Weblog entry #87 for dkg

more proprietary workarounds, sigh
Posted by dkg on Tue 27 Nov 2012 at 08:39

In supporting a labful of Debian GNU/Linux machines with NFS-mounted home directories, i find some of my users demand a few proprietary programs. Adobe Flash is one of the most demanded, in particular because some popular streaming video services (like Amazon Prime and Hulu) seem to require it.

I'm not a fan of proprietary network services, but i'm happy to see that Amazon Prime takes Linux support seriously enough to direct users to Adobe's Linux Flash "Protected Content" troubleshooting page (Amazon Prime's rival NetFlix, by comparison, has an abysmal record on this platform). Of course, none of this will work on any platform but i386, since the flash player is proprietary software and its proprietors have shown no interest in porting it or letting others port it :(

One of the main issues with proprietary network services is their inclination to view their customer as their adversary, as evidenced by various DRM schemes. In two examples, the Flash Player's DRM module appears to arbitrarily break when you use one home directory across multiple machines. Also, the DRM module appears to depend on HAL, which is being deprecated by most of the common distributions.

Why bother with this kind of gratuitous breakage? We know that video streaming can and does work fine without DRM. With modern browsers, freely-formatted video, and HTML5 video tags, video just works, and it works under the control of the user, on any platform. But Flash appears to throw up unnecessary hurdles, requiring not only proprietary code, but deprecated subsystems and fiddly workarounds to get it functional.

I'm reminded of Mako's concept of "antifeatures" -- how much engineering time and effort went into making this system actually be less stable and reliable than it would have otherwise been? How could that work have been better-directed?


Comments on this Entry

Posted by Anonymous (136.172.xx.xx) on Tue 27 Nov 2012 at 14:01
Hi Dkg,

just don't support Flash. Adobe said it is dead. Why bother supporting it just because somebody wants to see television?


[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by dkg (2001:0xx:0xx:0xxx:0xxx:0xxx:xx) on Tue 27 Nov 2012 at 16:17
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I am looking forward to the day i can drop it, sure. Unfortunately, my choices for supporting users who subscribe to streaming services amount to either:
  • maintain Windows computers, or
  • support Flash on otherwise-free operating systems

I must be getting old, if i'm the one to argue for the compromise position :P

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by toobuntu (24.103.xx.xx) on Wed 28 Nov 2012 at 15:41
You could try signing up your users to the YouTube HTML5 beta [0] and upgrading their Firefox to the v17 beta with the Shumway [1] extension [2], and see how far it will take them.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/html5
[1] https://blog.mozilla.org/research/2012/11/12/introducing-the-shum way-open-swf-runtime-project/
[2] http://mozilla.github.com/shumway/extension/firefox/shumway.xpi

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by Anonymous (71.70.xx.xx) on Tue 27 Nov 2012 at 19:29
The DRM used by Amazon Prime/Hulu is just RTMPE... completely broken, I just use xbmc to watch both. Of course, having to use xbmc just to watch amazon prime can be kind of inconvenient.

Of course, much like CSS, why the media industry doesn't get that they have been distributing effectively DRM-free digital media since they started distributing digital media seems to be lost upon them. Doubleplusungood.

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Posted by dkg (216.254.xx.xx) on Wed 28 Nov 2012 at 16:10
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i've never tried to use xbmc for amazon prime, but i like the idea that i could do that to avoid the proprietary flash stack. Thanks for making this suggestion, i'll try it out on some non-i386 hardware to see if i can get it to work.

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Posted by DrDub (69.70.xx.xx) on Wed 28 Nov 2012 at 22:35
Speaking of workarounds, I'm still gathering momentum to give this netlfix-on-linux-through-firefox-on-wine recipe a try:

http://www.iheartubuntu.com/2012/11/netflix-on-ubuntu-is-here.htm l

It's by far the most monstrous workaround I've seen.

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Posted by dkg (216.254.xx.xx) on Wed 28 Nov 2012 at 22:58
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this proposed "solution" is so egregious i don't even want to consider it. i can't imagine it's anything close to a reasonable framerate, and telling people "oh, use *this* version of firefox when you want to use netflix -- it won't share profile info with the rest of your firefox setup, though, so forget bookmarks, etc" sounds like support misery. bleah.

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