the next quarterly update the 1 billion figure will have been smashed.

However things aren’t quite as straightforward as they look – as Adobe shows with its notes. 

The first of these reveals that the total number of PCs is based on a forecast made two years ago – an age in internet time. Already then the margin of error on numbers at least is enormous.

The second reveals that the figure is based on devices capable of reading Flash player 7 content. To be fair to Adobe they do give the penetration stats for different player releases and thanks to auto-updating the figure for the latest Flash player 10 is already around 55%. That’s pretty stunning in the timeframe but it’s not 99% (ie remember to target your SWFs at the lowest player capable of rendering your project).

The third note is the most significant:

“Total Player penetration is a calculation of the total number of PCs connected to the internet, multiplied by the weighted percentage of worldwide penetration from the Millward Brown study. This is an assumption made by Adobe.”

So what is the Millward Brown study? Well to begin with it’s not the fully independent survey you might assume as it was commissioned by Adobe.

Having said this, Adobe looks admirably open and helpful giving full details on the methodology page. You can even take the survey yourself – though I trust that the data from surveys originated from Adobe’s Flash Home page aren’t included!

I’m sure they’re not, but of course any internet-based research is automatically self-selecting – users who find and sign up to become members of the Lightspeed panel for rewards including music downloads will naturally tend to be home-based heavy internet users who have picked up more plug-ins than average as they go.

Moreover the survey works by showing animations and asking if you can see them. You are instructed not to download the plug-in when the dialog appears (why weren’t these disabled?), but I think it’s human nature to want to see what you’re missing and to hit OK rather than Cancel and especially on the first page where this is likely to happen which just so happens to be the Flash 10 page.

On top of which the underlying numbers on which such a major claim are built seem tiny with an apparent total survey sample size of 4,600 ie around 0.0005% of the suggested 956,000,000 total (and then weighted according to the CIA World Factbook!).  Adobe then seems to “assume” that these figures scale up neatly, but presumably Millward Brown doesn’t endorse that assumption. Moreover it’s only when you dig down that you discover that the figures give a signficant margin of error of around +/- 5% with 95% confidence.

So where does this all leave us?

As regular readers will know I’m a big fan of the power and potential of the Flash platform (though not of the majority of current Flash-based sites) and would like to see it spread as widely as possible. 

Moreover I’m sure that Flash is the most pervasive cross-platform web platform and if you throw in Flash Lite-enabled mobile devices, arguably the most pervasive software-lite platform. I’m certainly not disputing that it’s more popular than all other rival web platforms such as Java and so the best choice for most scenarios.

However in that Adobe headline both the seeming precision – “99.0%”- and the poorly-defined wooliness – “Internet viewers” – are clearly deceptive. 

More to the point is it really possible that 99% penetration could have been reached? Including Linux users? Including users at work? Including brand-new systems? Including my granny?

I guess the big test is whether the next set of figures from Adobe will finally break through the even more psychologically-significant 100% barrier.

Tags: , , , ,

Posted in: Real World Computing

Permalink | Trackback

Follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

20 Responses to “ 99% Flash Player Penetration – Too Good to be True? ”

  1. Petar Lekarski Says:
    February 21st, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    “you’ll see that the latest estimate (December 1998)”

    December 1998? Really?

  2. Tom Arah Says:
    February 22nd, 2009 at 10:29 am

    oops – thanks – corrected.

  3. synapyic_fire Says:
    February 22nd, 2009 at 11:26 am

    “error of around +/- 5%” Hmmmm, 99% + 5% would be, well, wrong at the very least.

  4. Sam Johnston Says:
    February 22nd, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    Even if true now that number will trend downward rapidly from now on. Flash support on Linux has always been ordinary, especially on anything other than x86 processors. Given the next wave of netbooks are likely to be ARM devices (especially the really cheap ones) they’re going to have a really hard time keeping up unless they do something drastic like open source the player itself. Flash constantly crashes WebKit nightlies on OS X and the same is true of every experience with Flash I’ve had outside of the mainstream browsers.

    Definitely good to see some critical analysis done though… I much prefer native web applications and with HTML 5’s video tag and application features Flash will really become quite optional.

    I would go so far as to say that Flash penetration could drop below 50% in the coming years given these two new kids on the block alone.


  5. James Ward Says:
    February 22nd, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Being a Technical Evangelist for Adobe I frequently get questioned about our published statistics. My response is that you should always test YOUR user base before your make a decision about building on any technology. And in most cases when companies do their own testing the results are within one percent of our published numbers. This is true for enterprise’s, SMBs, media companies, etc. But occasionally I head about some demographic where the numbers are totally off. For instance, if your user base is still working on green screens then you will find lower Flash Player penetration numbers there.

