Your home is your castle, and your computer is in your home. Right?

Last night I stumbled onto a problem which provided a perfect illustration of how computers are challenging traditional notions of property -- of what is and what is not yours.

What happened was that I tried to pay a simple YouTube video in Slackware, and the Firefox web browser would not play it unless I installed the Adobe Flash Player plugin. Yes, there is one available for Linux, but installing it is hellish (it gave me some trouble in Ubuntu, too), and many users complain that it either does not work well, or does not work at all. This complaint is typical:

Flash player on Ubuntu DOES NOT WORK PROPERLY!!





At some of the Linux user forums, the comments are even more irate. They deeply, deeply hate Adobe. I have to say that I have never been much of an Adobe fan, even in Windows, as I can't count the number of times the Adobe reader has crashed my system simply because I tried to open a blasted PDF file. (Ever wonder why so many bloggers thoughtfully warn readers that a link is a PDF file?) Constant updating, and the updates often involve aggressive marketing ploys with pitfalls for the unwary.

Anyway, getting into the Adobe Flash Player stuff annoyed me, because Linux is based on Open Source.

Adobe is not only open source, in many ways it is at war with Open Source, and at war with Linux.

Mike Slinn, an independent software contractor, puts it kindly:

The Linux cadre of developers is large, and encompasses many experienced Java developers. They tend to be senior, and are quite influential in the developer community. The lack of solid Linux support from Adobe has been a key reason that most of those key technologists have not adopted the technology. Flex and Flash simply don't work effectively in their primary development environment.

Adobe was originally built on the strength of OEM sales (remember Postscript printers?) and more in recent years has targeted graphic designers with products like Dreamweaver and Illustrator. The PDF franchise continues to do well, and is primarily targeted at business users. Before Macromedia merged with Adobe, their product line resembled the Adobe product line in many ways, and some products competed head-to-head. Although Macromedia purchased JRun, the first commercial servlet engine, it was embedded into Cold Fusion and new feature development has since ceased. Cold Fusion marketing has walked the line between a promoting a tool for quick and easy web development for non-technical people and providing powerful features in a proprietary package. Traditionally, however, neither Macromedia nor Adobe has not addressed the developer market in a significant way. Until recently, this has been a wise decision.

Designers and developers are very different. They differ in their training, world views, interests and purchasing patterns. Designers are right-brained, are usually only semi-technical and purchase software products and upgrades regularly. Developers are left-brained and very technical; it is difficult to sell tools to them. Like most engineers, developers often prefer to build tools themselves, or to use readily-available free tools. Developers have embraced open source because it gives them control over the tools they use. Designers and business users do not generally share the same opinion of open source.

Reading between the lines, I see tension between the for-profit Adobe, and the Open Source environment of Linux.

I especially enjoyed the accompanying photo:

linux - Live free or die.jpg

If this earlier piece in the Electronic Freedom Foundation is any indication, Linux users are right to be fearful of the Adobe Flash Player.

The immense popularity of sites like YouTube has unexpectedly turned Flash Video (FLV) into one of the de facto standards for Internet video. The proliferation of sites using FLV has been a boon for remix culture, as creators made their own versions of posted videos. And thus far there has been no widespread DRM standard for Flash or Flash Video formats; indeed, most sites that use these formats simply serve standalone, unencrypted files via ordinary web servers.

Now Adobe, which controls Flash and Flash Video, is trying to change that with the introduction of DRM restrictions in version 9 of its Flash Player and version 3 of its Flash Media Server software. Instead of an ordinary web download, these programs can use a proprietary, secret Adobe protocol to talk to each other, encrypting the communication and locking out non-Adobe software players and video tools. We imagine that Adobe has no illusions that this will stop copyright infringement -- any more than dozens of other DRM systems have done so -- but the introduction of encryption does give Adobe and its customers a powerful new legal weapon against competitors and ordinary users through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Recall that the DMCA sets out a blanket ban on tools that help "circumvent" any DRM system (as well as the act of circumvention itself). When Flash Video files are simply hosted on a web site with no encryption, it's unlikely that tools to download, edit, or remix them are illegal. But when encryption enters the picture, entertainment companies argue that fair use is no excuse; Adobe, or customers using Flash Media Server 3, can try to shut down users who break the encryption without having to prove that the users are doing anything copyright-infringing. Even if users aren't targeted directly, technology developers may be threatened and the technologies the users need driven underground.

