Updated: February 24, 2012
So what is this article all about? Well, it seems that Adobe has decided it will support Flash on Linux only through a new programming interface called Pepper, which will only be available in Google Chrome. The standalone plugin will no longer be available. End of the world.
Or is it? Let me explain a little more what exactly is happening, or rather, what is going to happen. I will try to explain the tactical and strategic implications of this new partnership between Adobe and Google, the potential impact on Firefox, how this may concern you as end users and whatnot. All right, remember rule number one, don't panic, and follow me.
The knee-jerk reaction is to equate Adobe with the Devil for abandoning your favorite operating system. But let us digest numbers. First of all, Adobe will start enforcing this new policy only after Flash Player 11.2 is officially released. Then, after that, it will continue providing security updates for five years for non-Pepper versions of their software.
OK, five years. That's a long time in the software world. First, to put things into perspective, please look back five years and see how many Linux distributions that existed back then are plain dead, no longer developed or active. Now, imagine what will happen in the next half a decade. Some of the distributions you are currently loving so much will naturally become extinct. Anything can happen.
Five years is 10 releases of Fedora and Ubuntu. In five years, the only current domestic Linux distribution that will be supported by then is going to be the soon-to-be-released Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pengolin, alongside the venerable server-like CentOS, excluding payware and corporate editions. None other. In a way, Adobe is going to support their software approx. three times longer than the life time of your average distribution.
In the next five years, HTML5 may or may not take off. If it does, then it could become the de-facto media standard, and then, it's Flash that's going to be fighting for survival. But this may or may not happen, just like IPv6. It is also possible that other companies will make all kinds of partnership deals with Adobe. The new API may yet be sold, released under open-source or bundled with other browsers.
It is still too early to tell what will exactly happen. This partnership probably signifies some new trends in the development of the Web, as the grand unifying playground. Still too early to tell, but perhaps Flash is not going to die just so soon, or perhaps, they are trying to avoid this would-be death by courting their biggest rival.
Now, as a user, what's the worst that can happen? Well, you might switch to a different operating system. But even if you stay on Linux, you will still have Flash in Chrome. So you can still enjoy your pr0n and whatnot. So the problem narrows down to Firefox, Opera and other browsers.
Well, then you can have Chrome installed for Flash only, and use Firefox as your primary browser in all other cases. This is no different than most Windows users have today; Internet Explorer is a sort of a must, both from the system integration perspective and having some rather crappy websites that will only open in that particular browser. I know this is true for me. I fire up Internet Explorer only when my bank beckons. Does it bother me? No, it sits there, gathering proverbial e-dust, and is used only when needed. So the same could apply to Firefox diehard fans.
Now, one might claim this is yet another nail in Firefox's coffin. But I disagree. Well, in fact, we will have a dedicated article on premature obituaries and whatnot, I promise, but that's not the topic here. The one thing worth mentioning is that Linux holds a small fraction of the classic computing market. Therefore, even if the entire user base switched to Chrome or started using it in parallel to other browsers, it would make little difference in the long run. But we should really talk about Linux.
The sad reality of this partnership is that Adobe has given up on Linux. I recall reading some forum posts written back in 2004, with people asking why there's no Photoshop for Linux. And the simple answer was, fragmentation. Fast-forward eight years, has anything changed? No. Linux remains fragmented. Binaries for one distribution will not work on another, and even binaries for that same distribution will not work on previous versions without hacking. This is a great anti-malware capability, but a lousy business model.
Adobe, like any decent money-grabbing company, wants to increase its profit. So it's doing the one sensible thing, no personal feelings here, just pure financial rationale. Why should they waste time developing software for a platform that won't sustain itself?
The same applies to games, the same applies to many other programs or computing realms. Linux makes tremendous sense for businesses, but it's not really good for the home market. Think about it. Enterprise Linux editions come at a hefty price. But they offer long-term support, five and seven and even ten years. They offer backward compatibility, they offer a solid, robust baseline for work. You can rely on your vendors to provide you with a sustainable model that will not change in six months.
Microsoft, the leader of the home market, also offers ten years of support for their operating system, and even longer. Windows XP, released in 2001, is going to be supported till 2014. Even today, Windows 8 fully supports legacy code all the way back to Windows 3.11. That's called stability. Anyone who's in for a little more than sliding their greasy thumb over a sheet of touch-sensitive plastic can appreciate this business model.
Think about it. Ubuntu is the first home distro that tries to seriously tackle the support thingie with their Long-Term Support releases, and is now ramping up to five years. For most people, this would mean replacing hardware and software at the same time. No one in their sane mind wants to reinstall a box when they don't need to, just because the vendor offers software with the lifespan of a butterfly.
Linux is not going to die. Far from it. It will continue to reign supreme in the business and will become the champion of the mobile market. But in the desktop space, it will probably remain what it is, a bouquet of colors and ribbons, a shredder of minced meat and shrapnel fragments.
