Open letter to Adobe

Dear Adobe,

You are the developers of the successful Flash plug-in. Your plug-in is successful in the sense that it’s almost impossible to browse the web without having your plug-in installed. Flash is widely used for movie clips, web radio, informative animations, navigation menus, stock graphs, ad banners and many more. Some sites are even written completely in Flash.

For that reason, I have been using Flash for many years on my computer systems. First I used it on Windows and later on Linux, which I strongly prefer now. In all those years, I have had many problems with your plug-in.

When I was using Flash (I think it was version 4) on Windows 98 on my trusty Pentium II 350 Mhz, full screen Flash sites would make my computer very unresponsive. It also happend to me and also to a friend that different Flash versions were installed together, probably one we downloaded from Macromedia’s site and another older version which was included in some software, probably Microsoft Encarta. Because of these conflicting versions, we had Flash immediately crashing our browser when visiting certain web sites.

Then when I moved to Linux, there were times that I could not visit certain web sites because they required a newer Flash version which was not yet available for my OS. I also could not use my distribution’s package manager to install your software, because you did not permit others to include your software in my distro’s online repositories.

A few years later, I built a new machine with an AMD Athlon 64 3500+ processor. I installed a 64 bit Linux distribution, but there was no 64 bit Flash plug-in. I contacted your company Macromedia, creator of the Flash plug-in, to request a 64 bits versions of the plug-in, but I did not receive any positive answer, in spite of many other people requesting the same thing. Fortunately, the number of sites which were totally unusable without Flash, were not that high, so I accepted to live without your plug-in. One more year later, nspluginwrapper was born, and finally made it possible to view Flash animations on my 64 bits machine again.

In 2007, I started using an Apple PowerPC machine at work. Because Linux was (and currently is) still my preferred OS, I installed Debian GNU/Linux on this machine. But again, no Flash plug-in was available for this system.

We are now May 2009. Many new Flash versions were released in all those years, and finally you started developping a plug-in for the x86_64 architecture. However, things are not much better yet. When I try to view a Flash animation with your 64 bit development version of the plug-in, my browser often crashes hard. If I try to use your 32 bit plug-in with nspluginwrapper, the plug-in itself is not very stable: often when switching tabs in my browser, Flash animations suddenly die and streaming video clips on some Belgian websites do not work at all: the video applet just shows it is buffering, but the video never comes up. The same thing works fine another machine I own. Maybe your plug-in does not work well together with the NVidia drivers, another piece of proprietary sofware I need on this system? Or maybe your plug-in needs some extra libraries which are missing on this system? Unfortunately, I could not find a complete requirement list for your plug-in. The requirements on your download page are very general; only in a blog posting I found that I also need Curl, but I do have libcurl4 installed in both 32 and 64 bit versions on my Mandriva system.

Today, I can only conclude that I’m fed up with this situation. In all those years, I have had lots of problems with your plug-in and with every new version, new problems were introduced. Not only does your plug-in have many problems, the use of Flash is preventing universal access to information for everyone, no matter what kind of system, OS or browser they use. I uninstalled your plug-in today on this system, and I will continue my quest against your software in full force. I will actively search for non-Flash web sites and promote these as alternatives to Flash based web sites. I will also actively promote alternatives to your technology. Good web sites should be based around real open standard file formats, which Flash most definitely is not.

I hope you, Adobe, will finally see the light some day, and start publishing a really complete specification of your proprietary format under a totally Free license and that you will actively support and promote Free Software implementations. However, until then, I see no other option than boycotting your software.

With kind regards,

Frederik Himpe

Futher reading:

5 Replies to “Open letter to Adobe”

  1. Taking a guess that it’s the last paragraph of this essay which is the relevant one, you’re aware that use of codecs such as H.264 are licensed by Adobe for redistribution, right? (iow, “give me your source code so I can build my own” would not quite work.)

    jd/adobe

    1. No, that’s definitely not what I said. What I said is that Adobe should make the complete specifications of the format available to developers of free software player implementations (like Gnash and swfdec) and actively support them in making a complete player (in addition to or even instead of building a proprietary player which is buggy on some systems and which will never be available for other kinds of architectures or OSes). Something like Sun has done for OpenDocument, which is now an official open ISO standard.

      For H.264 there is a Free Software implementation available for all kinds of OS’es, so this codec is not the major problem for users of alternative OSes.

  2. Sorry, I think you misunderstood… Adobe licenses third-party technology for use in Player. Video codecs are the big one.

    That’s why many of the parts of Adobe Flash Player have had specs and/or implementations published (Tamarin, the transport protocols, Open Screen Project etc), but we cannot take away the rights MPEG-LA has on H.264, On2 has in VP6, etc. (I do not see people relying on the “free” version of H.264.)

    The Gnash folks have already said “we don’t need it”:
    http://wiki.gnashdev.org/Adobe_OpenScreenProject

    Recap: Adobe has already published most of the Adobe material. But Adobe Flash Player is built of more than just Adobe code. And tinkering freedom for vendors does usually work at cross-purposes to the needs of content developers, and the needs of consumers.

    jd/adobe

    1. You say it: “most”, that’s definitely not all. And if the format will change every few years without any management by a third party standards organisation, alternative implementations will always lag behind a lot, causing the problem of inaccessible information because you need the newest version, which I also described in my post. When I read the whole story, I can only conclude that Free Software developers think that the publication of that documentation was “too little, too late”.

      Also the argument about patents and licensed code seems moot to me: this was the same argument Sun was using years ago for not open sourcing Java…

      Anyway, this all does not change the fact that in all those years I have had lots of problems with Flash as I explained in my post. Up to now I still cannot find a stable and completely functional and plug-in (either in binary form, either Free) for my x86_64 Linux system and reading the articles I linked to in my post, I’m not the only one having this problem. The fact that Flash is giving many problems on some system and is not available for several kinds of platforms (including platforms used on desktop PCs and mobile devices), is enough reason for me to tell other people that this format is a very bad thing for the Web, where information should be universally accessible for everyone and should not depend on software or specifications controlled by one single company. That’s exactly why I prefer real Open Standards and Free Software.

  3. @Frederik:

    I STRONGLY agree with you 110% on this issue. As a web designer, it has been my experience that the biggest problem for the web has been (until recently) Internet Explorer, but running a close second to the issues that has caused have been the issues caused by Flash. Besides the issues you brought up, one that has STRONGLY bothered me for a long time has been the overuse/misuse of Flash as a navigational (menus) element on websites where the EXACT same menu system could have been EASILY reproduced in identical form using standards such as CSS/HTML/Javascript (ECMAscript) and could have been done in an accessible form without requiring any external plugins. (I guess this goes back to your complaint about accessible information.) While I have had similar issues to the ones you mention in your post, I also find it bothersome that Flash also creates the issue of people mistaking their “point-and-click” Flash design skills for actual web design skills and calling themselves “professional” web designers and charging exhorbitant rates for sites which have been designed with NO research or thought regarding security or the accessibility of the information. I applaud your decision to campaign against Flash and I will certainly join you in spreading the word that there are better options available in a great many cases. I look forward to the day that either Adobe releases a proper open standard, or an existing or future open standard replaces it.

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