October 16, 2002


Macromedia has just published the September 2002 Player Census for Shockwave and Flash plugin penetration. The quarterly audit is performed by NPD for Macromedia and as usual should be helpful in pitching and planning projects that employ these technologies.

Two important numbers to note this time around; a new majority share of Flash 6 players in the pool of users able to view Flash content and for the first time, an apparent across the board decline in the number of users able to view Shockwave for Director content.

First, the good news:
Flash 6 player penetration has reached majority status, albeit at 53% US (significantly higher overseas with Europe and Asia reaching 61.3 and 60% respectively).

This is an important milestone for developers wishing to bring to bear on their projects new MX technologies like FlashComm and Flash Remoting but who have been held back by the lack of a compatible installed base. Six and a half months out from introduction, this goes a long way towards besting Macromedia's Dave Mendels' February prediction of 75% coverage by March, 2003. In this same IG entry I quote Macromedia's John Dowdell noting that the "Flash Player 5 reached majority consumer viewership within six months of its release...", an accomplishment and perhaps now a tradition followed by Flash Player 6.

It's also worth mentioning that the numbers of browser users able to view forms of Flash content up to Flash version 5 has been in the 90th percentile since June of this year, with F5 now at 92%, F4 at 96%, and F3 and F2 both hovering under 98% penetration.

And now for the less than good news:
Sadly, Shockwave Player penetration appears to be on the decline, down this quarter from over 69% to a little under 63% overall. Exactly why this is so is the subject of some discussion among developers and folk at Macromedia. I suspect this can be attributed to the lack of Shockwave bundling with Windows XP, although some computer makers choose to add Shockwave to their product installs. Beyond users uninstalling Shockwave en masse, which I find highly unlikely, new growth in computer sales without the ubiquitous bundling agreement that Flash enjoys with Microsoft seems a reasonable conclusion. You could argue that compelling content drives adoption, and while this is sure to be true for leading upgrades, the across the board decline suggests otherwise.

John Dowdell offers the possibility of a margin of error effect; he's also checking with the people who conduct the audit and will be tracking this issue and taking comments over at his blog.

So what does this mean for producers of rich online content?

The adoption of Flash for simple animation and navigation elements in web pages was a no-brainer; it has long been the player of choice because of its early penetration and fast load times. With the increasing power of succcessive Flash Players, projects once only possible with Shockwave have become doable and even easier in some cases with Flash. Flash MX and the Flash 6 Player cement this trend with the very rich feature set the MX family enables.

Shockwave will still be important for your true 3D work, higher quality game, video and animation demands and in niche projects where extensibility is important and common penetration less so.

Posted by Lewis Francis at October 16, 2002 10:41 PM
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