What worries me is that our computers are being systematically taken over by entities over which we have absolutely no control. Like the entertainment industry, and the hated RIAA. Philosophically, I don't consent to them getting their mitts into my stuff. Yet the irony is that I probably have given them all sorts of power over my computer, simply by clicking "Agree" in order to make things work. I don't like it, nor do a lot of other people and it's one of the reasons I think it is very important to be up and running on Linux. It's one of those WTSHTF ("when the shit hits the fan") things that's worth having.

Like having a gun.

For now, I solved the irritating Adobe Flash Player issue in Slackware by installing the Greasemonkey add-on, and then simply running a wonderful script I found here. It plays beautifully. For now, at least. (Until the corporate copyright cops decide to force YouTube to submit totally to Big Hollywood dumb-down dhimmitude, or whatever it's supposed to be called.)

All I wanted to do was play this:

It wasn't my fault that it turned into such a big deal, but sometimes even little annoyances touch on matters of principle.

posted by Eric on 05.10.10 at 12:30 PM


The RIAA etc. can't take over your computer, though.

The *most* any of them have ever even tried to do is make sure that you can't play video of their intellectual property without paying for it.

Don't like how much Flash sucks, and that it can do DRM with Flash streaming? Don't use it. Nobody's forcing anyone to (thank God, since Flash is the devil).

Nobody can or, that I've seen, wants to stop people with their own content using other formats that have no DRM or whatever DRM the producer wants.

Adobe doesn't support linux very well because there's no money in it and it would cost a fair amount to do it well. Nobody's going to buy Acrobat Pro for linux, and the marketshare is so tiny as to be irrelevant for the "we need to support linux so our format will be universally used" tactic.

Frankly, I'm tempted to say that the inability to run Flash is a blessing, not a curse. It's horrible software. I hate Flash-based websites.

And you don't need Flash for YouTube! YouTube videos are (almost) all available in h264 - the exception being ad-based videos - and while they default to using Flash as an h264 player it's not required. (Which is why iPhones and iPads can play them without having Flash.)

Sigivald   ·  May 10, 2010 2:10 PM

The problem is that for most people, it appears that you have to use Flashplayer. When you first start Firefox and try to play videoo content, it actually says you need to install Flashplayer. Not everyone knows that there are workarounds.

As to playing DVDs in Linux, they have made it illegal.

I don't like people telling me what to do, much less putting me in jail!

Eric Scheie   ·  May 11, 2010 12:32 AM

I use the appendage (.pdf) since I know how much I hate having my machine crawl until its next re-boot.

OregonGuy   ·  May 11, 2010 11:39 AM

For all the hyperventilating, the solution is quite simple. Support HTML5. Jeez.

Jobs made a special point of prohibiting Flash from the iPad, and I suspect that will encourage developers to migrate to HTML5 instead.

It's pretty funny hearing a propeller-head bash Windoze, then complain how Flash won't work on Linux. Works fine over here on my decrepit XP system. The only Adobe or Flash-related issue I've ever had was one time the Adobe Reader upgrade client froze up on me.

Before anyone gets all hostile, I think Slackware is great; I just don't feel like investing all that time & effort when both Windows and OS X are pretty much click'n'run.

Casey   ·  May 11, 2010 11:12 PM

HTML 5 support? That's cool and all. What about video codecs? H.264 is patent encumbered.
MPEG LA claims they won't screw us...

Old enough to remember GIF? They said the same thing. Then Unisis bought them. BAM! Lawsuits. H.264 is just gif for the video age.

Yes, HTML 5 seems wonderful and all. BUT...

anonymous   ·  May 14, 2010 1:16 AM

Yes, I do. I also remember being upset since my '286 decoded .jpegs noticeably more slowly than .gifs.

There are very few genuinely free codecs and formats out there. Notice how well .ogg is doing? Apple is doing quite well with .mov & .mp4, nor is .mp3 a free format. MicroSoft's .wmv format is doing fairly well (at least in the Wintel community) even though it is proprietary to MS.

There are very few perfect solutions out there. If nothing else HTML5 offers the possibility that I can drop yet one more "necessary" plug-in from my browser.

...While perusing the Wiki article on h.264, I found this tidbit: "On February 2, 2010 MPEG LA announced that H.264-encoded Internet Video that is free to end users would continue to be exempt from royalty fees until at least December 31, 2015." Perhaps they remember what happened to .gif as well? ;-)

Casey   ·  May 20, 2010 12:17 AM

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