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, lib​flash​play​er​.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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