Installing Flash on Linux, for Newbies (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Sun, 13 Sep 2009

Installing Flash on Linux, for Newbies

Dear Adobe: Please update your instructions when you update your install packages

I had a circus a few nights ago trying to help my mom get her flash plugin updated. Not because of anything she was doing; because Adobe's out of date instructions were just plain wrong.

It gave me more insight into why people say "Linux is hard to use" ... which has little to do with Linux, and everything to do with outside forces that seem to go out of their way to make things hard for Linux users.

See, Mom's Firefox auto-updated to a new version, which started whining about her flash version being insecure and telling her to update it. It pointed her to Adobe's site, get.adobe.com/flashplayer.

She went there and was presented with a long list of options for different types of download. She's on Ubuntu, so the Ubuntu deb might have worked -- but it might not, since she's running a Firefox from Mozilla.org rather than the one from Ubuntu. (Ubuntu's Firefox on Hardy was notoriously crashy, and she has enough problems with the Mozilla version crashing.)

I told her I usually use the tarball, and install it as myself, not as root. In the past, the flash installer has always been very good about noticing I'm not root and installing to ~/.mozilla/plugins. I didn't expect problems.

So she downloaded the tarball and tried to follow their instructions, which look like this:

  1. Click the download link to begin installation. A dialog box will appear asking you where to save the file.
  2. Save the .tar.gz file to your desktop and wait for the file to download completely.
  3. Unpackage the file. A directory called install_flash_player_10_linux will be created.
  4. In terminal, navigate to this directory and type ./flashplayer-installer to run the installer. Click Enter. The installer will instruct you to shut down your browser(s).
  5. Once the installation is complete, the plug-in will be installed in your Mozilla browser. To verify, launch Mozilla and choose Help > About Plug-ins from the browser menu.

The first problem is "Unpackage the file." Honestly, how hard is it to give people a hint that "unpackage" means "type tar xf install_flash_player_10_linux.tar.gz"? As long as you're writing instructions anyway, why not tell people the actual command instead of expecting them to figure it out somehow?

"In terminal, navigate to this directory" -- if you know your user will be typing shell commands in a terminal, why not tell them to cd rather than expecting them to figure that out from "navigate"? (Mom figured that one out -- go Mom! -- but a lot of users wouldn't.)

Except -- OOPS! try following the instructions and you can't cd ... because it turns out the flash 10 "installer" doesn't contain a directory, or indeed an installer, at all. It's a tarball containing one file, libflashplayer.so.

Now, setting aside the question of why anyone would use tar to package a single file -- why not just make the file available for download and tell users where to put it? -- they give you no hint as to where this libflashplayer.so file is supposed to go. If you don't happen to know how Firefox sets up its plugins, you're out of luck.

Fortunately, I happen to know where the file goes. I told Mom to mv libflashplayer.so ~/.mozilla/plugins/ and all was well. But ... sheesh! With instructions like this on something as (unfortunately) widely needed as the Flash plugin, how can a newbie ever expect to get anywhere?

For newbies reading this, the real instructions for installing Adobe's flash 10 tarball are:

  1. Download their file, which is named install_flash_player_10_linux.tar.gz
  2. Open a terminal and cd to wherever you downloaded it, e.g. cd ~/Desktop
  3. tar xf install_flash_player_10_linux.tar.gz
  4. mv libflashplayer.so ~/.mozilla/plugins/
  5. Restart firefox, make sure flash works, and (once you're sure, at your option)
    rm install_flash_player_10_linux.tar.gz

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[ 22:53 Sep 13, 2009    More linux | permalink to this entry ]