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:
- 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.
- Download the tarball (the link is at the bottom of that page).
- There’s only one file inside, libflashplayer.so. Extract it to $HOME/.mozilla/plugins/ (create that directory if it doesn’t exist).
- If Firefox is running, restart it.
- In Firefox, go to the about:plugins page.
- 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.
- Download the latest DEB packaged from the Adobe FTP server.
- 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
- 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)