Gnash is the GNU SWF movie player, which can be run standalone on a computer or an embedded device, as well as a plugin for several browsers. The new release is a milestone for both the project and the GNU/Linux desktop, which remains dependent on the proprietary Adobe player for handling Flash files (.swf).
Although Flash support is not complete in version 0.8.7, Gnash has now reached the point where it is usable for the most common everyday purposes, such as watching videos on YouTube -- a point that Gnash was exaggeratedly reported as having reached last June. However, in many other ordinary circumstances, Gnash's success remains hit or miss.
Gnash comprises the Gnash desktop player, the Gnash plugin for Firefox (which also works with Epiphany and other Mozilla-based browsers), and Klash, a plugin for Konqueror. The two plugins work seamlessly, and using the desktop player is generally as simple as entering the command
gnashfollowed by a file path, or
gnash -ufollowed by an URL. However, if you choose, you can run Gnash with parameters to scale the video, to set a video's exact height and width, or to loop a video continuously. Gnash also comes with a trio of commands for debugging: the general verbose switch (
-v)) and switches for how the play handles Flash actions (
-va) or parses files (
Testing the betaThe user manual for the beta describes it as focused mainly on support for Flash 7, "with better SWF v8 and v9 support than earlier versions." About 80% of ActionScript 2.0 classes are implemented, including "all of the most heavily used ones," and a start has been made on support for ActionScript 3. In addition, "Gnash supports the majority of Flash opcodes up to SWF v9, and a wide sampling of ActionScript classes for SWF v8."
Even if you are not familiar with Flash scripting, clearly Gnash does not yet offer the same level of functionality as the latest version of Adobe's Flash player. But what, exactly, do the limitations mean for those users who would prefer to use Gnash so that they can run a philosophically free desktop?
To find out, I installed the Gnash plugin and Klash, and tried to access a number of commonly used sites. A dozen or so videos from each of YouTube and Lulu.tv all ran without problems. Both these sites receive heavy traffic and have an interest in making their content as accessible as possible to the largest audience. For some people, that may be enough.
However, if you are more adventurous in your viewing of Flash files, your results will probably be more mixed. On Best Flash Sites, one in three files I tried failing to play. Since Flash developers often want to take advantage of the latest features, this failure rate is perhaps to be expected, and it is not a particular deterrent against using Gnash for most users.
Unfortunately, on sites for Web designers and other artists, Gnash's success rate was next to zero -- again, probably due to the developers' wishes to be as state of the art as possible. More importantly, even useful bits of Flash animation, such as the blog stats available on WordPress.com, did not work either. Nor could Gnash or its plugins handle Flash files exported from OpenOffice.org.
From these experiments, I reluctantly conclude that, while Gnash has made progress, it is not functionally ready to replace the Adobe Flash player. There are still too many everyday situations in which it does not work.
ConclusionFor many, this state of affairs is hardly a tragedy. Many users rightly decry Flash as a high-bandwidth technology that emphasizes style over content; for them, not being able to play Flash files should be considered a blessing rather than an annoyance.
However, for those interested in the spread of free software, the results are disappointing. Clearly, to attract users -- especially average ones -- free desktops need to match the functionality of Windows and Mac OS X. So far, Gnash does not, even though it remains the best hope of providing parity when dealing with Flash files.
The improvement of the beta over earlier Gnash releases is encouraging. Yet, for now, all that those waiting for free Flash support can do is acknowledge the progress and wait for the day when Gnash becomes a complete solution instead of a partial one.
- Runs standalone
- Gnash can run standalone to play flash movies.
- Browser plugin
- Gnash can also run as a plugin from within most Mozilla derived browsers, such as Firefox. Gnash also has support for Konqueror.
- SWF v7+ compliant
- Gnash can play many current flash movies.
- Streaming Video
- Gnash supports the viewing of streaming video from popular video sharing sites like Lulu.tv or YouTube.com.
- XML Message server
- Gnash also supports an XML based message system as documented in the Flash Format specification.
- High Quality Output
- Gnash uses OpenGL for rendering the graphics on the desktop, and AntiGrain (AGG) for embedded framebuffer only devices.
- Free Software
- Gnash is 100% free software. For more information on the GPL, go to the Free Software Foundation web site.
- Better Security
- Gnash pays extra attention to all network connections, and allows the user to control access.
- Gnash supports extending ActionScript by creating your own. You can write wrappers for any development library, and import them into the player.
StatusGnash is being actively developed at the moment. Therefore, although many features work, not all movies play successfully. The first beta release of Gnash has just been made at version 0.8.2 on March 5, 2008.
Downloading GnashGnash source releases (HTTP, FTP) can be found in the subdirectory
/pub/gnu/gnashon your favourite GNU mirror.
Win32 users can now download an executable based on the 0.8.2 release.
CVS Access to SourcesThe latest Gnash sources are also available via anonymous CVS. Use the following commands to check them out (just hit return when you are prompted for the password):
For more detailed information on CVS usage at gnu.org, read CVS Usage at gnu.org. You can also browse the sources.export CVS_RSH="ssh" cvs -z3 -d:pserver:firstname.lastname@example.org:/sources/gnash co gnash
If you cannot use ssh because you only have access to the Internet through a proxy, you can still get the latest version from a directory of daily cvs snapshots on the web.
For other ways to obtain Gnash, please read this page. General information on obtaining GNU software is also available.
- User Manual (HTML)
- Reference Manual (HTML)
- User Manual (GNU Info)
- Reference Manual (GNU Info)
- Gnash Man Page(nroff)
- Gprocessor Man Page(nroff)
- Dumpshm Man Page(nroff)
- Soldumper Man Page(nroff)