Linux, PPAPI, and the Browser…

In the beginning, was Lynx.  And, it was good.  The time was 1992.  Linux was in it’s infancy.  The Internet was becoming more easy to access.  Linux as we know it had reached a milestone.  It was now 1 year old.

I am going to cite some Linux history below to give perspective to why I wrote this article, and further explain my anger at Adobe and Microsoft.

The most popular web server has always been FLOSS since such data has been being collected. For example, Apache is the current #1 web server powering the Internet.  To my knowledge, it has never fell below this statistic.  Contrary to what Microsoft would have you believe, they have never held the number one position.  Ever.  Some current estimates put the number of Internet servers running Linux at or better than 95%.  Microsoft?  About 1%.  Ironically enough, Microsoft’s own Azure Cloud services offer “Linux Infrastructure as a Service” (IaaS).

According to the OSS/FLOSS Numbers Database, Windows NT actually crippled a U.S. Navy Cruiser in 1998.  Almost all of Europe’s governments use Linux in some form or fashion, or are in the process of converting existing systems including their educational institutions.  In the U.S. check out the statistics for banks, ATM machines, or mobile devices, or, for that matter, look at the U.S. governments most secretive 3 letter agencies and you’ll find they too depend on Linux.  From the NSA, to the CIA, and the Department of Homeland Security.  It is not simply that Linux is free, and the government has run out of money (which they have as we all know seeing how we just passed $18,000,000,000,000 dollars in debt), it is because of the SECURITY.  It is unparalleled in OS history.

Perhaps one of the best papers written regarding OSS/FLOSS, can be found on David Wheeler’s site at http://www.dwheeler.com/oss_fs_why.html.  A direct quote from his paper on the site says the following; “More recently, The U.S. Department of Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) has certified Linux distributor Red Hat’s Advanced Server operating system as a “Common Operating Environment” (COE), meaning the server product meets the agency’s software security and interoperability specification”.

Lets jump ahead to Feb. 22, 2012.  Adobe announces it will no longer be providing updates to Flash for Linux.  The following month, in March, they released version 11.2, officially saying goodbye to Linux.  At the time, Flash was the most common video rendering software available to users on the Internet.  So, Adobe officially has crawled into bed with Microsoft.  While I am of the belief that Flash has outlived its usefulness, it is still widely used and even required to view some websites.  Facebook for example.

Today Adobe has accepted Google’s PPAPI code-named “Pepper”.  Chrome is the ‘ONLY’ browser available that can use the PPAPI.  Mozilla, and most other Linux compliant browsers only support NPAPI.  (the N in NPAPI stands for Netscape, the predecessor of Firefox and Iceweasel)  Mozilla has decided (right from the beginning, and stuck to their guns) that they will not work or develop PPAPI implementation for any Mozilla based browser.

It is well known and has been for a long time that the NPAPI has many security flaws and vulnerabilities.  It is an old API.  The problem here is licensing.  Mozilla is concerned by all of the proprietary code involved in the PPAPI, as well as the absolutely horrible documentation from Google.  Iceweasel uses the GNU/GPL licensing allowing it to be used in Linux distro’s that firmly support OSS/FLOSS.  PPAPI will never (IMO) adhere to that license.  Firefox to a lesser degree also uses a type of this licensing that while it is not as open as that of Iceweasel, still allows it to be a part of the OSS project.

By stripping NPAPI support, browsers like Firefox and Iceweasel, not to mention numerous other OSS/FLOSS browsers no longer have the ability to serve up video that will now require the PPAPI.  While hopefully HTML5 and CSS3 will eventually solve this problem, for the foreseeable future, Linux users will be forced to use Google’s browsers or simply not be able to watch video on the web.  I know that is a broad statement, and perhaps simplifying the situation to some degree, but in fact, an accurate one no less.  Yes, I know there are wrappers that you can use in place of the NPAPI, however, they are not a total fix.  While the ‘Youtube All HTML5’ plugin allows the user to watch Youtube videos, it is simply not a solution for other video sites on the Internet.  The same holds true with the ‘Fresh Player Plugin’ a wrapper that supposedly allows the user to take advantage of the PPAPI.  It is a sketchy solution that the last time I checked, was still in the ‘Alpha’ stage and barely worked on the sites I tried.

I do not have cable, satellite, nor even an antennae to watch television, I do have Netflix.  The various news outlet sites on the Internet provide me with all the news I care to hear about.  Netflix allows me to watch most popular TV shows.  My two kids have never complained about our situation, and personally I think we are better off as a family without television.  I believe the media’s purpose is truly the “dumbing down of society”.  Another article for another time.  That being said, I do enjoy watching the occasional show on Netflix.  As a Linux user, up until recently the only way I could do this was through a Virtual Machine installed on my Linux box.  Thanks to Google’s Chrome browser this is now no longer the case.  Because of this, I have left Firefox and Iceweasel behind.  I have used Mozilla browsers since the early ’90’s, going all the way back to when it was Netscape.  I loved Mozilla.

I have tried Chromium, which has a more tolerable license than does Chrome, but still no Netflix support.  While I can freely choose to use Chrome, I loathe the fact that the decision is being made for me.  Google claims to utilize the OSS/FLOSS principles when it comes to their browser licensing, but it is a non-free piece of software.  This entirely rules Chrome out for a lot of the Linux community who adhere strongly to their principles when following the GNU/GPL OSS/FLOSS philosophy.  Alas, I am not so firmly entrenched in my philosophy that I wont use Chrome.  I enjoy video on the web, and have made the change to Chrome.  It is an entirely personal choice, and I am in no way endorsing Chrome.  Yes, I could continue to use a VM, but that is an even worse choice as I was forced to use one of those “other” OS’s.

For Linux, and all it’s non Google browsers, NPAPI is the past.  For me, this falls into the realm of “Unfair Business Practices/Monopoly” category.  The rest of the browser world should have, at the very least, been allowed the opportunity come up with a palatable solution to the PPAPI.  By not having that opportunity, the entire Linux community is being punished IMO by Google, and by default Adobe and Microsoft.  I believe it was an intentional move on all three companies parts to just that end.  Google has gone so far as to remove any NPAPI supported apps/plugins from the Google Play store.  I find this a remarkable move on the part of Google as their Android OS is a Linux distribution itself.  Of course, it comes with Chrome so for their part, this is all a non-issue.

For the rest of the Linux world, everyone should be raising their voice in anger at this type of practice.  Especially from Google!

 

Apple’s iPads and iPhones have never supported Flash.  However Mac’s Safari browser, like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, continue to receive updated Flash software from Adobe.  While Linux has been stuck at version 11.2, not so for MS and Apple.  Example below…

Adobe Flash Player updates available for OS X on December 12, 2014

Adobe Flash Player updates address a recently identified Adobe Flash Player web plug-in vulnerability.

Huh!

Currently Microsoft and Apple are on version 16.0.0.257.  Adobe stated that security and bug updates would be provided for Linux version 11.2 of the Flash player in Feb. of 2012 for the next 5 years.  My math gives them 2 more years…

Hopefully, as flawed and vulnerable as Flash is, it will be dead and gone long before then.

Jed

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admin

Raving Ranter at NixNut.com
My children and wife are my life! Worked in the computer industry as a network engineer, living between Maine and Indiana for the past 20 years or so. Love to write. Love Linux, the community it has inspired, and most importantly, I can run my computer free, better than yours, even with all that money spent to "buy" your OS. Oh yeah, I think I'm funny, (though I know looks aren't everything) and you'll laugh if you read my site posts!

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