Gnash and use of Free Software

There is currently a discussion on a private mailing list about whether some money from a community organisation should be used to assist the development of Gnash (the free software Flash player) [1]. The main reason for this is that there are apparently some schools that depend on flash web sites to such a degree that they won’t consider using a free OS that lacks Flash support.

It has been shown that there are a number of issues related to contributing financially to free projects, the people who advocate financial contributions in this case assure us that such problems have been addressed but it will remain controversial to some extent. One thing that is not controversial is the fact that testing and debugging is universally a good thing. So I advocate doing such testing as a way to contribute to Flash development and therefore free software use in education.

The Debian-Edu project has a web page with a link to flash sites that can be used for testing [2]. So I plan to now install Gnash on all Linux desktop systems that I run and get bug reports to help development. I encourage others to do the same.

Also there is the Ming library for developing Flash files which could apparently do with some help in the development process [3].

While a non-free format such as Flash is not ideal, it’s certainly a lot better than Silverlight!

Note that I don’t have strong feelings about the issues of financial support for Gnash (which is why I didn’t contribute to the private discussion in question). But I am convinced that more people using and testing Gnash is a good thing.

14 comments to Gnash and use of Free Software

  • Yea schools do depend on flash well the slow kind of flash anyway, and they wonder why everything they load up that’s a video or anything comes up so slow, but all they need to do is upgrade you no? wish the schools had more common sense because mine definitely doesn’t.

  • tshirtman

    “While a non-free format such as Flash is not ideal, it’s certainly a lot better than Silverlight!”

    (not meant to be aggressive) Can you explain why? I understood silverlight format is publicly documented and totally usable on a free OS with only free software (mono+moonlight).

    Anyway helping gnash to improve support is a good thing IMHO.

  • @tshirtman

    Furthermore, visits to to download Silverlight will send you to the Free equivalent on Linux. Try it:

    I don’t know why people idolise Flash, I really don’t. If Gnash can reach a level where it’s viable for real-world sites for real-world humans, then great – but last time I tried it, BBC iPlayer (Flash) ate 600 meg of RAM then died via Gnash, whereas ITV Player (Silverlight) just doesn’t have a progress bar.

  • etbe

    tshirtman: Look at the history of how MS has repeatedly attacked Linux in every way. Adobe can’t compare with that.

    This is not a theoretical issue, see the above URL about the patent risks related to mono.

    Jo: I agree that Flash should not be idolised. But if we have a choice between Moonlight (the open source implementation of Silverlight) and Flash then Flash is the correct choice. The more people who use Gnash the more of the bugs we can get fixed.

  • manty

    Being the maintainer of swfdec I have to say that gnash is not the only free flash player around. This is also a problem when giving money for development of a proyect, why that one and not the others?

  • tshirtman

    @etbe: ok I wanted to know if the fact that it was done by ms was the only issue, of if there were other more technicals or legal ones.

    My opinion if that rather than destroying microsoft, free software is slowly affecting the way they think about the industry, and that we will win this way, I may be wrong but I think iron-{python, ruby} and community promise, are moves in the good direction.

    Adobe is not in a position where it can really hurt free software and linux (IMHO), porting the flash player is the only thing nearly friendly they ever did about us, the fact that you can’t use flash specifications to create a flash interpreter is very open source unfriendly. If you just forget the old bad microsoft, it instantly become obvious that silverlight is really open source friendly compared to flash. Now I just won’t forget everything MS did in the past, so I’m still cautious, but I’m ready to let them try to do it the right way (which they are pretty much getting recently).

    (I view ms as a “multiple personality disorder” company, and at least one of it’s mind likes us, I just want this part to win).

  • “(I view ms as a “multiple personality disorder” company, and at least one of it’s mind likes us, I just want this part to win).”

    This is the case with ALL large companies. Sun or Nokia or Sony are just as bad. It’s impossible to see a megacorp as a single entity. Take Sony as an example. If Sony put rootkits on “audio CDs”, and Sony endorse installing Linux on their home console, is Sony good or evil? Why not both? Same for Microsoft.

    In Microsoft’s case, there are unquestionably some hostile elements (including twats like Ballmer), but there are also elements who are essentially happy to cooperate with the Free Software community as “good citizens”. And as you correctly notice, this is largely driven by the tools division.

    Right now, Gnash remains a theoretical solution to the proliferation of proprietary Flash, and one which despite an extended history, is still not a viable replacement. For those who think Adobe are a good citizen, you obviously aren’t an AMD64 user, having spent literally years crying out for a 64-bit plugin – Adobe are single-handedly responsible for holding back 64-bit desktop Linux, and I don’t say that for dramatic effect.

  • Actually, the SWF format is partially open. And Ming is absolutely fantastic. I’ve used it for years and its really wonderful.

    Adobe has released a 64-bit Flash plugin a long time ago.

    I’ve tried Gnash a bunch and I would love to see it succeed, but it causes my browser to crash from time to time which makes it difficult to use on a regular basis.

  • Adobe got the US government to bring _criminal_ charges against Dmitry Sklyarov, who was arrested and held in a local jail in Las Vegas, then twi different Federal facilities.

    Bad things happen to people in local jails in the USA.

    Sure, Microsoft does a bunch of naughty stuff, but Adobe has crossed a line that Microsoft hasn’t.

  • Baptiste

    @Jo Shields: more specifically, here is the convenant for using moonlight , and it is quite scary. The Novell folks are supposedly working on this, but in the meanwhile, let’s be cautious.

    Regarding flash on amd64, there is a recent beta ( ), but I didn’t try it. For reading videos off youtube, is all I need.

  • tshirtman

    Albert: a few month is not a very long time, yes its working now, but it’s been years of struggle or holding back for a lot of people…

    Baptiste: yes MS is still full of cautious lawyers, it will take time…

  • Anonymous

    Given a choice between a format which Free players can occasionally manage to struggle through and a format for which the Free player works more-or-less perfectly, I’ll take the latter. Of course, hardly anything interesting *uses* Silverlight, whereas I come across a new Flash-using site fairly often (and promptly move on to the next site with the same content in a format I can see).

  • Have you established what a good bug report is for GNASH?

    I assume they want it from recent builds? So presumably you’ve had to install from source, or non-standard deb?

    Following the link to Debian Edu dived into telling me how to install a proprietary flash player in Debian Etch?!?

  • etbe

    Don: Remember that MS funded SCO. It’s not the same as exposing an individual to the risk of being raped (something that US prisons are known for), but it is an example of them abusing the legal system to attack Linux.

    Simon: It is known that the Debian Edu page is out of date, it’s a wiki so anyone here can sign up to edit it.

    As for getting the latest version, back-porting from Unstable shouldn’t be that difficult.