Despite Apple's best efforts to make it go away, the Web is still littered with Flash-based sites and content. The lack of an open source alternative to Adobe's Flash player is still a major pain point for Linux users and vendors, and the proprietary player is a big source of bug reports for Mozilla. Which brings the question: Why hasn't Mozilla backed one of the projects to create an open source player?
A bit ago I was having a conversation over email with Nathan Willis about some of the open source alternatives like GNU Gnash and Lightspark, and the question came up - why doesn't Mozilla back these?
On one hand, these are impressive efforts — they've made major strides over the years in trying to achieve compatibility with Adobe's proprietary player. In some cases, they work acceptably well — but they're still not ready enough for prime time to give a seamless Web browsing experience.
Given the massive effort Mozilla has put into Firefox over the years, and the project's focus on enabling an open Web, and the Mozilla project's deep pockets — why hasn't it backed one of these projects? Especially when the proprietary Flash player is a major cause of bug reports for Firefox, and was a primary driver of the plugin isolation feature to deal with Flash crashing.
To get the answer, I pinged Mozilla's Chris Blizzard. According to Blizzard, an open source version of the Flash player wouldn't be enough:
"Our strategy is to invest in the web. While Flash is used on the web, it lacks an open process for development with open specifications and multiple competing implementations. Creating an open source version of Flash wouldn't change the fact that Flash's fate is determined by a single entity."
Adobe disagrees, saying that Flash is open because they release the specs — but by any realistic definition of "open," Blizzard is right. Even with the specification, it's just FOSS projects trying to catch up to Adobe's implementation.
Right now, Flash usage is on the rise thanks to video streaming but I wouldn't count on that for the long haul. While Adobe is touting the development work to get Flash working in Chrome/ChromeOS, they neglect to mention that Google is also working hard on WebM, along with Mozilla and Opera.
Mozilla feels it's better to try to promote alternatives to Flash for producing content, than bolster a proprietary format with a free player to help keep the proprietary format alive. Can't say that I disagree with that, though it's a long and slow process...
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years covering IT. Formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell, Brockmeier is a longtime free and open source software advocate. He has written for many publications, including Linux Magazine, Sys Admin, Linux Pro Magazine, IBM developerWorks, Linux.com, CIO.com, Linux Weekly News, ZDNet, and many others.