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Feature: Desktop Software

Gnash Flash player reaches milestone, not destination

By Bruce Byfield on March 18, 2008 (6:00:00 PM)

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Gnash, the free software Flash player, has released its first beta. The new release is a milestone for both the project and the GNU/Linux desktop, which remains dependent on the proprietary Adobe player for handling Flash files (.swf). Although Flash support is not complete in version 0.8.2, Gnash has now reached the point where it is usable for the most common everyday purposes, such as watching videos on YouTube -- a point that Gnash was exaggeratedly reported as having reached last June. However, in many other ordinary circumstances, Gnash's success remains hit or miss.

Gnash arose out of the Gameswf project in the last months of 2005. It soon attracted widespread attention in the free software community, becoming a high priority project of the Free Software Foundation, an indication that it was filling one of the main gaps in free desktop functionality.

Version 0.8.2 is available from the Get Gnash site as source code, or as a package for Debian, Fedora, Ubuntu, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and Windows. It is also quickly finding its way into the repositories of major distributions, including Debian Unstable and Ubuntu 8.0.4.

Gnash comprises the Gnash desktop player, the Gnash plugin for Firefox (which also works with Epiphany and other Mozilla-based browsers), and Klash, a plugin for Konqueror. The two plugins work seamlessly, and using the desktop player is generally as simple as entering the command gnash followed by a file path, or gnash -u followed by an URL. However, if you choose, you can run Gnash with parameters to scale the video, to set a video's exact height and width, or to loop a video continuously. Gnash also comes with a trio of commands for debugging: the general verbose switch (-v)) and switches for how the play handles Flash actions (-va) or parses files (-vp).

Testing the beta

The user manual for the beta describes it as focused mainly on support for Flash 7, "with better SWF v8 and v9 support than earlier versions." About 80% of ActionScript 2.0 classes are implemented, including "all of the most heavily used ones," and a start has been made on support for ActionScript 3. In addition, "Gnash supports the majority of Flash opcodes up to SWF v9, and a wide sampling of ActionScript classes for SWF v8."

Even if you are not familiar with Flash scripting, clearly Gnash does not yet offer the same level of functionality as the latest version of Adobe's Flash player. But what, exactly, do the limitations mean for those users who would prefer to use Gnash so that they can run a philosophically free desktop?

To find out, I installed the Gnash plugin and Klash, and tried to access a number of commonly used sites. A dozen or so videos from each of YouTube and Lulu.tv all ran without problems. Both these sites receive heavy traffic and have an interest in making their content as accessible as possible to the largest audience. For some people, that may be enough.

However, if you are more adventurous in your viewing of Flash files, your results will probably be more mixed. On Best Flash Sites, one in three files I tried failing to play. Since Flash developers often want to take advantage of the latest features, this failure rate is perhaps to be expected, and it is not a particular deterrent against using Gnash for most users.

Unfortunately, on sites for Web designers and other artists, Gnash's success rate was next to zero -- again, probably due to the developers' wishes to be as state of the art as possible. More importantly, even useful bits of Flash animation, such as the blog stats available on WordPress.com, did not work either. Nor could Gnash or its plugins handle Flash files exported from OpenOffice.org.

From these experiments, I reluctantly conclude that, while Gnash has made progress, it is not functionally ready to replace the Adobe Flash player. There are still too many everyday situations in which it does not work.

Conclusion

For many, this state of affairs is hardly a tragedy. Many users rightly decry Flash as a high-bandwidth technology that emphasizes style over content; for them, not being able to play Flash files should be considered a blessing rather than an annoyance.

However, for those interested in the spread of free software, the results are disappointing. Clearly, to attract users -- especially average ones -- free desktops need to match the functionality of Windows and Mac OS X. So far, Gnash does not, even though it remains the best hope of providing parity when dealing with Flash files.

