[Foundation-l] [Commons-l] How non-free is Flash?

Husky huskyr at gmail.com
Tue Mar 6 15:17:49 UTC 2007

I'm pretty impressed by the Cortado demo. I'm not sure how well it competes
with Flash video on lower-end machines (i'm at a high-end machine right
now), but it seems like a really good alternative for presenting in-line
video on Wikimedia projects. One of the main hassles for incorporating
videos on Wikimedia projects (aside from the copyright and bandwidth issues)
always seemed to be the lack of widely available Theora support. With
everyone being accustomed by YouTube working right out of the box it seems a
bit weird that you ask people to download a codec and install it, or use an
alternative player. This works right out of the box, in Firefox at least. I
had to download the J2RE on IE 6.

If we could use this in some way it would be a great addition to the

-- Hay Kranen / [[User:Husky]]

On 3/6/07, Gregory Maxwell <gmaxwell at gmail.com> wrote:
> On 3/6/07, Erik Moeller <erik at wikimedia.org> wrote:
> > How non-free do we consider Flash to be? The Gnash player appears to
> > be making good progress. Would it be acceptable to permit useful Flash
> > files which work in Gnash and don't require non-free codecs to be
> > uploaded?
> >
> > I did not see any issues with patents mentioned in the relevant
> > Wikipedia article. The old Macromedia Flash website lists a US patent
> > on "creating gradient fills", but that seems so bizarre as to pose no
> > real threat.
> For what application? I see that you say 'don't require non-free
> codecs', but it's not clear that you're aware of the status of codecs
> in flash:
> For video support the flash plugin contains a H.263 video and a MP3
> audio codec.
> It's not possible to write MP3 software which does not infringe
> 5,105,463 among several other patents
> (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6388273.stm Weee!).
> H.263 is covered by a pool of patents similar to MPEG-4.
> Flash player 8 and above also includes the VP6 video codec. On2 has
> patents they license for VP6 use, but overall they are pretty cool
> company though, so I'm not fully sure where that stands. I expect that
> requiring flash player 8 would leave Java as a more compatible web toy
> solution.
> Unlike the Java video player implementations the codec isn't actually
> 'written in flash'. Actionscript is a poor match for doing lots of
> data manipulation. I understand that someone nearly has a Vorbis codec
> working actually written in actionscript, but it's too slow to be
> useful.
> So for video, flash does not look good. The use of cortado in Java
> would be much better. (http://www.flumotion.net/cortado/). Success
> rate of the inline Java audio player hasn't been bad, and cortado
> should be even more compatible with older JVMs.
> A bigger concern I have with the freedom of flash doesn't have
> anything to do with patents: There are no free authoring tools, other
> than some hacks that are used for dynamic authoring. I think this is a
> pretty big killer. Nothing we need for authoring today requires
> proprietary software.
> If we're looking to allow users to submit flash there another freedom
> related issue:
> Since the toolchain is proprietary and built around desktop usage
> we'll be stuck with the 'opaque object' problem. In short, for
> downloadable turing complete software (Java, Flash, JS) it can be
> impossible to fully understand what the software will do. Perhaps on
> the 3rd of the month it displays the goastse image, perhaps it
> exploits the sandbox and steals your data. In cases where we have the
> source, it's possible to require the software be simple enough that no
> such tricks could be easily inserted.  As a result I previously
> suggested that if we ever accept user submitted java that we have
> people submit source and we compile it on our side. Because the flash
> authoring tools are proprietary this option is closed to us.
> These are just some quick points, a little more knowledge of the
> intended application would help me drill in and look for freedom
> related limitations.
> I hope that I'll be given the opportunity to comment on the
> non-freedom related aspects, since I think there are some significant
> issues. Again, knowing the application is critical.
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