The Back Road to Browser Plug-Ins12/13/2001
FreeBSD is a powerful web server, but it has a few problems as a web client. The issue that annoys me most is plug-ins. Plug-ins are not available for most Unix platforms. While most of the truly important content on the Web (such as, www.sluggy.com) is still in basic HTML or standard graphics format, I keep stumbling across sites that present information in some other manner.
Now, "browser plug-ins" are simply programs that display files.
FreeBSD has a wide variety of file viewers in the ports collection --
perhaps I could simply wire those into the browser somehow? A quick
Web search shows that someone who can actually write code already thought of this years ago, and wrote glue code to do exactly this. FreeBSD includes two programs that work with the Netscape plug-in API:
My tests were done with Mozilla built for FreeBSD. The browsers integrated into KDE and Gnome both support the Netscape plug-in API and would probably work just as well. (Mozilla might be big, but it's smaller than either KDE or Gnome.) Other browsers are problematic.
The latest version of FreeBSD Netscape has several gaping security holes, and shouldn't be used for any reason. Also, if you're running a browser in Linux mode (such as Linux Netscape), these programs won't work. You cannot link FreeBSD binaries directly with Linux binaries, although each can call the other as external programs. And if anyone out there decides to implement the Netscape API in Lynx or some other text-mode browser, let me know!
The mailing list archives showed that many people had gotten Xswallow
to work well, so I tried that first. This easily swallowed three days
of my copious free time. First,
xswallow is an
binaries do not work with ELF programs. It worked just fine with the
obsolete, insecure FreeBSD Netscape, but not with a more modern Web
browser in ELF binary format. I eventually got
xswallow to compile in
ELF format, but it wouldn't work with Mozilla. (I now understand much
a.out and ELF binaries, though!)
I gave up and installed
plugger port installed quite a
few file-viewing programs. The homepage includes several sample
pages that you can use to test your plug-ins. To my surprise,
the first sample I tried fired up an embedded
xanim and started
showing a looped clip from Star Wars. I didn't have to configure
Then I tried the MIDI test page. Everything crashed with the error:
open /dev/sequencer: Device not configured
So I became root, went to
sh MAKEDEV snd0, and
/dev/sequencer appeared. This sort of thing frequently requires a
reboot, so I restarted my laptop and tried again. It still didn't
A brief check of the FreeBSD-multimedia mailing-list archives
revealed the problem: FreeBSD version 4 does not support MIDI. I
needed a software MIDI player. The archives repeatedly suggest
/usr/ports/audio/timidity++, which the
plugger port already installed.
I thought the port might be built wrong, or needed configuring, so I
went digging. In the port message file,
/usr/ports/audio/timidity++/pkg-message, I found the following hint.
=========================================================== You need "Gravis Ultra Sound" compatible patch files to play MIDI files. See http://www.goice.co.jp/member/mo/timidity/link.html ===========================================================
If I had installed
timidity++ on its own, this would have been the
last thing I'd seen. Because it came as part of the
plugger port, it zipped past when I wasn't even looking.
The given URL directed me to
http://www.stardate.bc.ca/eawpatches/html/default.htm, where I found a
set of Gravis Ultra Sound patches called "Eawpatches." It was a big
file in RAR format. That meant I needed
I downloaded the file, started the RAR install, and went to dinner.
When I returned, I extracted Eawpatches into
/usr/local/share/timidity. I also edited the
timidity.cfg file in
that directory to replace all the Windows
C:\ paths with
/usr/local/share/timidity. The next time I fired up the web browser,
the MIDI music and the rest of the samples played just fine.
plugger and Mozilla display an astonishing variety of
content. Installing the
mozilla-flashplugin port took care of Flash
sites. Once the FreeBSD Java folks get the Java 1.3.1 plug-in
working, I won't ever need a web browser program in Linux-mode again.
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