The abil­i­ty to run in a com­plete­ly 64-bit envi­ron­ment is a major ben­e­fit of Lin­ux over the com­pe­ti­tion. With every­thing open source, the com­mu­ni­ty can port and com­pile appli­ca­tions to new archi­tec­tures with ease.

On Win­dows, you have to suf­fer from the fact that just about every­thing is pro­pri­etary. If there’s no 64-bit ver­sion of your appli­ca­tion, you’re forced to run it in a degrad­ed (com­pared to the rest of the OS) 32-bit mode. Even worse, if there’s no 64-bit dri­ver for your hard­ware then you can’t use it at all. You’re at the mer­cy of the ven­dor, and if the hard­ware is no longer being sold then there real­ly is no eco­nom­ic incen­tive for them to write a new dri­ver for you. Once Win­dows 7 comes out, you’ll prob­a­bly be back to square one (since most dri­vers are OS ver­sion-spe­cif­ic).

What hap­pens when you have a pro­pri­etary piece of soft­ware on Lin­ux? For­tu­nate­ly there are very few of these worth using. For the ones that are, the sit­u­a­tion isn’t too dif­fer­ent than on Win­dows.

Take Adobe Flash, for exam­ple. Adobe (and before them, Macro­me­dia) have claimed that port­ing the code base to x86_64 is no walk in the park. On Lin­ux, the means of deal­ing with this has been to use nsplug­in­wrap­per to coax the 32-bit Flash plug-in to work inside a 64-bit Web brows­er. Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, there’s been devel­op­ment on free run­times for Flash media, like gnash and swfdec. The ‘solu­tion’ on Win­dows and Mac OS X is tru­ly sub­op­ti­mal: run a 32-bit Web brows­er. If you’ve ever used Win­dows 64-bit, you’ll notice that Microsoft bun­dle both 32- and 64-bit ver­sions of some of their soft­ware, with most icons point­ing to the 32-bit vari­ants. On the plus side, the user gen­er­al­ly is none the wis­er.

Adobe have made avail­able a pre-release ver­sion of their x86_64 Flash 10 plug-in for Lin­ux (still no luck for oth­er oper­at­ing sys­tems, AFAIK). I haven’t had any trou­ble with it, and from what I’ve read it’s been well received in the com­mu­ni­ty.

Here are the steps to install it for Fire­fox:

  1. Unin­stall any exist­ing Flash pack­ages that you may have installed. Pack­age names include flash­plu­g­in-installer, flash­plu­g­in-non­free, adobe-flash, mozil­la-plu­g­in-gnash and swfdec-mozil­la.
  2. Down­load the tar­ball (the link is at the bot­tom of that page).
  3. There’s only one file inside, libflashplayer.so. Extract it to $HOME/.mozilla/plugins/ (cre­ate that direc­to­ry if it does­n’t exist).
  4. If Fire­fox is run­ning, restart it.
  5. In Fire­fox, go to the about:plugins page.
  6. Look for the entry called Shock­wave Flash to con­firm it has been installed.

Warn­ing: You are man­u­al­ly installing a pre-release ver­sion of a pro­pri­etary Web brows­er plug-in. This can have secu­ri­ty impli­ca­tions. Because it is not man­aged by the oper­at­ing sys­tem’s pack­age man­ag­er, you need to man­u­al­ly make sure that you stay up-to-date to avoid secu­ri­ty vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties.

Adobe Read­er does not have an x86_64 vari­ant for Lin­ux, so you’ll have to install the 32-bit ver­sion.

  1. Down­load the lat­est DEB pack­aged from the Adobe FTP serv­er.
  2. To install from the com­mand-line, you’ll need to tell dpkg to ignore the archi­tec­ture of the pack­age:
    $ sudo dpkg -i --force-architecture AdbeRdr9.1.0-1_i386linux_enu.deb
  3. Launch it from the Appli­ca­tions > Office desk­top menu.

Warn­ing: Just as with the Flash-plug-in, be aware that you are installing soft­ware from out­side of the oper­at­ing sys­tem’s repos­i­to­ries, and that you are respon­si­ble to keep this pack­age up-to-date.

You’re prob­a­bly won­der­ing why you would need to do this when there are sev­er­al great, free PDF read­ers out there. I almost always use Evince, but there are a cou­ple of rea­sons why I like to keep Adobe Read­er around:

  • some PDF files don’t work prop­er­ly in the free read­ers
  • most Win­dows users use Adobe Read­er, so it’s good for test­ing (just as it’s use­ful to keep a Win­dows VM around to test Web sites against Inter­net Explor­er)

LotD: autonomo.us — Towards Free Net­work Ser­vices

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