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Open-source Flash rival "Gnashes" out
Apr. 21, 2008

A non-profit open source project with high-profile backers has released beta code for an open source Flash media player, with a media server in the wings. Open Media Now's Gnash player runs standalone or as a plugin, and may run better than Flash on constrained devices.

Last week the Gnash development project released the first beta (release 0.8.2) of its GPLv3 SWF (Shockwave Flash) movie player and browser plug-in. The free player is designed for "computer, gaming, embedded, and consumer electronic devices," according to the non-profit Open Media Now Foundation (OMNow) funding the effort. Gnash is likely to use less memory and power than Adobe's Flash.

Originally created as a user interface for a digital stereo set-top box (STB), and based on work done by the GPLFlash project, the Gnash player runs as a browser plugin for Firefox, Mozilla, Konqueror, and NetFront, and is optimized for Firefox 1.0.4 or higher. Gnash is said to run on embedded GNU/Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD. There is also a standalone player for GNOME- or KDE-based desktops, and ports to Darwin and Windows are said to be in progress. The player supports embedded architectures including MIPS, PowerPC, ARM, and Sparc.

Several Linux distributions actively support Gnash, says OMNow, including Ubuntu, which ships it as an option, and Terrasoft Solutions' Yellow Dog Linux v6.0, which includes Gnash as a feature for the Sony PlayStation 3. It is also available upstream in Debian Lenny and Sid (testing and unstable).

Gnash currently supports many features of SWF v7 and offers "growing support" for SWF v8 and v9, says OMNow. It also supports many classes of ActionScript 2, an object-oriented programming language used to build applications with the Adobe Flash Player runtime, and support is in the works for ActionScript 3. Like Flash, Gnash incorporates an XML-based messaging system that enables a movie to communicate over a TCP/IP socket and parse an incoming XML message, thereby providing for remote control applications.

OMNow has also pledged to fund the Gnash project's Cygnal media server. Currently in prototype, Cygnal is intended as an open-source, Gnash-based audio and video server designed to run on large GNU/Linux clusters and handle thousands of simultaneous network connections. Cygnal will provide support for multiple streams with differing content, as well as multicast streams with a single data source, says the group. One challenge facing the group, says Gnash, is the question of how to handle proprietary formats like MP3, FLV (Flash Video) and ON2, or how to work around them with open-source alternatives such as the many formats supported by the ffmpeg plugin for Gstreamer.

OMNow: a mission to free media

OMNow is dedicated to the "development, the support, and the empowerment of an open media infrastructure," says the Foundation, which is seeking corporate members to help support the Gnash and Cygnal free software projects. The group is also said to collaborate closely with other nonprofits like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and OLPC (One Laptop Per Child). OLPC, which is seeding low-cost Linux laptops in developing nations, offers a pre-installed version of Gnash.

The Board of Directors includes open-source veterans like Red Hat founder Bob Young, former CEO of Red Hat; John Gilmore, co-founder of the EFF; David "Lefty" Schlesinger, open source community liason at Access; and Rob Savoye, Gnash's primary developer, and an alumnus of Red Hat via Cygnus.

Stated Savoye, OMNow's Founder and CTO, "We are promoting an infrastructure that enables the creation, the streaming, and the viewing of digital content, using free software in a legally conforming way. By creating a members-based 501c6 non-profit, we can coordinate the development of this technology, splitting the cost amongst multiple industry donors."

Stated OMNow Executive Director Lauren Riggin, "Our aim is to engage in a variety of projects that improve upon both the functionality of, and access to, open media solutions."


The Gnash beta is available for download at the Gnash project. More information on Gnash can be found there, as well as on this GNU Gnash page, and at the Open Media Now site.

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