Flash required for Gmail voice and video chat

You may have heard about Google’s new voice and video chat plugin for Gmail, which lets you use voice and video through the Gmail web interface. You may have also heard that the plugin is standalone (does not require other plugins) or an alternative to using Flash for voice and video chat solutions. Like many, I thought that because Gmail voice and video chat was a plugin, it did not require Flash at all. However, further research showed that this was not the case.

Testing whether Flash was required for the Gmail voice and video chat plugin involved a few steps. First, I needed to make sure I was using a browser that did not have a Flash plugin installed. I booted Windows XP, opened Firefox 3, and went to about:plugins. It confirmed that no Flash player of any kind was installed.

Next, I installed the Gmail voice and video chat plugin. This process completed without any errors or warnings at all and started up Firefox for me when I was finished. Finally, I logged into Gmail and searched for someone that had the plugin installed so I could verify that the plugin was working without Flash.

Finding someone that had the plugin installed was a bit tricky, but eventually I found one. Clicking on the “Video & more” link, produced the following menu:

Video and more menu from Gmail chat

At this point I figured there was little that could go wrong since I had already made it this far without issue. However, clicking the “Start voice chat” or “Start video chat” items in the menu produced this:

Gmail chat error: Flash is required to make a call.  Click here to install now.

For easier quotability and to show you where the link points to, here is the text of the error message:

Flash is required to make a call.
Click here to install now.

So my question was answered: the Gmail voice and video chat plugin requires the Adobe Flash Player.

Prior to running the test, I did some searching to find out for myself if the Gmail plugin required Flash. The results were inconclusive. Some people reported vaguely that they had problems but installing Flash fixed them. A news site claimed that “The video chat feature runs on flash [sic]” without providing any supporting evidence. This wasn’t good enough for me, which is why I ran the tests.

Why would people be led into believing that the Gmail plugin did not require Flash in the first place? Primarily I think this is because people assumed that since the plugin was a true Firefox plugin (not an addon), that it would have all the functionality it needed built-in, without relying on other plugins such as Flash. Indeed, viewing about:plugins after installing the Gmail plugin shows the following new plugins (why it needs a “Google Update” plugin is beyond me – perhaps a topic for a different post):

Name Filename Description MIME Type
Google Talk Plugin npgoogletalk.dll Google Talk NPAPI Plugin application/googletalk
Google Update npGoogleOneClick6.dll Google Update application/x-vnd.google.oneclickctrl.6

Many news reporting sites and commentators were blinded by this assumption and incorrectly reported that the Gmail voice and video chat plugin was free of Flash:

What bothers me especially about this is not that some sites reported the Flash requirement incorrectly (though that bothers me), but that none of the news sites I found reported that Flash was required. I guess everyone assumes we live in a world where everyone has Flash and that this is a perfectly fine assumption to make. I hope my last post has made it clear that such an assumption is not fine as there are good reasons to avoid Flash.

Why doesn’t Google just use Flash for Gmail voice and video chat? It seems that Flash does not support the P2P or NAT functionality that Google requires:

Hopefully this article will finally lay the myth to rest. The Gmail voice and video chat plugin does indeed require Flash.

3 Responses to “Flash required for Gmail voice and video chat”

  • Very interesting, thanks for poking at this.
    Isn’t a relatively fair assumption that anyone willing to install Google’s proprietary plugin would already have been willing to install Flash?

  • Yes, it is a fair assumption, though having to have 3 plugins installed (the 2 listed above for the Gmail plugin and 1 for the Flash player) in order to use a feature seems a bit overkill. And you’re right, there is nothing intrinsically better about the Gmail plugin than the Flash plugin. Both are proprietary plugins for non-standard technologies. Although I don’t believe you need to agree to a “thou shalt not decompile, redistribute, etc.” license for the Gmail plugin. But that’s probably just because Google’s lawyers aren’t on top of it yet.

    My post was more about correcting a widely-held fallacious statement, reported by several popular news sites. There are a couple reasons I felt it needed correcting. First of all, news sites should not be able to get away with making blatantly false statements. I find far too often that the “respectable” news sites fail to cite their sources and tend to pull their facts out of the air or, at best, from hastily-drawn conclusions. Meanwhile, less well-known sites like many personal blogs take the time to cite every single source with inline links and they are somehow considered inferior.

    The second reason I felt a correction needed to be made was that the lack of correct reporting, particularly the lack of any statement from a popular news source that definitively stated the Gmail plugin needed Flash, pointed to a bigger problem. That problem is the reliance Internet users have on Flash. It seems that none of the news reporters had a browser around without Flash installed to test their claim. Why is this? Are we unable to use the Internet without a Flash player? That would certainly be a sad state of affairs. Where has the open Internet gone?

    Furthermore, I could find no sites saying “I couldn’t install the Gmail plugin because I didn’t have Flash and I don’t want to install Flash”. As The iPhone blog points out, Flash is used a lot for annoying ads. It seems the people who might not use Flash for that reason just grin and bear it when Google tells them they need Flash. People should stop putting up with web sites that tell them they need Flash.

  • How do I install a flash for video chat? I already have adobe flash player installed on my laptop

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