Just under a year ago I wrote about how Adobe had abandoned 64-bit Linux, at least temporarily. Linux users who chose to run a 64-bit OS were left with a range of unsatisfactory choices: use an outdated beta with known security vulnerabilities; run an FOSS alternative, most likely gnash, despite limits in functionality and compatibility; or run a 32-bit browser in a 64-bit operating system. At the time the move was surprising since reviews of the 64-bit beta, like this one by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols of Computer World, were quite favorable.
Three months later on September 15, 2010, Adobe announced a preview of Flash Player "Square", development code for an upcoming release of a native 64-bit version of Flash Player 10.2. Unfortunately Preview 3, released on November 10, 2010, was the last Square release. Flash Player 10.3 was released for 32-bit platforms only.
Once again there are known security vulnerabilities in the now eight month old beta and no patches are available. In addition, the community forum page for discussing Flash Player "Square" has moved and the link on the main page for "Square" is now broken. A reader (see comments below) found the new forum location on the Adobe Labs website. It seems the user community is complaining vociferously about precisely this issue: no security updates and silence from Adobe in response to their questions. If Adobe is continuing development on a 64-bit version of Flash Player they are not sharing any information with the public at this time. For the time being Adobe has effectively abandoned 64-bit Linux.
This decision makes even less sense than it did a year ago. 32-bit processors have effectively become legacy technology. Even the low end of the market, nettops and netbooks, now mainly ship with 64-bit processors. Yet it seems Adobe is unable to maintain a 64-bit Flash player for any platform: not for Windows, not for MacOS, and certainly not for Linux. Last year some of my readers questioned whether or not Adobe support for 64-bit operating systems, including Linux, is really important. I'll refer you to an excellent article by Stephen Shankland for CNet from last year which explains clearly why it is.
Is 64-bit Linux in particular important for Adobe? As much as some people would like to deny it, the Linux desktop market is not small anymore. Last year Bruce Byfield, in an article for Datamation, quoted KDE's Aaron Seigo placing Linux desktop adoption at anywhere between 8% and 12%. My own research and analysis lead me to write an article last September that also put the number at 8% or more. This is why Adobe has consistently offered a 32-bit Linux Flash Player.
Examining the Alternatives
The most common solution found in Linux community forums is to continue to run the outdated Flash Player "Square" Preview 3 and to use Flashblock to mitigate some of the security risk. Unfortunately this does not work as well in Firefox 4.x as it did in previous releases. To quote the Flashblock website:
Some flash is slipping past Flashblock on Firefox 4.0 (mostly Flash inside IFRAME subdocuments).Even if this issue is resolved serious vulnerabilities remain whenever Flash is enabled.
The FOSS alternatives have improved since last year. I wrote about improvements in gnash 0.8.8 back in August. In March gnash 0.8.9 was released. The new version offers additional support and compatibility with current versions of Firefox, Chromium and Konqueror. However, gnash still does not offer full compatibility with SWF 8.x and 9.x and no support for features added in 10.x.
Lightspark is another FOSS Flash alternative under heavy development. It focuses on adding a limited set of additional advanced features on top of what is already included in gnash. As Lightspark falls back on gnash for basic functionality you ideally would want to install both.
The last alternative, running a 32-bit browser in a 64-bit OS, is certainly a less than elegant solution with technical limitations. In addition, a fair number of Linux distributions, including Slackware and most Slackware derivatives, do not include 32-bit compatibility libraries in their 64-bit builds. SalixOS, for example, is not installing any Flash support by default in their native 64-bit builds and offers gnash in their repository.
Will Flash Remain Relevant?
In response to last year's article the first time Adobe 64-bit Linux support disappeared, some readers expressed the opinion that Flash would become irrelevant as HTML5 adoption increased. With all major web browsers now supporting HTML5 I do expect that more web developers will migrate away from Flash. The lack of a native 64-bit Flash player may speed that migration. However, as long as sites people want or need to visit require Flash having a decent native 64-bit player will remain important.
UPDATE: I have received a response from Stefan Offerman at Adobe. Please see my follow-up article: Adobe: 64-bit Flash Player Later This Year.