Users of Chromium on Linux will be left unable to play Flash content from this coming April.
Google is dropping support for NPAPI plugins, including Adobe Flash, from Linux builds of the browser earlier than was originally planned, to coincide with the arrival of Chrome 34 in early spring.
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’.
An Adobe Flash plugin based on 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 is aiming 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. Support will be removed ahead of schedule with the arrival of Google’s impressive new graphical stack ‘Aura’.
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 drop support for dogged and depreciated APIs like NPAPI.
Forgoing this burden makes Chrome more secure, much leaner and less bloated as a result, but some Linux users will be left smarting at the trade off.
What this means for you if you rely on Flash
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, whether installed from the Ubuntu Software Centre, PPA or other third-party repository, then you won’t be able to watch/interact with/view Flash content without extracting and installing the ‘Pepper’ plugin from Google Chrome. The same applies to any browser that bases itself on Chromium.
Popcon usage stats show that nearly half of all Chrome users on Ubuntu use Chromium, a stat that, no doubt, is buoyed by its availability within the Ubuntu Software Centre.
The version of Chrome offered by Google is based on the same code but includes additional extras whose licensing has restrictions on distribution.
Part of this dilemma for Linux users can be laid 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 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.
The good news for anyone truly concerned is that Chromium developers are open to accepting patches that enable NPAPI support in Linux Aura, although they have no desire to ship or support them officially. Once NPAPI is dropped from Windows the code will be removed/halted from all platforms – including any patches that may appear in the interim.
Furthermore, Chromium’s Justin Schuh has stated that Adobe “are not opposed to working out solutions for distributing PPAPI Flash to other browsers”. Source : omgubuntu