All posts tagged ‘flash’

What the Death of Mobile Flash Means for the Web

Adobe Software has let slip that it plans to abandon its Flash Player for mobile web browsers. Instead, the company will refocus its mobile efforts on web standards like HTML5, along with tools like Adobe AIR, which allows developers to convert Flash content into native mobile applications.

The move comes as something of a surprise given how vigorously Adobe has defended mobile Flash in the past. Lately, however, Adobe has been proposing new web standards and even bought the non-Flash mobile development tool PhoneGap, both of which indicate that Adobe is looking toward a future without Flash.

Indeed, while Adobe’s plans affect only mobile Flash at the moment, the sudden about-face does not bode well for Flash on the desktop. Mobile devices are the fastest growing means of connecting to the web; what doesn’t work on mobile devices will soon not be a relevant part of the web at all.

In abandoning mobile, Adobe is effectively admitting that Flash has no future on the web.

That doesn’t mean Flash will disappear overnight. Nor does it mean that Flash will ever disappear for developers interested in using it. It just means that when it comes to deploying Flash applications, the web won’t be a realistic option. Instead, Flash developers of the future will convert their Flash code into Android, Windows Mobile or iOS apps using Adobe AIR’s conversion tools.

Web developers, on the other hand, will likely abandon Flash if they haven’t already. Without a reliable way to serve Flash content to mobile devices, its web presence will likely continue to decline. Of course the demise of Flash has been inevitable for some time — after all, much of HTML5 was specifically designed to give developers a means of replacing Flash dependencies with native tools — but Adobe’s decision to abandon mobile devices should send a clear message to any developers who haven’t yet read the writing on the wall: Mobile is the future of the web and Flash isn’t part of it.

In the short term, Adobe is merely admitting what most developers already know; there are only two ways to develop for mobile devices: using the web and HTML5 or building platform native apps.

To choose web-based Flash apps over either of these options would mean consciously limiting your app’s audience. Given that neither Apple’s iOS nor Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 supports Flash (nor for that matter will Microsoft’s Windows 8 Metro), developing web apps that relied on Mobile Flash meant targeting only Android and Blackberry users. Adobe’s decision to abandon Flash for Mobile browsers is simply a pragmatic acceptance of the existing development landscape.

Similarly, while we don’t expect it to happen overnight, eventually Adobe will probably abandon Flash Player for the desktop as well — why continue developing a product when very few are using it? The AIR platform and its Flash-based tools for building native mobile apps will still be around to sell the Flash development tools (which is, after all, how Adobe makes money). Adobe simply won’t have any great need to continue pushing Flash on the web.

While some web standards advocates might see the eventual demise of Flash Player as a good thing for the web, we’re not so sure. Web standards were created to ensure that sites and apps work no matter what browser or device you’re using. Web standards were not created for — and have not historically been very good at — driving innovation on the web.

Innovation on the web has more often come from individual vendors — browsers, device makers and, yes, Flash. Flash laid many of the so-called cowpaths that HTML5 is paving in open standards. The audio and video tags for embedding media, the canvas element for animation, and the websockets protocol for communications are just a few of the things Flash helped to popularize on the web. That’s not to suggest that a web without Flash will want for innovation, but it certainly won’t be richer for Flash’s absence when that day arrives.

Photo: Laurence Olivier as Hamlet

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File Under: HTML5, Multimedia

Adobe Hopes Impressive 3-D Graphics Can Save Flash 11

Adobe has announced Flash Player 11, a significant update for the company’s beleaguered browser plugin. Flash Player 11 will give Flash developers access to an impressive set of hardware-accelerated 3-D graphics tools.

Alongside Flash 11 Adobe has also announced version 3 of the Flash-based runtime, Adobe Air.

Flash Player 11 and Air 3 are scheduled for release in early October. Adobe hasn’t set an exact date, but the company’s annual Max conference, which runs October 1-5, seems a safe bet.

Adobe’s Flash browser plugin has taken a beating in the last few years, losing many of its traditional web roles like video or animations to the new features in HTML5. Additionally, the mobile world has not been kind to Flash. You won’t find the plugin on any Apple products, nor will it be part of the upcoming Windows 8 Metro platform.

