File Under: Multimedia, Software

Adobe Flash Player 10.1 Arrives

After spending many months on development and beta testing, Adobe has released the latest version of its Flash Player.

You can download Flash Player 10.1 for Mac, Windows and Linux at Adobe’s website. You’ll need to shut down all of your browsers while it installs. There’s a version of Flash Player 10.1 coming for Android, but it won’t be ready until later this summer. A beta version is available in the Android Marketplace if you want to test it out.

This release is significant for a number of reasons. Most of all, the underlying code has been largely re-written to address the platform’s key shortcomings. Anyone who follows the news knows Flash Player has been roundly criticized lately for its performance problems, its battery-sucking tendencies and its security issues. There’s no Flash allowed on iPads and iPhones for these reasons, and Apple (along with others like Mozilla and Opera) is calling for an end to the plug-in’s dominance as a video delivery mechanism on the web.

Microsoft’s competing Silverlight plug-in for video is winning hearts and minds, reaching 60% penetration on web-connected PCs this spring. Adobe says over 95% of web-connected PCs have Flash Player installed.

Persons of great influence are turning their backs on Flash, but Adobe is hoping this update will spark an attitude change. It has rolled in dozens of improvements which directly address the issues of performance, security and power consumption.

As we first saw in the beta release, the runtime has been re-written to consume less system memory, and Flash Player will automatically shut off if it detects that memory is running low. It can also prioritize the amount of processing power being used by each instance of Flash Player that’s running. So if you have several browser tabs open with Flash content displayed in each tab, the movie you’re watching right now will stay running at full power while the idle instances are dialed back or shut off.

These enhancements should prevent nasty problems like Flash Player causing your browser to crash or your entire OS to freeze, which is usually the result of more Flash than your computer can handle at once — something netbook owners know all too well. Mac users will also notice a significant improvement, as the Flash team says it has paid particular attention to Mac OS X and Safari issues in this release.

On the security front, the new Flash Player will fully honor the rules of your browser’s private browsing mode by not caching any data on the local system while private browsing is enabled.

There are a raft of video improvements — we get hardware-accelerated H.264 video decoding, better HTTP streaming that supports dynamic bitrates for live video streams, and support for peer-assisted video streams (aka “Multicasting”). There’s also a new buffering system, so you can pause, rewind and fast-forward streaming video just like you’re watching it on a DVR (as long as the provider is allowing for it).

There’s no mention here of support for the new WebM video format, which Google, Opera and Mozilla launched last month to serve as an open alternative to H.264. But Adobe has pledged support for WebM in Flash Player, so hopefully we’ll see it sooner rather than later.

However, Flash Player 10.1 does support multi-touch input surfaces, one of Steve Jobs’ sticking points in his “Thoughts on Flash” essay about why Apple isn’t supporting the technology. Multi-touch capability isn’t likely to change Apple’s mind about inviting Flash to the table, but this feature will be a huge boon to those Android tablets that are supposed to be showing up any day now to kill the iPad.

This is obviously a huge release for Adobe, as it comes at a time when the company is under attack for its platform’s pitfalls. So, why the weak-sounding 10.1 numbering, which gives the impression that it’s just an incremental upgrade? Wouldn’t it have been better if they had called it Flash Player 11 since there’s so much new here?

We can save the “This Flash Goes to 11″ headline for the next time around.

Another bit of Adobe software got an update today: AIR. We’ll have more on that later.

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