Browsers will Flash Linux into the future or drag it into the past

Jack Wallen insists that it's time to let go of browsers that will tether Linux to the past. Do you agree?

Linux past

The announcement has gone out. The gist? Flash will no longer work with Chromium on Linux. Many of you are probably wondering, "What is Chromium?" Essentially, Chromium is the open-source version of Google's massively popular browser, Chrome. The big Flash debacle is simple: the old way of handling Flash (within a browser) is insecure. It was driven by the Netscape Plugin API (NPAPI) — an architecture that dates back to Netscape Navigator 2.0. NPAI that's insecure, obsolete, and doesn't work well on smartphones and tablets — which is a death knell in and of itself.

The replacement for the defunct plugin architecture is the Pepper Plugin API. This API improves upon NPAPI in a number of ways, but most importantly:

  • It sandboxes flash for security
  • It's built into the browser

I shouldn't have to go any further than those two statements. But there's a problem. The Chromium browser (the browser that many die-hard open source fans use) will not be able to enjoy the new PPAPI architecture without extracting it from Chrome. This should be a do-able tasks for users familiar to tinkering with Linux. However, for new users (or users who simply don't have time to spend on such endeavors), this will be a deal breaker.

Right now, nearly 50% of Linux users use Chromium. I get it, they want to stick with as much open source as possible (and many users think "Google is the new Microsoft"). But here's the thing (and it's something I've been harping on a lot lately) — things change. Every computer platform on the planet has had to evolve or face losing serious ground.

I used Chromium a long time ago, when the official Chrome was not available for Linux. But the second Chrome became available, I switched. Why? Because I found it more reliable, up-to-date, and it had more of the plugins I needed. Eventually, I realized the idea of getting my work done had to take priority over a piece of software's inherent ties to open source. Don't get me wrong, I'd prefer to use open-source software, but when I'm faced with deadlines and an ever-growing need to get things done — as long as I'm using Linux to do so, I'm good.

Here's my thing... I see, all too often, dyed in the wool open-source users refusing to install software by Google (or other entities), because they don't adhere to the GPL. From my perspective, what that does is take away from the possibilities ahead of Linux. Honestly, Linux will never succeed without embracing entities like Google. With companies like Google behind it, Linux could take over the world!

Is it more important to me to use open source 100% of the time, or is it more important that Linux succeeds? For me, that question answers itself. How? Think about it this way: If Linux doesn't succeed, open source cannot succeed.

At this point in the game, Linux needs the likes of Chrome and Flash and countless other pieces of software (and APIs) that may not be as GPL-friendly as the open-source community likes. But if Linux is to win over new users, it cannot, in any way, depend on those new users extracting APIs from one browser and rolling them into another. For new users to accept Linux as a desktop platform of choice, said platform needs to work out-of-the-box. That's what the new Chrome and Firefox bring to the table. With the PPAPI architecture, Flash will be more reliable and it will be baked into the browser. This means less work and fewer frustrated users.

In the end, that means more users, which is exactly what Linux needs.

I'm not saying that it's time to abandon the idea of the GPL — not at all. What I'm saying is that at least 50% of the Linux faithful need to open their minds up to the idea of using non-GPL software. If it means Linux gains more support and a larger install base, how can you not see this as a winning situation?

I've been using Linux since the mid 1990s. I've watched it work through setback after setback, but it's continue to gain ground on the field of acceptance. My opinion is that Linux needs only a slight push to finally gain a much wider (and universal) reach. Could that "push" actually come from the open-source community itself? I believe so. Do you?