While there are no doubt many Webmonkey readers who would like to see Flash disappear forever, Adobe continues to push Flash in directions which, so far, HTML5 can’t compete.

For this release that means the world of online 3-D graphics rendering. Flash 11 isn’t trying to compete with HTML5 or even reclaim its former strongholds like video (though for streaming DRM video it remains the only real choice). Instead Adobe is going after the burgeoning online gaming market with an impressive new 3-D rendering API.

The new Stage 3D rendering in Flash 11, nicknamed Molehill, is a very low level API for fully hardware accelerated 2-D and 3-D graphics. Adobe claims that Molehill can “efficiently animate millions of objects on screen, smoothly rendered at 60 frames per second.” The end result, according to Adobe, is “console-quality games” in the browser.

Indeed the videos Adobe has released showing off the new Molehill-based graphics are impressive.

Of course one day WebGL may well mean that Flash 11′s 3-D performance is possible without the Flash plugin. Unfortunately Internet Explorer still lacks WebGL support and WebGL’s performance varies considerably from browser to browser. For now Flash 11 looks to have the edge in 3-D graphics, whether or not that will last remains to be seen.

3-D Graphics aren’t the only thing new in this release, Flash 11 is now a 64-bit application on Windows, OS X and Linux. Adobe has also announced the release of Air 3.0 with improved tools for installing Air and converting Air apps to native iOS and Android applications.

If you hate Flash the latest release probably isn’t going to change your mind. Nor is it likely to convince Apple or Microsoft that Flash should be apart of their OSes. But if you’re a game developer who’d like to build console-quality games on the web, Flash 11 is your friend.

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File Under: Browsers, HTML5, Multimedia

Metro-style Internet Explorer 10 Ditches Flash, Plugins

Windows 8 will have two versions of Internet Explorer 10: a conventional browser that lives on the legacy desktop, and a new Metro-style, touch-friendly browser that lives in the Metro world. The second of these, the Metro browser, will not support any plugins. Whether Flash, Silverlight, or some custom business app, sites that need plugins will only be accessible in the non-touch, desktop-based browser.

Should one ever come across a page that needs a plugin, the Metro browser has a button to go to that page within the desktop browser. This yanks you out of the Metro experience and places you on the traditional desktop.

The rationale is a familiar one: plugin-based content shortens battery life, and comes with security, reliability, and privacy problems. Sites that currently depend on the capabilities provided by Flash or Silverlight should switch to HTML5.

Microsoft has been vigorously promoting HTML5 for the last year and a half as the best way of providing rich interactivity on the Web. HTML5 potentially has reach far beyond that of Flash, since it can target both conventional browsers and closed ecosystems (such as iOS) alike. However, until now, Microsoft’s messaging has been tempered somewhat: use HTML5 when you can, but if you can’t—if you need support for DRM-protected media streaming, for example—then it’s reasonable to switch to an alternative, plugin-based technology.

With Windows 8, however, those reasonable decisions to use Flash or Silverlight will now be heavily penalized. Technically, there’s nothing wrong with the desktop browser, of course; the rendering engine and performance will be identical between both Metro and desktop. But the experience will be substantially inferior. The desktop browser isn’t designed for touch inputs, meaning that users will either have to switch to a mouse and keyboard, or fumble around with an interface that wasn’t built for fingers. The switch to the desktop browser also appears to discard things like back button history and current page state.

This puts the Metro browser in a peculiar position. Microsoft has positioned tablets as merely a different kind of PC. That, the company argues, affords capabilities and features not possible on iPad-style devices. But PCs have browser plugins—more generally, they have the ability to use the right technology for the job. If Metro doesn’t include that flexibility, that could be seen as diminishing the “PCness” of the platform.

HTML5 still isn’t a total replacement for plugin technologies, either. The gap is certainly narrowing: Web Sockets, Web Workers, built-in support for webcams and microphones, and more, are all coming to HTML5 browsers (or are available already), and these features will obviate the need for plugins for many applications. But certain corners are likely to remain; DRM-protected video, for example, might forever be impossible in HTML5, and while many people find DRM distasteful, many broadcasters feel they have little choice but to use it.

