Blog Post

FSF Urges Google to Kill Flash

Turns out we’re not the only ones speculating about what Google (s GOOG) might do with ON2 Technologies, the video encoding company it finally acquired late last week after months of negotiations with shareholders. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has published an open letter to Google this weekend, suggesting that the search giant should open source ON2’s VP8 video codec and push for its mainstream adoption by making it the default codec for YouTube videos. “You can end the web’s dependence on patent-encumbered video formats and proprietary software,” the letter reads. In other words: The FSF wants Google to kill Adobe’s (s ADBE) Flash.

This idea doesn’t sound as crazy as it was just a few months ago. Google recently started to experiment with HTML5 on YouTube. The FSF now wants to encourage Google to take the next step and commit to open codecs in addition to open standards to deliver what the letter calls “a death-blow to Flash’s dominance in web video.”

Google rolled out limited support for HTML5 on YouTube a month ago, allowing users of current versions of Chrome or Safari to watch a number of videos without Flash after opting into the trial. But the video site still defaults to Flash for videos with ad overlays. The HTML5 videos also don’t play at all in Firefox because YouTube uses the H.264 codec for its trial — a move that has been criticized by open source advocates who have been pushing for using the open Ogg Theora codec instead.

Google’s Open Source Programs Manager Chris DiBona had previously argued that Ogg Theora would need codec quality and encoding efficiency improvements before a site as big as YouTube could use it as its default video codec. The FSF now writes in its letter that it never agreed with these positions, but that Google must have faith in VP8 being a better codec if it invested its money in it (Google spent a total of about $133 million on ON2).

The open source advocacy group apparently realized that Google wouldn’t switch codecs from one day to another, which is why it suggests a number of smaller steps to make VP8 mainstream. “You could interest users with HD videos in free formats, for example, or aggressively invite users to upgrade their browsers (instead of upgrading Flash),” the letter reads, adding that this would eventually lead to users not bothering to install Flash on their computers.

Of course, all of this would only make sense to the FSF if Google made VP8 open source. Without that step, VP8 would just be another codec, the letter reads, and Google would be short-sighted to use VP8 just for its own gains. “You owe it to the public and to the medium that made you successful to solve this problem, for all of us, forever,” it appeals.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Hoggarazzi.

Related content on GigaOM Pro: What Does the Future Hold For Browsers? (subscription required)

56 Responses to “FSF Urges Google to Kill Flash”

  1. This smells like internet marketing to me. Even the headline “Kill Flash” is sensationalized. I wonder who Janko works for–whether he is in the Apple camp or to what degree he wants to attract new readers through hot topics such as this one. Bottom line is that Flash is not going to be killed, neither is Silverlight, etc. That’s not the way the real world works or moves. One silly device such as an iPad will transform the world to the degree that anyone may think. It’s Both /And, not Either / Or.

  2. Wow… So many morons here. First of all, even if Flash was open source, it would still be garbage. Please go look at some HTML 5 content and find something in Flash that is half as good as this:

    Adobe’s implementations of flash have a constant stream of critical risk vulnerabilities, which 99.9% of people use, which is why Flash should just be dumped alltogether, even if it was completely open; nobody would switch to the open versions of Flash because either they don’t know how or the open versions aren’t as “good”, as Adobe can just add new features when they feel like it and pay people to develope their proprietary player.

    Furthermore, Flash is just a stitch that you throw on the browser, dictated by some idiots who don’t know one thing about web technology. HTML 5 was created by the people who develop web standards, to be fully integrated. I think I trust them much more, and it already shows that HTML5 media is far superior to the garbage that is Flash.

    Flash is known for being a slow, bloated, unstable, disgustingly ugly piece of trash. It is far too late, it can never be fixed.

    There are open implementations of Flash, but they are all crap, nobody really gives one crap about making them better anyways, and they shouldn’t because HTML5 media is here weather you like it or not. Your only alternative is to never update your browser for HTML5 compliance, and let it rot in hell because nobody wants some unstandardized piece of crap that doesn’t work on any site.

