Flash and Java: the end of obsolete technologies

Already for a long time, I am a total opponent of Flash and things are clearly not improving. Quite on the contrary: Flash is still unstable on my systems, often not working correctly or causing browser hangs and it has many serious security flaws, which are fixed rather slowly by Adobe.

Another piece of technology which is annoying is Java. Java is a serious memory hog, does not integrate very well in Linux distributions (no centralized package management system for the gazillion of Java libraries and frameworks), and Java’s new owner, Oracle, is trying to make Java a patent minefield by suing Google.

Recently, Oracle also decided to publish a paying version of the Java Virtual Machine, and it has also doubled prices for MySQL support.

In the meantime, OpenOffice.org, also in hands of Oracle now, has been forked to LibreOffice. Third-party contributors were dissatisfied with Sun/Oracle’s bureaucracy which was a serious limitation for external contributions. It seems that Sun/Oracle’s behaviour to keep total control of OpenOffice.org is now having the total opposite effect: LibreOffice is gaining wide support by many Linux distributors, which will quickly make OpenOffice.org totally irrelevant.

ironically Apple, another company which I dislike about their anti-competitive behaviour, has become an ally by refusing to install Flash on the iPhone and iPad and by deprecating Java support, which makes it likely that Java will not be included in future OS X versions.

As GNOME developer Colin Walters recently stated on his blog: enough is enough! I am regularly installing computers for other users. From now on:

  • I will install Flasblock browser extensions by default, to help protecting against malicious Flash animations and to send out a signal to web developers that they should stop using Flash.
  • I will not install any Java Runtime Environment or Java Development Kit by default, except if explicitly requested by the user.
  • Instead of OpenOffice.org I will install LibreOffice on all Windows and Mac systems I install. For Linux I will keep the default office suite installed by the distribution, but this will also be LibreOffice in about 6 months when all major Linux distributors have published a new release.
  • I will try to use PostgreSQL instead of MySQL for web applications. Currently I already installed a LimeSurvey instance and a MediaWiki instance with PostgreSQL instead of the more common MySQL and moved a Roundcube instance from MySQL to Postgresql. I expect to install a Drupal 7 instance on PostgreSQL in the future.

As users, we have a lot of power to show companies that we do not accept their behaviour. Let’s use that power now!

Debian on desktop systems

What I expected to happen some time ago, is finally becoming reality: Debian is now my favourite distribution for desktop systems.

First I installed Debian on my new Samsung N210 netbook and I was very pleased with the result. Shortly after that, my father experienced a bug while trying to print in Firefox on Mandriva 2010.1. It would fail to print and there were errors related to ps2ps (if I remember correctly) in the Cups log, hinting at some bug in Ghostscript. Actually it was not the first time this bug hit us, I had seen the same problem some weeks ago.

As analysing and having this bug fixed would likely take a lot of time and I needed a rather quick solution, I though it was the right time to reinstall this system with Debian Squeeze (testing). Debian has many additional bug fixes in its GhostScript package so there was a fair chance that printing would be working better. So I did the same as with my netbook last week: I set up PXE booting to start the Debian installer (easier than digging up a CD-R, downloading an ISO and burning it), and then I installed Debian on the disk, leaving the old /home logical volume intact.

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Flash news flash

A quick update about my Flash rant from some time ago.

Today I wanted to listen to the music tracks on http://www.myspace.com/officialdaan. Because of all the annoyance with the Flash plug-in, I had removed it in May, and haven’t looked back since. Now I heard that there was a new pre-release of the Flash 10 plug-in for Linux x86_64 and some people said that it was working fine. So I thought this was the right moment to give it a try again.

What happened when I try to load the MySpace music player with this plug-in installed? As it did already months ago, my browser completely crashed. I wanted to know the cause of this, and so I ran firefox -g from a terminal. When it crashed, I was greeted with this error: “illegal instruction”. So it seems Adobe’s 64 bit Flash plug-in, actually does not work on all x86_64 systems and requires some newer instructions which my AMD Athlon 64 3500+ does not support (I guess it requires SSE3 or something similar) to work. Hence the browser crash when loading any Flash animation.

Then I tried on another machine, where I have the 32 bit plug-in with nspluginwrapper installed. I click on the FlashBlock icon to start the MySpace music player, but it does not appear at all. The Youtube videos on the same page, load fine though.

So, two systems, and two times Flash is not working as it should. I’ll happily remove it again, because no Flash plug-in is at least better than a non-working and potentially browser crashing Flash plug-in.

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

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