The solution to this conundrum on the iOS platform has been the app: companies like Netflix and the BBC have applications to watch video on these devices. The result is that in the desire to push an open, plugin-free Web, companies are being forced to migrate away from the Web entirely. Silverlight developers, at least, will have an easy migration path available to them: the new Metro development environment, used for producing native Metro applications, borrows heavily from Silverlight, and making the switch from an in-browser plugin-based application to a standalone Metro application should be relatively easier. Flash developers will have to wait to see what tools Adobe delivers.

HTML5 design and developer tools also remain weak, though this situation is improving with the creation of products like Adobe Edge.

With Microsoft’s promotion of HTML5, and the precedent set by iOS, the decision to get rid of plugins in the Metro browser is perhaps unsurprising. But it’s not clear that this will truly help Windows 8; the awkward user experience penalizes users who, for no fault of their own, need to use plugins, and detracts from Windows 8′s PC claims. A switch to a more HTML5-powered Web will happen regardless—does Microsoft really need to force the issue like this?

This article originally appeared on Ars Technica, Wired’s sister site for in-depth technology news.

File Under: Software

Review: Dreamweaver and Flash Updates Deliver Mobile Dev Tools

Adobe has released updates for several of its Creative Suite applications, including Dreamweaver and Flash. The new Creative Suite 5.5 adds some new tools designed to target tablets and mobile devices, as well as improved HTML5 and CSS3 support in Dreamweaver 5.5, Adobe’s flagship web development app.

Creative Suite 5.5 Web Premium is $1,800. For those already using CS 5 Web Premium, upgrades are $400. Adobe has kicked off a new subscription-based pricing model, with Web Premium going for $130 per month, or $90 per month if you commit to a one year contract.

What’s New

Dreamweaver 5.5 adds several new HTML5 and CSS3 tools to the mix, including a newer version of the WebKit rendering engine, which Dreamweaver uses for live previews. Dreamweaver’s WebKit renderer is now up to par with what you’ll find in the latest release of Chrome, Safari and most mobile web browsers. That means the Dreamweaver Live Preview and Multiscreen Preview features will mirror what you’ll see later in the browser.

Dreamweaver added the Multiscreen Preview panel in an earlier update, but the latest release is considerably more polished. The Multiscreen Preview panel shows your site design in desktop, phone, and tablet screen sizes, and makes it easy to tweak your CSS so that your site looks nice on any screen.

Combining the Multiscreen Preview with Dreamweaver’s new @media support means the app is considerably more adept at responsive design — that is, making sure that your site looks good regardless of what device it happens to be viewed on.

Multiscreen Preview in Dreamweaver 5.5 (click for larger image)

This release improves Dreamweaver’s ability to work with content management systems like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. The Dynamically Related Files feature provides direct access to any page’s related files, for example, any php files used to render the current URL. While it’s a nice feature, it won’t help those of you working with lower level frameworks like Rails or Django.

The updated Dreamweaver 5.5 even turns to some outside tools to offer even more options for those targeting the small-screen world of mobile devices: Both jQuery Mobile and PhoneGap have been integrated into this release. JQuery Mobile makes it easy to add touch-based events and other mobile tricks to your site, while PhoneGap can convert your HTML, CSS and JavaScript into native mobile apps for Android and iOS. Keep in mind that both of these outside frameworks are pre-1.0 releases, and jQuery Mobile in particular is still an alpha release, so use with caution.

Among the smaller, but nice to see, additions to Dreamweaver 5.5 are support for HTML5 tags in the code hinting. You’ll also find new options to use the HTML5 doctype and more code hinting for CSS3 selectors and attributes.

Flash CS 5.5 also hops on the multi-screen bandwagon with new features to scale objects in the timeline, shared asset libraries and new publishing options for a variety of platforms — Android and iOS as well as traditional Flash movies.

The new content resizing options are especially nice and work a bit more like what you’ll find in other Adobe apps, such as Photoshop. Simply select the content you’d like to resize and either drag, or enter specific dimensions in the dialog box.

