According to Adobe’s Linux/Flash homepage (at http://blogs.adobe.com/penguin.swf/ ), in the January 27, 2010 posting entitled “Solving Different Problems”, Mike Melanson explains that Adobe’s Flash player was not originally intended for video playback. To use Flash to decode video and play it back in a web browser, it must jump through several additional hoops than simply using a multimedia video player (which obviously specializes in video playback) since Flash solves problems of displaying many different types of content (such as animations, click-able buttons, etc). This poses a very important question, since it is touted that 75% of all video playback online is used via the Adobe Flash browser plugin:
What is holding content providers back from moving away from Flash and onto HTML5?
The obvious answer is that Flash provides a rich runtime environment that allows for a whole heck-of-a-lot of features besides simple video playback. The problem that leaves a stale taste in my mouth is, however, that most video online is simply just video. Everything else that the Flash player requires to run and decode video is additional overhead that causes processors to spike, laptops to grind to a halt, and people like me, Linux desktop system administrators, to pull their hair out on a regular basis.
Add to this that Adobe, without warning, has ripped out support for 64-bit Flash player in Linux without word as to when it will become available again. This severely cripples Linux 64-bit installations (which include, unfortunately, most modern LTSP servers out there).
Personally it is very hard for me to keep up with such a badly supported, yet nearly indispensable, web browser plugin. For 4 years, Adobe Flash (not to mention the lack of a real Shockwave Director plugin) for Linux has been the one thing that keeps me from being able to easily deploy Linux LTSP systems in schools. It has been a constant nightmare – ask my wife! She will contend that me supporting Adobe Flash in Linux for my clients is, by far, the #1 problem I have complained to her at the dinner table. Using Localapps is an option, but running a full-fledged instance of Firefox on an LTSP terminal with 64MB total RAM, well…yeah. Not gonna happen. Web browsing directly from the LTSP server, even with other plugins such as Java, works beautifully for many simultaneous user sessions. It’s just Flash.
But it’s not just me that is discouraged. Ask the thousands of students that have had to hold on tight with me to the Adobe rollercoaster as it flips upside down and all around with its murky support for Linux. They have had a mediocre experience browsing Flash enabled websites from their terminals, from simple animated websites to streaming video. Playing fullscreen video with HTML5, or locally from the server, however, works fine. Schools who deploy open source software to save money, support a robust system and support the ideals of the F/OSS community run into a major roadblock with one of the only proprietary bits that is unfortunately necessary for an adequate web browsing experience.
So I seek refuge in the ideal that HTML5 will help ease the pain of watching online video in Linux, if nothing else. I honestly hope, however, that Adobe takes a good, long look at their business model and seeks the open source community for help in providing as solid of a Flash browser plugin for Linux as they do for Windows and Mac OSX. It would be a step in the right direction, to say the least. Gnash is a very good start, but they have a lot of catching up to do (which is a constant struggle). Maybe Adobe could work with them to provide an open-source Flash player that everyone could appreciate?