This is the free plugin that enables you to play Flash animations on your PC, which means that you can play all sorts of web content right in your browser, including videos, games, animations and interactive applications.
Often, whole websites are based on the Flash plug-in and, without it installed in your favourite web browser, you won’t be able to access them. As Adobe is keen to point out, the top 10 Facebook games rely on its Flash player, and most of the top video sites on the web use Flash (including YouTube). Flash also works across different devices, so if you create a Flash animation, it will work on PCs, Macs and any Flash-friendly mobile gadgets.
Without Flash, the web is a far duller place.
After installing the free Adobe Flash Player, popular web browsers such as Microsoft Internet Explorer, Firefox and Opera are all able to play any Flash file on the Internet - these have the file extensions .swf and .flv. If you use the Chrome browser, you don't have to install the player - the Google browser already includes the Flash player by default.
Version 11 of Adobe Flash introduced a native 64 bit version of the Player. Version 12 adds more new features, fixes and functionality, introducing support for Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 7 PCs and improved support for system administrators deploying Flash to multiple computers.
Adobe has also updated the Player’s core Stage3D component with new buffering technology. The Stage3D API (also introduced in version 11) enables developers to render 3D content in Flash more smoothly and faster with the help of hardware acceleration.
Add to this an array of smaller updates, including fixing problems with YouTube playback on ARM-powered devices, improving audio playback, and eliminating XPS printing problems in Chrome, and Adobe Flash Player 12 is the best version of Flash yet. All of the changes in version 12 can be found in the official release notes on the Adobe website.
A word of warning… As the Adobe Flash Player is so widely used, it's become a popular target for malware attacks. It’s why it’s important to keep the software updated whenever a new version appears. While Flash regularly hits the headlines when new critical security gaps are discovered, Adobe releases patches all the time in an attempt to keep the software (and your PC) safe.
If you don't want to become the victim of an attack, make sure that you activate the automatic updates option after installing the Adobe Flash Player.
Verdict: Although HTML5 provides an alternative to Flash, Adobe’s software is still baked into the heart of the web. To ensure that your browser can display every website you visit, you’ll need an up to date version of the Adobe Flash Player. Despite everything you may hear, Flash can't be ignored on the modern web. Supported formats: FLV and SWF.