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Flash Player 9 for Linux arrives, looks great
Jan. 17, 2007

Adobe Systems Inc. on Jan. 17 finally released the long-awaited Adobe Flash Player 9 for Linux. Although a binary-only release, it's already proven quite popular within its first 24 hours of release.

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This version of Flash Player was meant to be feature-comparable to Adobe's latest Windows and Mac OS versions, which were released in late June of 2006. All Flash Player 9 family versions render content far faster than earlier editions. On Linux, it also does a much better job at syncing video and audio.

Adobe also claims that Flash Player 9 for Linux offers more efficient memory utilization, and that it adds advanced features for graphics, video, text, as well as support for the AVM2 (ActionScript Virtual Machine), which enables up to 10 times faster scripting performance.

Ten times faster? I decided to see just how fast it was compared to Adobe Flash Player 7.0.69, the previous Linux version.

To do this, I set up both versions on an Insignia 300a, an older Best Buy's house brand desktop PC. This PC has a 2.8 GHz Pentium IV, 1GB of RAM, and an Ultra ATA/100, 7200 RPM, 60 GB hard drive. It was running SLED 10 (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop).

I quickly found that while Adobe Flash Player 9 was, to this user's eye, much faster than Adobe 7, it wasn't ten times faster. I would say, however, that it felt about three times faster than the previous version.

The fact that's it's not as fast as advertised isn't a big deal. The video/audio synchronization on a variety of Flash games, movie trailers, and cartoons was perfect. This is the first version of Flash on Linux I have ever seen that really is just as good as the Windows and Mac OS versions.

Finally, a Linux version of Adobe's Flash Player that's just as good as the Windows and Mac OS versions

Flash Player 9, according to Adobe's release notes, needs at least an 800 MHz or faster processor, 512MB of RAM, 128MB of graphics memory, and ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture) compatible audio hardware. Note: it will not work with OSS (Open Sound System) audio. If you try to run it with OSS (Open Sound System) or ESD (Enlightened Sound Daemon), you won't get an error message; you simply won't get any audio.

Adobe engineers are, however, working on an open-source dynamic library called flashsupport, which can be used by developers to create support for OSS and other non-officially supported audio formats.

As for the operating system compatibility, it's been tested and found to work with RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) 3, Update 8; RHEL 4 Update 4; and SUSE Linux 9.x, 10.1, and 10.2. Besides SLED 10, I also found that it works with the Ubuntu-based MEPIS 6.01.

On the browser side, I found that it works with Firefox and and Mozilla SeaMonkey 1.0.5. It will not, however, work with non-GTK2-based browsers like KDE's Konqueror and Opera. You can, however, invoke it as a standalone application from these Web browsers.

Besides Flash support, Adobe has also contributed the AVM2 source code to the Mozilla Foundation. Mozilla is hosting a new open source project called Tamarin. Tamarin's goal is to implement a high-performance, open-source implementation of the ECMAScript 4th edition (ES4) language -- aka JavaScript -- specification, and AVM2 for the Mozilla browser family.

But, as Mike Melanson, Adobe's lead engineer on the Flash 9 for Linux project said in a recent penguin.swf blog posting, "Adobe did not open source the Flash Player." and "Adobe did not incorporate the Flash Player into Mozilla."

With the AVM2 code in the open, it will, however, be easier to create an open-source Flash 9 compatible player, and will also be easier for Mozilla to incorporate such a player into Firefox or SeaMonkey. There is, of course, already an open-source Flash player: GNU Gnash, which is SWF (ShockWave Flash) 7 compatible.

If, however, you don't mind using a binary program on Linux, Flash Player 9 is proving to be an excellent program. Flash content developers aren't being left out, either. Linux developers can create, test, and deploy Flash using the free Adobe Flex 2 SDK (software development kit), Adobe Flash Player 9, and the free Flex Data Services 2 Express.

Both Red Hat and Novell have announced that they will be including the Flash Player 9 in their next distributions. Can't wait that long, or use another distribution? You can download Flash Player 9 as either a compressed library or as an RPM, here. In either case, installation is a snap.

-- Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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