Day 8 – 10 Days of Ubuntu 10.10 Feature Requests

Today is day 8 of my “10 Days of Ubuntu 10.10 Feature Requests” series.  See the series introduction here.

Day 8 – Better Online Video Experience

Today’s topic is a diverse one, as there are really several issues at play.  So bear with me as we tackle each component of the currently lacking Linux online video experience.

Improvement 1: Get Everyone to Embrace <video>

HTML 5’s <video> tag is a brilliant idea.  The gist of <video> is to make using a video in a webpage as simple as using an image – simply place <video src=”http://…”></video> in your page, and HTML5-compliant browsers will handle the video playback directly (as opposed to using a crappy 3rd-party plugin).  The <video> tag is currently supported by Firefox 3.5+, Safari 3+, Chrome 3+, and most likely the next version of Opera (v11?).

This solution alone solves the biggest problem with online video in Linux – the ever-terrible Flash plugin.  Adobe’s Linux-compatible Flash plugin is slow, cumbersome, prone to errors, and there is still nothing better than an alpha version for 64-bit platforms.

Fortunately, the <video> tag leapfrogs most of the Flash debacle by negating the most common purpose of the Flash plugin: online video.  The tag becomes even sexier when used as part of a full video solution, such as Kroc Camen’s excellent Video for Everybody.

With Firefox 3.5 appearing in Ubuntu 9.10 and excellent improvements happening to the Theora encoder and decoder, widespread adoption of the <video> tag could be the best thing to happen to the online Linux video experience in a long time.

Improvement 2: A Better Official Flash Plugin

No need for extended commentary here.  Basically, Adobe needs to quit screwing around and release a Linux Flash plugin that performs as well as the Windows and Mac versions.  I can get smooth full-screen Flash playback in Windows – so why not in Linux?  (And don’t blame my video drivers, because I’m using the same proprietary nvidia drivers on both installs.)

I wish this is something that a company other than Adobe could solve, but alas.  Proprietary software is just that – proprietary.

Nevertheless, I’m all for Canonical lobbying Adobe if they think it would result in any improvements.

Improvement 3: Better Gnash and Swfdec Performance

I have to admit that I’m no expert when it comes to Gnash and Swfdec.  Both are free “replacements” for Adobe Flash, but at present both are quite a ways away from being full-featured Flash replacements.

I’ve heard that Swfdec works with more online video sites then Gnash (can someone verify this…?), but Swfdec hasn’t issued a new stable release since last December.  Gnash released their latest version just last week.  I’m also encouraged by recent work from Splitted Hardware Systems on getting H.264 hardware acceleration into Gnash.  According to that link (courtesy of Phoronix), 1080p playback with the proper Gnash patch is now better than Adobe’s own Flash 10 player.  Sweet!

Even if Improvement #1 takes place, Linux users would still benefit greatly from an open-source plugin to replace the non-video parts of Flash.  I’d love to see Ubuntu ship either Gnash or Swfdec by default, which would increase awareness of both projects and result in more widespread testing and feedback.

Improvement 4: Netflix on Linux (via Moonlight, perhaps…?)

Talking about this improvement only serves to upset me, I’m afraid.

But it must be mentioned.  AGAIN.

I’m a big Netflix fan.  “Instant Watch” is a great feature.  “Instant Watch” doesn’t work on Linux.  It won’t for a long time, thanks to Microsoft’s unwillingness to port their DRM stack.  I doubt that Canonical could put much pressure on Microsoft to port that code (though it might be humorous for them to try), but I wonder if Canonical could leverage its weight and perhaps convince Netflix to put the pressure on Microsoft.  If Netflix threatened to go with a non-Silverlight implementation for “Instant Watch,” I bet Microsoft would respond.

In the meantime, all we can do is sign petitions, rally support, and laugh at the irony of Netflix’s Roku device running on Linux.

Sometimes the world is a sick place.

Conclusions

I’d love to see all the above improvements take place, but if I had to pick just one it would be continued adoption of HTML 5’s <video> tag, because anything that halts the spread of Adobe software is a good thing in my book.  I also believe that the potential of online video is greatly held back by Adobe’s unwillingness to improve Flash in a timely manner, and <video> won’t just solve that for Linux users – it’ll solve it for the entire internet.

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6 thoughts on “Day 8 – 10 Days of Ubuntu 10.10 Feature Requests”

  1. I think it’s really rather unfair to complain about the fact that the 64-bit Flash plugin for Linux is in alpha.

    Linux is the only platform that’s got a 64-bit version at all!

    See the Adobe FAQ on support for other platforms.

  2. Just switched from Firefox to Google Chrome for Linux. The flash video experience is a vast improvement. Youtube and other flash videos would jump and have choppy playback, freezing while the audio continued, and fullscreen was out of the question.

    The videos in Chrome make it seem like I’m watching TV. I’ve experienced the same poor quality with FF for Windows, and had the same improvement when switching to Chrome. I really think the issue is the bloated Firefox browser, not the Flash plugin.

  3. Good posts, Tanner. I just stumbled across your blog as I was looking for information on when the Silverlight’s DRM might make it into Moonlight.

    This isn’t a terribly important priority for me, since I just run VirtualBox and XP on my linux installation if I need to watch Netflix, but I want to switch my parents’ rig over to Ubuntu and I’d like it if they could watch Netflix. That said, I haven’t helped them subscribe to netflix yet — just mentioned it today –and now that I remember Netflix won’t work with Linux, I might tell them not to bother with Netflix. Maybe Netflix just lost a potential subscriber.

    As for Canonical putting pressure on Netflix, I have to say that that doesn’t seem too likely to work. Whatever pressure Canonical can bring to bear MS can easily match, I’m afraid.

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