Rhea Myers

Web Freedom

Gnash is freeing web users from proprietary software and HTML 5 can free them from proprietary formats.

The world wide web became invaluable to society and to the economy because it was based on open standards that were easy to use and even easier to copy and improve examples of. To protect the value that comes from this openness we must protect the freedom of computer users who access the web through software on their local computer.

The biggest current restriction on web users’ freedom is Adobe’s Flash player and its “swf” file format. Flash has become an unavoidable part of using the web but neither Adobe’s Flash player nor its swf file format are free. To make sure that web users’ freedom is not compromised when they cannot avoid Flash, the free Gnash swf player has been written.

Gnash currently supports Flash 7 and some of Flash 8. It will support Flash 9 later in 2009. If you develop websites to support Flash 7, please test them against Gnash and report any differences in behaviour to the Gnash project as bugs to help improve the Gnash player. Please also let users of your site know that they can use it with Gnash and where to find and install Gnash.

As well as playing swf movies using free software there are free software authoring tools for swf files. For ActionScript there is MTASC, and for images and sound and other media there is swfmill. Other solutions are available. With the Emacs ActionScript mode and the GNU Autotools tool chain it is possible to write and compile Flash movies very efficiently.

But it is increasingly possible to avoid using swf altogether. Modern web browsers support sophisticated graphics, sound, video and interaction using HTML 5, Javascript and “AJAX”. For examples see sites such as this one -
Rich interactive media experiences that would not have been possible online a few years ago can now be created using open standards. The quality and power of web standards multimedia has increased greatly in just the first few months of 2009. Do take a look at what can be done now, you will be pleasantly surprised.

If you can do so, replacing Flash with HTML 5 and Javascript is better than supporting Flash with free software.

It is important to use open standards and free software, but it is also important to pass on that freedom. The software that you write in JavaScript or ActionScript must also be free. Richard Stallman’s new essay “The JavaScript Trap” explains how to do this for JavaScript, and it is possible to add a source download button or menu option to swf movies. Use  Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike licence (not NonCommercial-ShareAlike) for media, and the GNU GPL for scripts. Or, if you must, CC-BY and the X11 licence.

In summary, make sure that any Flash swf movies you create work with Gnash and give any help you can to the Gnash project. Move new sites onto open standards such as HTML 5 and Javascript. And licence code and multimedia in a way that protects web users freedom.