    Flash is the cancer of the internet.

  3. HTML5 better than Flash is a myth folks..

    If you watch towads the end of the video on the Android HTML5 animation framerate is like 3 – 12 Frames Per Second. Pathetic. While Flash 10.1 is 28-30 FPS and looks pretty normal. I benchmarked HTML5/JS VS. FLASH/AS animations myself using an animated cloth simulations and came up with very similar results about 2 months ago.. HTML5 and Javascript is worse than Flash and Actionscript in chewing up CPU AND MEMORY!! It’s what I suspected. HTML5/JS beats flash only when the animated particles / spites or physics crunching is VERY LITE.. when it is intense (lots of stuff going on at once) Flash is FAR SUPERIOR!!! It’s a fact.

  4. I remember seeing this before when Microsoft had propaganda that “sparkle” was going to be the end of Flash, then SilverLight. Just because you change out YouTube from using flash doesn’t mean it will do much of any damage to its install base. Flash is an open, free technology, that allows developers to write cross browser, cross platform applications. html5 is far from being cross anything as it only partially works in very few browsers, see

    All the Adobe hating is stupid, it is Google and Apple that try and lock you into technologies, even more so than Micrsoft and Adobe, who continually make development tools and platforms that are open to peoples preferences.

    Flash has had touch screen capabilities for years, and my Windows based iPaq had much many more features than the iphone/itouch/ipad. I mean come on it took them 2 years to implement copy and paste. Flashlite applications have run on my Palm for nearly a decade, but Flash on Apple would mean I don’t have to use Apples horrible development environment along with the Apple store so they won’t get a cut in my work. I don’t have to do anything to build to a windows based phone but download either the flash mobile sdk or the dotnet mobile sdk, all free I might add.

    What you don’t get for free is fancy GUI, WYSIWYG development tools like Flex or Visual Studio. That is what you pay for with Adobe and Microsoft, what you pay for with Apple and Google is your privilege to using their very proprietary systems.

    I love the stupid, un-researched posts like…

    “Let’s see you build an Adobe Flash based website without paying Adobe”

    Ok no problem, I use Eclipse with the free flex sdk plug-in, I have never paid Adobe a dime and I have written extremely large Enterprise flash applications. Furthermore the full version of Flex is free to the unemployed and students.

    “Flash is not ‘free software’, it is proprietary.”

    You don’t know what you are talking about, “Flash” is a platform, the swf file format is open source as is the flex sdk and a million other technologies even their binary transfer spec. go to

    “Flash won’t work with touch-screens period.”

    Yes it will it always has, I have a touchsmart PC and my flash apps work great and I have an old iPaq and flash apps work great.

  5. This anti-Flash consortium gathering here is hysterical.

    Flash player spec is already open. On top of that it doesn’t cost a penny to develop for the platform, the Flex compilers are free and the majority of the framework is open source.

    Just to reiterate, in case you anti-progress softheads don’t get it: Flash is already free, Adobe sell an IDE that you don’t have to use – what you gonna do about it? Are you gonna jump all over the thousands of ANSI text editor developers trying to monopolize text editing?

    Flash works because Adobe control it. You want to blow that open? Sure. Let’s conduct a real quick study:

    Is DHTML support consistent across browsers? CSS? XHR? Font rendering?

    Don’t get me wrong, open standards have their quirks -sorry, I mean perks. But what makes Flash strong is the control Adobe have over the format. Write once, view anywhere. Not write N versions where N is the number of browsers you’d like to support times versions in the wild times branches and cross your fingers.

    It doesn’t bother me so much that a few meatheads on here don’t get it, but what does bother me is that the FSF with whom I’d usually agree published that sophist nonsense on their domain. The Apple remark and “death to flash” case in point.

    Oh and philos it does work. Maybe it’s something you’re not doing right.

    • Have you ever tries flash player on different platforms. it just doesn’t work, and has the same problems as browsers with DHTML.

      flash player on linux or mac isn’t even close to the player on windows ( to say that activex version and mozilla version also differes )

      • The IE + Moz plugins are essentially the same machine code. You’re such a liar it hurts.

