Opening the Raincoat on Flash Version Testing

The cool kids like to use Adobe Flash to build rich Web applications because if you build it in Flash, you don’t have to worry about compatibility with Web browsers. Oh, who am I kidding, they like to use Flash because it offers a bunch of effects out of the box and it does some right purty things with animation and pictures. It allows them to put forms and data submission stuff right into the flash really fast, too, often without any data validation, but that’s another story.

No, today’s lamentation is about how those cool kids build Flash animations or applications using the latest version of Adobe Flash love to use the latest gimcracks and whatnot and how people who have a previous version of the Flash player installed with their browsers sometimes don’t get to see and marvel at the genius of your design team. Sometimes, they will see nothing at all, which is very, very bad. And you know, some browsers/computers ship without Flash installed in the default browser, right? So what happens when that user tries to hit the page, he gets no message and no warning, which means he thinks the site is defective. Because it is.

I am not saying that every Flash application should be compatible back to Flash 6 (although Flash 7 would be nice); instead, Web sites that use rich media should build detection logic into their sites to inform the user of the Flash thingamabob’s compatibility; that is, if the designers had to have some widget from Flash 8 in the thing, the Web site should check to ensure that the user’s Web browser has at least Flash 8 installed. It’s not impossible, but it takes a little extra effort that’s not dedicated to the gee-whizery that warms the cockles of your Flash developers’ hearts.

That being said, what should you do to test these things, my QAhort? What I did was to create a batch file that, with a single click of the mouse, would use the silent installers to uninstall the currently installed version of Flash and then installs the version you want. Just like that.

Here’s the basics:

  1. Go to Adobe’s Archived Flash players available for testing purposes page.
  2. Download the Zip files to a central location, such as a mapped network drive. If you’re only going to do this on a workstation, you don’t need to do this step, but if you want to make the files available across workstations, you’ll need a central location.
  3. Go to Adobe’s How to uninstall the Adobe Flash Player plug-in and ActiveX control page and download the uninstaller executable.
  4. Unzip the contents of each version’s zip file. They tend to have two installers, one for the Active X control used by Internet Explorer and one for the Gecko/Firefox/Netscape version.
  5. Create, in a central location, your Flash uninstaller batch file. This batch file removes Flash from your system as described on the Adobe article page. This file, uninstallflash.bat, should look something like this:

    cd \qa_files\Macromedia Flash
    uninstall_flash_player /s

    The installer files that I mention below will call this file to clear existing versions of Flash before running the installers. The Adobe page says it’s a good idea to restart between uninstalling and reinstalling, but in most cases it will work without; however, do keep in mind the caveats about instant message clients and whatnot holding onto the ActiveX control and preventing its installation.

  6. Create the individual version installation batch file. I used a single batch file for each version, but if you’re sophisticated and underutilized, you can put a menu in the batch file if you want. For example, installFlash7.bat would look something like this:

    cd \qa_files\Macromedia Flash
    call uninstallflash.bat
    cd \qa_files\Macromedia Flash\macromedia flash\Flash Player Installer Archive\fp7_archive\r61
    flashplayer7r61_winax.exe /q
    flashplayer7r61_win.exe /s

    Again, this uses the silent installer so that you’re not bothered with the prompts associated with a normal installer. When the installers run, though, you might see some progress bars on the screen.

  7. Once you’ve got the uninstallers set up, you can create shortcuts or whatnot to their locations and run them easily. You can create desktop shortcuts if you want, but I prefer to create a centrally located HTML file that has nothing but links to them and then embed that HTML file into the Active Desktops of all the workstations upon which I would use the batch files. This way, I’d have access to the latest versions of the files and would see any changes I’d made to the HTML file list of batch files. But that’s just my way.

In any case, what you have is an easy way to rapidly switch between versions of Flash–or uninstalling Flash completely–to see what your users will see when they are exposed to the creative genius of your organization’s Flash designers. And the ensuing havoc.

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