The improvement of the beta over earlier Gnash releases is encouraging. Yet, for now, all that those waiting for free Flash support can do is acknowledge the progress and wait for the day when Gnash becomes a complete solution instead of a partial one.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

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on Gnash Flash player reaches milestone, not destination

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DANCE ~~_ _ _ _ ... a "TKO"

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.122.165.196] on March 18, 2008 07:04 PM
I read an article about an open social network platform. It may be narow minded to build an application simply to go head to head with success, weather or not, the article suggested a greater benifit of combining social net works to ferther exploit the benifits that make them so successful. I would like to cheer the app. as comprable to the invention of the tellephone. If there arn't better ways, this could be used to organize a course schedule, distribute and up/down load assignments study material or refrences to reasources and reasarch material as well incorperate by way of the brouser other independant programs such as blackboard for goupe projects and automated testing and posting of grades (all on a flash drive) and evolve to encapsulate administration. It could be used by real estate to connect clients to profesionals, contractors could track projects in real time and large companies could have an assesment team to supervise or even quarterback saftey and coad complience to reduce liabiliy costs. I was hoping to sanbag this one, however the internets greatest economic acheavment awaits not only the ability for anyone to post content but, to determine access not only to others but any variety of compensitory methods weather fix rate, percentage, bid-ask, weighted average of contribution, market rate, or what ever method can be concieved from compeating or cooperative industry services. Various content may be more amenable to cirtain types of compensation. A record, similar to that published by media publications, could track and identify different content and there comercial viability under various compensitory means.- teaser, the lucus chronicle needs a bit more work as I'm finishing a master class in harmonica and looking for a country song that uses the chords D and A.

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One button wraper

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.122.165.196] on March 18, 2008 07:12 PM
content applications should incorporat XML or script tags or input methods that amount to identifying content source and destination by drag and drop or refrence such as URL in the least number of steps to atract general use by the masses.

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It's not just about philosophy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.168.2.5] on March 19, 2008 11:07 AM
Adobe's Flash player is only available for a tiny fraction of the platforms that GNU runs on. If you happen to be running i386 systems, or x86_64 systems with nasty kludges, then sure you can use Adobe's proprietary software. Gnash keeps people from being locked-in to a platform - it can run on ARM-based PDAs, Sparc desktops, MIPS routers, and just about any other platform.

Of course, the iPhone still doesn't have the CPU power to run Flash...

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Gnash Flash player reaches milestone, not destination

Posted by: Iain Cheyne on March 19, 2008 01:41 PM
As flash is broken in Konqueror, I will definitely give this a try.
http://scotttesterman.wordpress.com/2007/12/13/flash-in-kubuntu-710-how-to-fix-it/

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Re: Gnash Flash player reaches milestone, not destination

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.203.53.9] on March 19, 2008 02:19 PM
If your distro has packages available for KDE 3.5.9 then you can solve that problem. The 3.5.9 maintenance release of Konqueror has a fix for that problem.

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Less buggy than Flash?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.174.220.54] on March 20, 2008 04:30 AM
I just want a Flash plugin that doesn't gradually go out of control using up all my memory and CPU. The Adobe Flash plugin is horrible. When Gnash can handle enough to do most of the sites my wife uses then I'll switch so long as it runs better than what Adobe offers.

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Gnash Flash player reaches milestone, not destination

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.206.99.8] on March 20, 2008 02:42 PM
Gnash is the only flash player for linux on power pc and it sucks. I tried. Webbrowsing is virtually impossible with gnash. I had to ditch tho power pc for this reason.

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Re: Gnash Flash player reaches milestone, not destination

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 122.164.242.104] on March 22, 2008 11:11 AM
It probably is too late, <a href="http://www.linux.com/?module=comments&func=display&cid=1185625">1185625</a>, but perhaps if you use it in conjunction with FlashBlock to ensure that you only load flash content that's absolutely necessary then you may have better results.

-George

PS: Asking for the captcha even after previewing successfully? That's not nice.

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Gnash Flash player reaches milestone, not destination

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.82.160.209] on March 20, 2008 05:24 PM
Good job! Keep working on it guys!!!

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Gnash Flash player reaches milestone, not destination

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 122.164.75.109] on March 20, 2008 06:04 PM
sgdfgdf

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Gnash Flash player reaches milestone, not destination

Posted by: M Henri Day on March 22, 2008 01:02 PM
Perhaps the next milestone Gnash Flash could attempt to attain is an update for x86_64 Ubuntu users, in time for the Hardy release next month ? Or perhaps it's already there - I haven't yet checked the Hardy beta specs....

Henri

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