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Use Chromium on Linux? Adobe Flash Will Stop Working From April

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Flash – Forever an issue

Flash content will stop working in Chromium on Linux from this April, it has been announced. 

Google are to drop support for the ‘Netscape Plugin API’ (NPAPI) – used by Adobe Flash – on Linux builds of Chrome/ium far sooner than was originally planned.

The ageing plugin architecture, which allows for unrestricted access to a computer, is considered inefficient and insecure, with Google calling it ‘the leading cause of hangs, crashes, and security incidents’. 

In its place comes a securer, sandboxed and more performant standard in the shape of the ‘Pepper Plugin API’ (PPAPI).

An Adobe Flash plugin using PPAPI comes bundled with Google Chrome on Windows, Mac, Chrome OS and Linux.

Aura of Change

Phased depreciation of the plugin format was announced by Google in autumn of last year. The schedule aims to see the complete removal of NPAPI plugin compatibility at a code level by the end of 2014.

For Windows and Mac this end-date remains the target, but on Linux things are moving much faster. With the debut on the ‘Aura’ graphical stack on Linux, Chrome/ium v34 will come without any support for Netscape plugins.

Aura, which is used to ‘draw’ virtually every bit of the browser you see on screen, was built from the ground up by Google to do a number of things, including unifying codebases to make development and availability of new features truly cross-platform. As a new technology, Google were able to forgo building support for dogged and depreciated APIs like NPAPI.

Being free of such burdens makes Chrome more secure, leaner and less bloated. But some Linux users may be left smarting at the trade off.

What this means for you if you rely on Flash

It’s up to you whether you’re affected…

If you’re worried that you’ll never again be able to wile away the hours watching cat videos on YouTube you can relax.  Things aren’t quite as bleak as they sound. In fact, it’s up to you whether you’re affected.

If you download and install the ‘regular’ version of Google Chrome (the one with the rainbow-coloured icon) then you have no cause for concern. Despite the change, YouTube, Vimeo, etc. will all continue to work “out of the box” on Linux as the browser comes with a bundled version of Flash based on a newer, more secure plugin format.

If you opt to use Chromium (the one with the blue icon), available from the Ubuntu Software Centre, then you won’t be able to watch/interact with/view Flash content without first extracting and installing the ‘Pepper’ plugin from Google Chrome. This workaround will apply to all browsers based on Chromium.

Perhaps because of its easy availability Popcon usage stats show that nearly half of all Chrome users on Ubuntu use Chromium. 

The version of Chrome offered by Google is based on the same code as Chromium but includes additional extras whose licensing restricts freer distribution.

Flash Choices

Part of the dilemma facing Linux users can be laid squarely at Adobe’s door. The company stopped direct development of their Flash plugin for Linux back in 2012. The final release, version 11.2, remains available from the Adobe website and can be installed through the Ubuntu Software Centre but, after this coming April, won’t work in Chromium-based browsers.

Adobe instead decided to pair with Google to bundle newer versions based on the PPAPI with Google Chrome. The current ‘Pepper Flash’ version number is 11.9. Google say that this sandboxed, secure iteration will be supported on Linux ‘indefinitely’.

The problem for users of Chromium is that the Pepper Flash plugin cannot be downloaded from the web or installed from the Ubuntu Software Centre. And while it can be extracted from Google Chrome for use in Chromium-based browsers, it cannot be legally distributed or packaged by anyone else. 

Chromium developers say they are open to accepting patches to enable NPAPI support in Linux Aura, but have no desire to ship or support them officially. Further more, once NPAPI is dropped from Windows the code will be removed/halted from all platform – including any patches used in the interim.

But all is not lost. By switching to PPAPI Flash Chromium users can continue to watch kitten videos on YouTube, play Candy Crush Saga on Facebook, etc. There may even be an easy way to get it in the future, with Chrome dev Justin Schuh stating that Adobe“are not opposed to working out solutions for distributing PPAPI Flash to other browsers”.

Summary

  • From April Chromium will no longer play Flash content using the “old” Adobe plugin
  • The change is due to the arrival of ‘Aura’ for Linux which lacks coded support for NPAPI plugins
  • Other NPAPI plugins affected include Silverlight, Google Earth and Facebook Video
  • The ‘Pepper Flash’ plugin bundled with Google Chrome will continue to work
  • But ‘Pepper Flash’ is not (currently) available for download and is only shipped in Google Chrome