        As for the DHTML comparison. Another outright lie. The FP10 API is ubiquitous. As is FP9, FP8, FP7… I think you get the point.

        Stop making things up about a technology you clearly don’t understand.

      • so why i have different issues with some flash apps in IE and Firefox ( the versions of player is the same) , if there is “essentialy” no difference in implementation.

        ok, the api is consistent, but the resulting interpretation of swf in flash player across different platforms isn’t. i’m stating this as a user not a developer. if i install flash player on linux or mac i expect the same results as in windows.

        so please don’t call me a liar.

        Flash is a great tool, but until we get the same functionality acros platforms it just fails. and fails bad.

      • Okay then:

        What issues are you getting in IE you don’t get in FF (and vice-versa)?

        In my experience you get the same results across OSs too, with the exception of a small set of very new features (such as hardware acceleration)…

        Besides “speed” what in your mind differs across operating systems?

  6. Carmen Hughes

    I agree with Flash being proprietary and that Adobe fully controls everything about it and makes money from developers who use it. Could that be the reason Adobe is resisting open sourcing Flash and trying to make Apple look like the bad guy? The march of progress is inevitable and that means we will eventually move on to more advanced technologies, beyond proprietary Flash, with more open ones such as HTML5. As to the H.264, there are also lots of big companies in Japan that have already adopted H.264 years ago. I think the writing on the wall is inevitable for H.264 to be the winning codec as well.

  7. john james

    Flash is much more than a video player. Geez why are we seeing all these ‘copycats’ talking about the death of flash. Maybe flash will die one day but not for this reason.

  8. I want to point out that fixing the video codec still does not address patent encumbered audio codecs (MP3, AAC, etc). For this reason, there is no short-term solution to the obstacles preventing Adobe from open-sourcing Flash player. This patent issue also extends to non-media compression codecs or other materials or methods used in the Flash Player code base.

    One step at a time. Go Google! Daddy needs a new open-source video codec!

  9. It is complete flame baiting to interpret FSF’s open letter as a desire to “kill Flash.” Flash is a large-scale platform, encompassing more than just the video viewing subset that this addresses.

    Flash player utilizes an openly published SWF spec, but is not open-sourced due to the decoding it includes for h.264, VP8, and other patent encumbered codecs. FLV is just a wrapper for video files encoded in those codecs.

    The FSF letter is about creating an ecosystem that promotes open and patent unencumbered options. This is more about h.264 and other closed formats than it is about Flash.

    While Adobe could leverage an open-sourced VP8 codec (Flash player already supports it), it would be an irresponsible move to yank the carpet out from under customers who are using the current platform in good faith. Supporting open codecs (and dropping encoding support for closed ones) in Flash CS5 would allow Adobe to slowly wean users off closed video codecs, setting up the possibility for a completely open-sourced Flash player in the distant future. For the near future, Adobe has to support closed codecs until the creative producers and channels reach a tipping point where the transition is seamless to viewers.

    • Colin, did you read the letter?

      Especially these passages?

      “You can end the web’s dependence on patent-encumbered video formats and proprietary software (Flash).”

      “You could do the same with YouTube, for better reasons, and it would be a death-blow to Flash’s dominance in web video.”

      “Steps like these on YouTube would quickly push browser support for free formats to 50% and beyond, and they would slowly increase the number of people who never bother installing Flash.”

      The letter does call h.264 “non-free”, but that’s about it. This is first and foremost about killing Flash.

      • “Steps like these on YouTube would quickly push browser support for free formats to 50% and beyond, and they would slowly increase the number of people who never bother installing Flash.”

        My favourite part I think.

        I’m particularly interested in just whose arse that 50% was pulled from?

        We’ll pretend for a moment that Flash however often it is awfully written, graces the majority of ISP homepages and is common place in many top ranking PC game UIs and IM clients…

  10. Ammar Mardawi

    One of the reasons why Adobe did not open source the flash player yet is the video patent licenses they pay millions for each years. I think if google made VP8 and other on2 video formats open, then Adobe might just open source Flash as well.