    It would be interesting if you tested the penetration of Flash Player on this website. I’m watching a Flash banner ad at the bottom of the page right now. So hopefully the 99% number is accurate for YOUR users or you might be loosing ad revenue. :)

    -James (Adobe)

  6. Delta Says:
    February 22nd, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    “On top of which the underlying numbers on which such a major claim are built seem tiny with an apparent total survey sample size of 4,600 ie around 0.0005% of the suggested 956,000,000 total…”

    That’s the single dumbest thing you can say when analyzing survey results. See website link today.

    “‘error of around +/- 5%’ Hmmmm, 99% + 5% would be, well, wrong at the very least.”

    No, it would not be wrong. It says “there is a 95% chance that the actual penetration is somewhere between 94% and 104%”, which is obviously feasible. For example, the true figure could be 95%, or 97%, or 100%.

  7. Henri Says:
    February 22nd, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    99% sounds a good Dictator score.

  8. Tom Arah Says:
    February 22nd, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    To Sam: An interesting position but I do think that RIAs will become pretty omnipresent as developing cross-platform pretty-open versions of Flash and Silverlight platforms is much easier than trying to synchronize browser capabilities. It’s been hard enough getting cross-browser CSS support to the stage we’re at but the next stage in terms of multi-column, multi-font, resizing graphics, real programmability and so on…

    To James: Very true. I did the navigation on a website in Flash a few years back on the basis that penetration was 98% or thereabouts but when I saw the stats for the number who were seeing the fallback GIF I thought again. If anyone has any stats – ideally for the one Flash movie on an otherwise non-Flash site – that would be interesting.

    To Delta: Hang on – I pointedly didn’t question the maths. The point is that the sample size has a significant margin of error of practical importance and you don’t get to hear about it unless you dig down to the methodology page.

  9. anon Says:
    February 22nd, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    I never install flash on my own computers and will remove it from machines that I have to use (work, etc.) as it is an utter pig.

    Flash has a horrendous security track record, is a closed and proprietary system, and is mainly used for annoying crap on line, like gaudy adverts.

    When I have used it in the past it is slow to download, due to big files, slow to load and likely to lock up or considerably slow the browser with its massive CPU load, and take the browser with it when flash inevitably crashes. Flash has features that only marketing idiots and arrogant webmasters actually care about, like being able to make sound or track users. A lot of things flash can do can be done through a well designed site anyway, and flash is always a good sign that a site will be crap.

    If a company thinks it is a good idea to sell their products through a flash based site then it is a good sign that that company isn’t worth dealing with. They have already made one idiotic decision, so what kind of decisions will they make if you have an issue with their products?

    And it is used to restrict access to information and as a form of DRM. Well, I do not ever buy or waste my time with products that are designed to not be a good as is possible, which is what DRM does. For example, I don’t buy DVDs any more because of the attitude that the publishers have that they can control the market with region codes, or try to stop the disks being copied with secrets. Even though the DRM is trivial to bypass, I still have to pay for the DRM hardware in a player and cross the DVD/CSS licenser’s palms with silver to get the disks in the first place. The same goes for all other DRM systems, and the mentality behind implementing restrictions.

  10. Matthew Fabb Says:
    February 22nd, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Sam Johnston: “Given the next wave of netbooks are likely to be ARM devices (especially the really cheap ones) they’re going to have a really hard time keeping up unless they do something drastic like open source the player itself.”

    Adobe likely won’t ever completely open source the player (the virtual machine is already open source) since it uses a number of patented codex for video and audio. Instead Adobe have done started the Open Screen Project and they seem to making quite a few good deals with a wide variety of chip makers and other companies (including ARM) to work on optimizing the Flash Player for a large number of devices and chip architectures.

    “I much prefer native web applications and with HTML 5’s video tag and application features Flash will really become quite optional.”

    The video tag is not going anywhere until all the major browsers support a common video codex and I don’t see that happening with Microsoft and Apple having their own investments in Quicktime and Windows Media Video. Even if you could get the major browsers to all use the open source Theora, it’s currently an old codex compared to say h.264 that can do HD video. The end result is that content providers aren’t likely going to want to use it, especially in the 5 years or more it would take to have a high enough install base.

    Also with IE 8 having very limited HTML 5 support (don’t blame them, the spec is still many years off from being finalized), the hope is then that has IE 9 great HTML 5 support and waiting for IE 8’s install base getting small enough to ignore. Since IE 6 is still has around 20% market share for many mainstream websites, we’re talking about a time frame of say 10 to 15 years from now, if not longer if HTML 5 takes longer to finalized and support does not come in IE 9. Also HTML 5 brings browsers to say Flash Player 5 and there’s a lot more advances to the player since then.

    As for the main topic of Flash statistics, no matter who and how the numbers are given, as James mentions it’s always best to go with penetration rates from the actual website that you are working on. With the exception of working for start-ups, these days it’s rare for a company not to have some sort of web presence, with some sort of web analytics to gather their own numbers on plugins and browsers for their audience. Also from my own experience working as a web and Flash developer, usually the number is around 97% and the player version is generally a couple points lower or higher than Adobe’s numbers.

