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Quite a few minor tremors have been felt on the Linux browserscape recently, and although none of them adds up to a seismic earthshaker the cumulative effect is that the scene looks very different - and much less bleak - than it did six months ago.

The Great Leap Forward was the 0.9 release of Mozilla in the spring, the first unencumbered by tons of debugging code. That's up to 0.9.2 now. Galeon and Konquerer (the KDE file manager) have also bounded along, the former borrowing the Gecko rendering engine from the Mozilla Project, which Konquerer can use too via KMozilla, although the preferred rendering engine is KHTML. (Thanks for the update). Both Galeon and Konquerer add lots of usability improvements.

Now the KDE project added a new twist. Konquerer, the KDE file manager/browser has gained the ability to play ActiveX controls. Not all of them and not perfectly, but in time it could prove enough to provide an alternative to the widely loathed Netscape plug-in model. And that in turn, probably will make as much difference to Linux's prospects as a desktop as anything else.

"WINE could already play Flash and Shockwave," developer Niko Zimmermann told us today. "we just made a wrapper so you can specify which control to load."

The Windows Media Player isn't one of them, although Zimmermann says that WMP did work under WINE in a standalone mode, and the team is looking into fixing it. Macromedia offers a Netscape Flash plug-in for x86 flavours of Linux, but using the new Reaktivate technology in Konqueror is smoother and less buggy, reckons Niko. With co-author Malte Starostik, he's looking at running the ActiveX control to provide QuickTime playback.

Now this isn't the same as a true native player, and with due respect to the WINE team, whose work is nothing short of astonishing, isn't really a long term solution. That'll be better served by native media players, as WINE is limited to x86 Linuxes.

Best of all we suggest, web designers could stop designing sites using the abominable Flash format, or adopt an open animation format. [Update:] Many thanks to those of you who wrote in pointing out that between them, SVG and SMIL perform just this job. SVG is the Scalable Vector Graphics file format, backed by Adobe and recently approved as a W3C standard. SMIL is Synchronized Multimedia Interface Language, and defines the animation and linking semantics. It builds on SVG and much else,

SMIL is pronounced "smile", so if they ever propose the Synchronized Multimedia Interface Language Extensions, they'll be er, smiley?. ®

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