From A Hacker?EUR(TM)s Diary

By Aasis Vinayak Published Date
01 - May - 2008
| Last Updated
01 - May - 2008
From A Hacker’s  Diary

It is incorrect to describe Flash as “open” or “free”, as the SDK is made available under a license that unambiguously prohibits the development of an alternative Flash player. This curbs Freedom!

For us hackers, there is only one word that we mention in every alternate sentence—Freedom. Our Linux distro preferences may speak volumes about our inner selves—some may go all the way with Gnewsense, Ututo or Blag, and some others like me may go for popular distros like Debian with vrms (virtual rms) installed. But the bottom line is the same—we stand for freedom!

For this reason, many of my friends were unhappy at not being able to play their favourite videos on YouTube. Our ideology never allowed us to play files using proprietary software (of course there were free Flash players, but none support anything beyond SWF v4). We had similar problems while accessing the video content of other sites like Google Video,, AOL video and CNN video. Thus, a large segment of information remained inaccessible. But today, we don’t face such problems. Swfdec (compatible with Linux and FreeBSD and chosen as the Flash player for Fedora and been ported to DirectFB for embedded applications alongside its X11 and GTK bindings) and GameSWF have helped us solve the issues to a considerable extent. However, Swfdec did not have ActionScript support. Now we have Gnash more or less in our hands. Yes, Gnash is our own GNU Flash movie player. Moreover, we have swfmill, a free software command line tool, to generate SWF files.

But one may ask, when Flash is available at no cost through a Software Development Kit (SDK) why should we need to go for a change? It is incorrect to describe Flash as “open” or “free”, as the SDK is made available under a license that unambiguously prohibits the development of an alternative Flash player. This curbs Freedom!

Gnash (along with free BIOS, drivers for ATI video cards, and the GCJ Java compiler) is one of the FSF’s high-priority projects. Gnash has many unique features. It can run standalone, has browser plugin, is SWF v7 compliant, supports streaming video content and XML Message server, gives high quality output, offers better security, is extensible (you can extend ActionScript by creating your own) and most importantly, it’s free! It is based on GameSWF, and as mentioned above, it supports many SWF v7 features.

If you are a novice in programming, here is a tool for you—, offers packages that will allow people to try out Gnash without the need to compile the source code. Currently they support Fedora, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and Ubuntu 7. You can get more information from the official group cvs/?group=gnash and keep yourself updated by subscribing to their mailing list at http://lists.

We faced similar problems while building alternatives for programs that run on the .NET platform. Then we launched DotGNU. Free Software Foundation makes it clear that “the DotGNU project was started in reaction to Microsoft’s .NET strategy”.

DotGNU will be a total replacement for .NET (and not just a Free Software implementation). The Portable .NET class library is set to endow with facilities for application development. These are primarily written in C#. But because of the Common Language Specification (CLS) they can be used by any .NET language. And similar to .NET, the class library is structured into Namespaces and Assemblies.

The three main development projects under DotGNU are—DotGNU Portable.NET (an implementation of the Common Language Infrastructure to run C# and C applications), phpGroupWare (a multi-user Web-based GroupWare suite intending to provide an excellent collection of Web service components that can be accessed through XML-RPC) and DotGNU Execution Environment (Web service server). You can give it a try too! Just point your browser to and get the source tarballs (Portable.NET x86 JIT).

It’s not just the programming world that GNU is helping—it’s universal. One of our latest projects——falls under this regime. Being the founder and maintainer of this project, it’s my pleasure to introduce this project in this space. “Creating the beginning of a world of free educational materials” is what Prof. Richard Stallman, Founder GNU / LINUX, commented about the venture. You may read more about the venture from the welcome note by Prof. Stallman at Further, you may find one thing in common—even in this. All the ventures are guided by the same spirit—The spirit of Freedom! 

About the Writer
The writer is the developer of Mozhi (—an Indian Language search engine, and the CEO of The Analyst Magazine (www.the and Free Lecture Notes (www.freelecture His research work / publications in Computer Science and Physics are available at

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and are not intended to represent the views of Digit.

Aasis VinayakAasis Vinayak