  11. Says:
    February 23rd, 2009 at 12:21 am

    anon: This is the Internet calling: Please unplug your ethernet cable and remove any wireless access devices form your PC. A copy of windows 3.1 has already been dispatched to your address. The lead lined glass bubble will arrive shortly after. Don’t worry my paranoid friend, all your base are now returned to you.

  12. M3 Says:
    February 23rd, 2009 at 6:28 am

    As James mentioned, any organization will simply look in to understand who they are targeting instead of vaguely choosing one. When a lot of enterprises choose Flash Platform, it clearly shows it is serving their purpose. And end of the day, no site will be ever seen by all the 100% percent of internet users, so i would be happy if my Flash website is seen by whom I am targeting, those 40% or 50%!

    However, Adobe do mentions the latest Flash players (v10) are only about 55% and players of previous versions are at 95% – 97% range. Considering the backward compatibility I really feel 99% is not a false claim!! :)

  13. Sean Says:
    February 23rd, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    According to the stats on the major site I run, we are at 100% in terms of Flash installation.

  14. anon Says:
    February 23rd, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Is the best criticism you can come up really just sarcastically calling me paranoid?

    I take my privacy seriously, and so avoid giving away unnecessary (in my view) information to anyone that tries to gather it. I will often take the easiest route to do that, as I am a lazy git, but if the easiest route means that I also don’t get bombarded with gaudy noisy advert then it is a double-win. So what if I miss a few flash games – I’ve played some in the past, and whilst fun there are much better ways to spend time. Videos can be gotten from Youtube etc. without flash too – I tend to use, though there are desktop apps and browser extensions that do the same.

    Identity fraud wouldn’t be so widespread if it weren’t for organisations’ insistence on whoring lots of data on us, and most peoples’ keenness to give away info about themselves. I just default to not giving any data, as no one knows what will be happening in the future. And if somewhere is really insistent, I’ll lie, or use the data protection act to force them to delete my data.

    I am certainly no luddite, but like to see the simplest and best tool used for the job. Flash developers^W designers are 10 a penny these days, so organisations employ them to make websites because they are cheap. They also produce products that make stupid management types swoon at the new website, but in the real world aren’t actually any better at divulging information than straight up HTML.

  15. Hawk Says:
    February 23rd, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    I wouldn’t know, my flash blocker hides all of it! The more flash you use, the more flash I block!!

  16. Flash Penetration: The Truth | PC Pro blog Says:
    February 27th, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    [...] that “Flash content reaches 99.0% of Internet viewers”. I made the argument on a number of grounds but the bottom line was that the figure just seemed unbelievable when you factor in the number of [...]

  17. Not Amused Says:
    February 28th, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Why must every Web Site be a mulitmedia event with lots of little animations
    going on?
    Does anyone think these are clever ?
    Are you really tempted to click on the the pretty FLASHY button ?
    I could see it for kids, easy distractions, but for adults?
    Dus um wanna lolly pop ?

    What a waste of bandwidth .

  18. UI advocate Says:
    March 20th, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    I agree that flashy buttons are not needed. What I need however is a way to make the user interface as intuitive as possible. Small animations in the right places keeps all the negatives away, like all the ridiculous orange and red flaming blinking buttons (a point I have been fighting with marketing), and makes the experience fast and efficient for my users and, a huge plus, keeps the call to user support at a minimum.

    the web is changing, and the ways users use the web is changing. A great example is – could that ever be done that well with HTML 5 and Javascript? and could I ever download that application to my desktop and use it off line?

    Flash is great! and though the figures may have a +/- involved I don’t care. what I care about is the fact that flash has what I need to develop a better product.

  19. Chipmaker Says:
    March 23rd, 2009 at 1:40 pm


    An interesting post by a bloger made me ……

  20. Henry Gilbert Says:
    January 8th, 2010 at 7:16 am

    Flash stats will plummet. I have just installed Windows 7 (OEM) and much to my surprise Flash is not included. Then I downloaded Google Chrome and again Flash is not present. My ‘guess’ is that 95% of computers have flash installed and enabled – whereas the rest have Flash blocked, broken or running an older version.
    I try my best to included a Flash alternative to my website. And when using Flash try my best to go for the earlier version possible.
    Most simple animations can be rendered under Flash 5 even 3! So why annoy users with : ‘You need to upgrade your Flash’ unnecessarily?
    I am not against Flash, much like I am not against say Ajax. But these technologies should be complimentary but never intrusive or worse: mandatory.


Leave a Reply

Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree

* required fields

* Will not be published






Your email:

Your password:

remember me


Hitwise Top 10 Website 2010