The Firefox 2
web browser is undoubtedly one of the most important applications
running on the Linux desktop.
Your author has been running Firefox for many years now. It is
generally user friendly, the features that it has are
useful, normally it doesn't get in the way of the user and crashes are rare.
The Linux desktop would clearly not be the same without it.
One exception to this generally happy situation involves the handling of
non-standard audio and video formats. Take, for example, the extremely
common mp3 audio format. For reference, we'll be working with the
Firefox version 126.96.36.199 on Ubuntu 7.10, both current releases.
Firefox on Ubuntu is set up to use
Totem, a GNOME
movie player for playing mp3 files. Unfortunately, across quite a
few releases of Ubuntu, your author has never had any luck getting Totem
to play an mp3 file, clicking on an mp3 link causes Totem to fire
up, then it simply freezes.
If you don't mind having a bit of closed-source software on your machine,
RealPlayer 10 is a basic mp3 player
with a simple GUI control panel that can be connected to Firefox.
Here's how the installation was performed: the RealPlayer10GOLD.bin
file was downloaded to a user directory, the downloaded file was
executed, then the realplay command was executed manually
in order to answer the installation and license questions.
The libstdc++5 package had to be installed for realplay to run.
Once realplay was initialized, things got more complicated.
It was necessary to become root, visit the /usr/lib/firefox/plugins/
directory, remove the default libtotem files and restart
Firefox. Downloading an mp3 file caused Firefox
to display a popup window that prompted the user to select an
appropriate player. The appropriate player was selected and
things now worked. This process is easy the second time around,
but a lot of digging through documentation was required initially.
Now, lets say you want to watch a new Hot Tuna video on
You Tube. This case is a bit easier than setting Firefox up to
play mp3 files. You Tube directed the browser to the
Adobe Flash Player Download Center.
The software was downloaded, unzipped and extracted with tar.
The flashplayer-installer command was executed and it put a
copy of libflashplayer.so in the ~/.mozilla/plugins directory,
the plugins directory may require manual creation.
Firefox was restarted and Hot Tuna played.
Another example of a common browser plugin is Java. It can be
interesting to look at weather radar on the US
If you click on the Loop buttons, Firefox will tell you
that it needs to have Java installed.
Unlike older versions,
this version of Firefox/Ubuntu brought up a menu for choosing Sun's
Java or GCJ. GCJ was chosen and seemed to install correctly, but was
not able to display the radar movie. Once installed, removal of the
faulty GCJ became a mystery. Installing the Sun Java manually seemed
to overwrite the correct links, although the GCJ files are still sitting
on the system in some unknown location, taking up disk space.
The new magic only seems to work the first time Java needs
to be installed.
The Java software was found on the Sun Microsystems
Download Center for
Java(TM) SE Runtime Environment 6 Update 3.
Java was downloaded and the jre-6u3-linux-i586.bin file was executed.
The installation/license questions had to be answered and
the software was installed. Again, it was necessary to go to
the ~/.mozilla/plugins directory and make a symbolic link
back to the installed jre/jre1.6.0_03/plugin/i386/ns7/libjavaplugin_oji.so
file. Not something your grandmother would want to do.
Firefox was restarted and the radar movies work.
These examples may not be the most optimal solutions, but they
were effective for achieving the desired results.
To get the above three plugins running,
it was necessary to modify either the
system-wide or user-specific plugin directories.
In one case, symbolic links were used to point to the installed
libraries, in another case the library was copied directly.
There does not seem to be any kind of standard technique in use.
Firefox has an internal about:plugins URL to
display the plugin list. On one test machine, the plugin list
was missing any entry for realplayer, but the player was installed
and functioning. Unlike the about:config URL, there is no way
to modify anything shown in about:plugins.
It seems like the adding of plugins should be possible using
the Firefox menus.
Clicking on Edit->Preferences->Content->File Types [Manage]
brings up the Download Actions window, but that window seems to be
crippled. There is no "Add" button, only a "Change Action"
button that works on a limited number of pre-defined file extensions.
There is no MP3 or JAVA extension to be found. Again, the list of
plugins does not show everything installed.
Some of the plugin confusion is likely the result of different methods
used by the various plugin software writers. However, that is likely
caused by having too many ways to do one thing.
This section of Firefox really looks like it could use a code
review. Some work on simplifying the interface and the addition of
some basic features would go a long way toward improving the end user
experience. Managing plugins under Firefox really should be a lot
easier to do.
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