  11. Mark Dulcey

    People keep talking about the end of Flash. But even if video moves away from Flash there will still be a niche for it; Flash can always return to its original mission of being a format for animated, scripted vector graphics, which can often be a more efficient way of presenting content than streamed video is.

    • Dave McAllister

      And here you get to use the word “free” as a political statement?

      First, Flash is more than one product. Some are free (as in beer), feel free to use in its binary format. Some are not free (again as in beer). Some of them have parts that are readable (e.g. the SWF specification), some do not (the not-open RTMPE, not to be confused with the open RTMP).

      And free can still mean many things, just as open can. The decision to own the definition “Free software” versus Freeware is an indication of political ideals.

      Using the software for free makes it free software. Not to be confused with “Free Software”

  12. Ben and Scott,

    Flash, the browser plugin from Adobe, is gratis, but is proprietary software. This might not be a gating problem — though the flash format is not subject to any open standards group, making compatibility difficult for other implementers, eg gnash. However, Flash video is patent encumbered, making fully legal free/open source implementations not possible. Taken together, Flash video is very non-free/open.

    Side note: Calling the FSF a “open source advocacy group” is accurate for most people’s level of understanding, but still funny for those who know they dislike the term open source.

    • Dave McAllister

      Actually, Adobe has made the SWF file formats as well as FLV/F4V, MCD all open for creation of anything, including SWF clones. If there is a reason Gnash thinks they can’t use those docs, please talk to us about the concerns.

    • Please, don’t display your ignorance and act as if it is expertise. Flash won’t work with touch-screens period. Mouse and keyboard controls are totally incompatible with the finger, eh? You know so much, but you show so little.

      • Just to clear up 2 things. 1) Flash Player is free, the software to write flash is not. 2) Flash compatibility with touch screens is there, ( has been using it for 2 or 3 years with their own touch screen apps.. Apple chose not to use it in iPad, but it works on any windows pc touch screen)

        I would dump flash in a heartbeat, but then i couldn’t play mafia wars. Don’t peg me as an Adobe supporter, i’m not.. I hate it actually.. But Apple won’t run anything that it can’t make money off of licensing wise, like apps, ringtones, books, etc. If they don’t get a percentage off of each sale, its not on there.

      • Rachel Luxemburg

        Philos — That’s not an accurate assessment of the issues around Flash and touch screens. In short:

        • Hover events do work in Flash content on touch devices.

        • Any issues with mouse input on a touch device are not specific to Flash, but affect all content, including HTML based content. Specifically, content that relies on MIDDLE, RIGHT and / or SCROLL_WHEEL mouse events will need to be updated if you want users on touch devices to be able to use it. This applies just as much to HTML content as it does to Flash content.

        Mike Chambers has a blog post and video going into much more detail on this issue (including a demo video) here:

      • Flash is free to develop.. and Adobe’s own free SDK which can be used on Macs too for all you ‘special’ people out there with your lame macs which apparently never work properly with Flash or Video Games or anything with Lots of Rendering. Nevermind, Macs suck why am I even posting this…

      • @DocNasty You obviously aren’t aware that it is entirely possible to create Flash content without any commercial software from Adobe or anyone else.

        Otherwise I completely agree. Apple doesn’t want it because it won’t make them money and I would dump it myself if I didn’t have a need for it.

      • I play Mafia Wars on an iPhone all the time, it works fine except for the recently added “Properties” tab in New York which is the first invasion of Adobe Flashâ„¢ into this game.

        I think the example you are looking for is Farmville.

      • Sorry, hahaha, but you’re mistaken.

        One can quite easily build a Flash based application (eg a swf) without paying Adobe a penny. The Flex/Actionscript SDK and compilers are free (, and there are various other options as far as generating graphics, all of which can be embedded into the swf using the compiler. It’s my preferred workflow, in fact, to avoid using the Flash IDE entirely. If you’re on a PC, you can use FlashDevelop, which is imho one of the best Actionscript editors out there. And there are various other options.

        No pirating needed.