The simple truth is, there's too much Linux. 90% of everything in life is useless, and so are 90% of all distributions out there. Unneeded, unnecessary, one-man projects with no goal, no vision, completely personalized for a corner-case of computing usage. If you ask me, I would axe the list down to maybe 5-6 distros, at most. The same goes for desktop environments. The same goes for music players and everything else.
Unless Ubuntu creates a miracle, there will be no Linux desktop revolution. The wheel of inertia will keep spinning, and you will continue to have half-baked, half-assed efforts come out of the oven every six months, each offering exactly the same, and none providing the users with what they need. There's also the question of hope. How long can one hold their breath? You can be enthused about Linux making it big in 2008 and 2009 and 2010, but years go by and nothing changes. If you ask me, what's the best thing that really happened in the Linux world recently, something that really made me excited? It's CentOS, which was never meant for desktops and which runs on a kernel released three years back. But that's perfectly all right, because normal people don't care about that. Other than that, it's a sorry soup of ego and blind, obtuse persistence.
Bottom line, it's your fault. Yes, you the geek. You, who feel so supreme in your ability to install operating systems and pretend to care about freedom and open-source thingies, you are the ones who stall the progress most.
Perhaps if Adobe could believe they could milk a few extra million dollars from Linux users, they might bother. But they know that Linux people are as cheap as they come. Think about it. You don't even support your favorite websites. Why is that websites that write about politics and whatnot have 3-4% average ad click rate, whereas Linux-oriented sites have only one fifth or even one tenth of that? It is because you want to screw the big corporations, but the only one getting screwed is yourself.
You give voice to the fragmentation in the community, you support the endless forking of distributions. You allow yourself to be treated as a beta drone and handed down unstable, useless products that will sputter for a few months before being thrown into the oblivion. Choice is good, freedom is even better, but money is the best.
What if every one of Ubuntu or Linux Mint users donated as little as one dollar a year to their distribution. If you can believe the numbers, we are talking 15-20 millions dollars of support, which can be invested in hiring extra programmers, stylists and interface designers, who would help make products better. Or allow for aggressive advertising.
And if everyone donated just one dollar a month, Mint would have one hundred million dollars of funds to compete in the business market. But no. You are cheap. All you want to do is not buy software. That's your goal. You don't really care about anything else. But you whine about not having Photoshop for Linux.
There's one more thing that this story teaches us, it's that monopolies are bad. Adobe rules the media streaming market. So it can do whatever it pleases. But if there were a rival company that intended to continue supporting Linux with standard plugins for all browsers, you can bet your socks that Adobe would not do anything unilateral. As it is, they can do whatever they want, and you are free to enjoy the show.
Is there anything you can do here? You can cry in the corner and commiserate over your own failure. Or you could try to boycott or protest this change. But ask yourself this: Would you die to uphold your values and beliefs? Would you be willing to give your life away for something you need? If not, then you probably are not really that worried.
If you've been following news lately, you will have learned that real-life protests are somewhat more violent than your typical tweets and blog posts. Some people will actually fight for their beliefs. That's what the Americans did. Thats what the French did. You are not really worried about this. Neither SOPA, nor PIPA did really bother you, deep down. So why would you fuss about a piece of code. It's not like your existence is going to change in some way. A few geeks will suffer, that's all.
The last section belongs to Google, who has been rather sneaky, sneaky lately. Google is the hallowed and pure champion of the future Web, right. Remember my codec wars article? Google is the one pushing for HTML5 and VP8. And then, you have the old school pair of Flash and X.264 codecs. But that was one year ago. It seems that Google might not be so confident about their declarations after all, and may be cutting losses. Partnering with Adobe could mean many things, but it also probably means that their prospect of making money from HTML5 seems less prospectuous now.
If there's anyone you should be angry with it, it's Google, not Adobe. Google could have broken the monopoly that Adobe holds on the media streaming market. Instead, it strengthens it. But then, it's only trying to make money. You can't blame them for that.
If you think carefully, nothing really changes. You have five more years to decide what you need to do. And you might not even be running Linux then. Or if you do, just install Chrome and use it once a month for some Youtube and pr0n.
Beyond this business deal, what you need to do is ponder long and deep-like on what you can do to influence the future. And the answer is, everything. Get off your cheap ass and starting contributing. The world does not need your coding skills or your skewed perception on how the desktop should look like. What the world needs is your money or your fighting skills, if you opt for a bloody revolution.
If you ever want to have Office, Photoshop, Steam, and whatever running on Linux one day, then you will have to make sure the companies see a reason to invest in your favorite platform. So start doing things right. And the first step to salvation of the crippled Linux centipede is to cut off the too many legs it has. That's the sad truth of it. 90% of the Linux body must simple die so the head can live. Kill the 9,000 distributions that no one needs. Kill the 9,000 programs that no one needs. Stick to the few leading projects and make them super-grand. And invest your money. And then you will have Flash on Linux. And anything else you desire.
P.S. The teaser images here and on the index page are in public domain.