Gnash 0.8.8: A Huge Improvement Over Previous Versions

By Caitlyn Martin
August 27, 2010 | Comments: 9

Back in June I wrote about Adobe dropping support for Flash Player on 64-bit Linux. Since the existing version of the 64-bit Linux Flash client had a serious security vulnerability staying with the last release isn't really an option. I also wrote about the various ways to get around the problem, none of which were entirely satisfactory. At the time the developers of SalixOS, a Slackware derivative with a 64-bit build, chose to add Gnash, an FOSS alternative to Flash, to their repository. They also configured the repository to have the automated updates available in that distribution replace Flash 10.0.45.2 with Gnash 0.8.7.

I found Gnash 0.8.7 to be more than a bit problematic. In general it worked on something less than half the websites I tried which required Flash. YouTube videos worked exactly once. If you tried to watch a second video you received this message: "An error occured, please try again later". The workaround was to prevent YouTube from setting cookies or clearing your browser of all YouTube cookies between videos. Finally, Gnash 0.8.7 was incredibly resource hungry, often driving my CPU to 100% usage and bringing things on my system to a crawl. All in all, this was still far from a decent solution.

Early this week Gnash 0.8.8 was released. Despite the small increment in version number, which would make this seem like a minor maintenance release, the difference between version 0.8.8 and the earlier 0.8.7 is like night and day. First, a lot of websites that did not work with Gnash before seem to work just fine now. My thoroughly unscientific sample indicates that roughly two thirds of the sites I visit which use Flash are now functional. In addition, YouTube now works 100% of the time without having to clear or restrict cookies.

The only bad news is that Gnash 0.8.8 is still extremely CPU hungry. My recommendation is to use a flashblock plugin if one is available for your browser of choice and only turning on the Flash support on a case-by-case, as needed basis. Firefox, Seamonkey and Opera all have flashblock plugins available.

Many Linux distributions still have Gnash 0.8.7 or even older versions in their repositories. The getnash.org website has ready-to-go 0.8.8 packages for Debian, Fedora, gNewSense and Ubuntu. In addition, the package in the SalixOS repository should work with 64-bit Slackware 13.1. SalixOS does not package Gnash for 32-bit systems. Of course, if there is no package for your favorite distro and you don't want to wait for one you can always compile from the source code.

Gnash 0.8.8 is still far from a perfect solution and there are still many websites where it simply does not work. On the other hand, if you need a secure native 64-bit solution or if you use another system architecture not supported by Adobe (i.e.: a MIPS processor based system) then the latest version of Gnash may finally offer you an acceptable alternative. It certainly is worth a try.


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9 Comments

Perhaps not as effective as flashblock et al, but I think it worthwhile to note that Gnash can be set to start in pause mode.

Nice review... I found it very useful.

I myself intend to test it in the near future, so thanks for leading the way.


Flash itself is like CPU hunger to begin with. I don't know about everyone else. but there are many site that I once visit have stupid ad, that take like 50 to 100% of my 2.4GHz core 2 duo. That this is with official 32 and 64 bit of flash... Well, it is good news that Gnash finally works ok. the bad news is Flash is still around.....

I wish there was an alternative to Flashblock. A swf mini plugin would be cool which let you switch between libflashplayer, gnash, swfdec, gameswf and the upcoming Lightspark.
Because a Firefox XPI is only useful for Firefox :(

Adobe really ought to open source the flash player. Keep their dev tools and try to make money off of them, but let OS developers build and maintain the player for their platforms. Adobe really does seem to want to make flash available everywhere, and frankly, that's the main thing flash has going for it. But they don't seem able to execute on that promise (64-bit linux, hardware accelleration on Mac and Linux, getting it onto the iPad, etc).

If their business model requires it, they could use a restrictive license that lets them continue to control how flash content is produced, but there's nothing to be gained by controlling how it's delivered. Probably the only person directly opposed to supporting flash content is Steve Jobs. Is that because he wants to push proprietary formats for the iPod/Pad/Phone, or is it really about battery life? Opening up the player would call his bluff.

I noticed in your post that one could find MIPS processors boxes (with a screen : else, flash would be very useless), and that softs could be compiled on them.
Apart from the Gdium and http://broadcast.oreilly.com/2009/05/the-mips-processor-and-the-150-1.html, I never heard about such things (a colleague of mine was interested by gdium, but never found -he finds interesting disks and RAM at low prices at work)- and I told him he would have to _cross compile_ (this is complicated) every soft he would try to add to such box). The GDium seems to be almost forgotten now (people found it lacked something like vbox to run some x86 softs on it, there was some curiosity last year, but now, it seems lost)

It doesn't look like getgnash.org actually has Gnash 0.8.8 packages ready for Fedora, nor do they have a ready Fedora 13 repository.

@Joel: I just checked and had no problem finding Fedora 13 packages. See: http://getgnash.org/yum/fedora/13/updates/i386/

The Gnash community recently started a pledge drive to build AVM2 support into Gnash, without AVM2 Gnash would lose relevency as a .swf player. And also since the other alternaties (e.g. Lightspark) have limited objectives and support, the libre software community would be without any viable alternative for Flash.

If interested please visit - http://www.pledgebank.com/gnash-avm2

--drd

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