Improved resizing tools in Flash 5.5 (click for larger image)

The emphasis on mobile carries over to the new code snippet options as well. Snippets are little chunks of Actionscript designed to handle common events without forcing you to write everything out by hand. Previous versions of Flash include options like button events or data handlers. Flash CS 5.5 adds about 20 new snippets that target mobile devices — gestures, finger events, swiping and so on. Applying snippets is also easier thanks to a new floating panel display that previews code snippets and then allows you to drag and drop the code onto an object on your stage.

Verdict

There are some great new features in both Dreamweaver and Flash, but whether or not either is worth the upgrade depends on what you do with the apps. For designers this is a less compelling upgrade. There are few new tools, but the emphasis in both apps’ new features is clearly on developers working with code, particularly those coding for mobile devices.

At $400 just for the upgrade from CS 5, CS 5.5 is a lot of money for what you get. It’s a much better deal if you’re still using CS 4 or older versions, but it almost seems as if Adobe is using this upgrade mainly to push its new subscription-based sales model.

Scott Fegette, Senior Product Manager at Adobe, says that the company is moving to “a 24 month major release cycle, with interim updates.” Since this is one of those interim updates and will still set you back $400, the subscription model begins to look more appealing. Especially given that with subscriptions updates are automatic — new features are added as the are developed — there’s no waiting for a big release date.

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File Under: Multimedia

New Flash Player 10.2 Goes Easy on the CPU

flash logo[Updated, see below] Adobe has released the first beta of Flash Player 10.2, an update that focuses primarily on speed and performance improvements. New in Flash 10.2 is something Adobe calls “Stage Video hardware acceleration,” which the company claims will “decrease processor usage and enable higher frame rates, reduced memory usage, and greater pixel fidelity and quality.” And the hardware acceleration technology does do all of these things, though your mileage will vary depending on what kind of hardware and software you’re using.

To try out the new Flash Player 10.2 beta, head over the Adobe download page. Be aware that, while 10.2 appears to be relatively stable, it is a beta release and there may be bugs.

The Stage Video hardware acceleration means that Flash Player 10.2 can leverage your graphics card for not just H.264 hardware decoding (which works in Flash Player 10.1) but also color conversion, scaling, and blitting.

Adobe’s press release makes a rather bold claim: “using Stage Video, we’ve seen laptops play smooth 1080p HD video with just over 0% CPU usage.”

Sadly, we have not seen such results. While we won’t argue with the smoothness of the playback in this new release, Flash is still going to use quite a bit of your PC’s CPU. Based on my testing (done on a Macbook Pro laptop using both Firefox 4b7 and Safari 5, and a Mac Pro tower using the same browsers — Wired is an all-Mac office), while CPU usage is down in Flash 10.2, it’s still a long way from zero.

Update: Since this article was published, we’ve been hearing from you, our awesome readers, in the comments and over e-mail. Some things to note: The new beta performs much better on Windows computers than it does under Mac OS X. Also, full hardware acceleration on Mac OS X requires Snow Leopard or later, otherwise it falls back to using software rendering in the CPU. Thanks for the comments, and keep them coming!

On our Macs, we tested several 1080p videos on YouTube in Flash Player 10.1 and found that on average the 10.1 plugin used between 44-48 percent CPU. Watching the same movie in Flash 10.2 did drop the CPU usage down to the 18-22 percent range, but definitely not zero.

Worse, running the same tests on Adobe’s Stage Video optimized demos, Flash 10.2 actually performed worse than than it did on normal 1080p movies with the cpu usage varying widely between 5 and 60 percent (the 18-20 percent range appears to be the norm).

The short story is that, while Flash 10.2 does offer decreased processor usage, it doesn’t quite live up to Adobe’s claims. While Flash Player 10.2′s performance falls short of the hype, there’s no question that it’s a huge leap forward in terms of performance. The smaller CPU footprint alone is well worth the upgrade, provided you don’t mind running beta software. So far Adobe has not set a final release data for Flash 10.2.

One other thing to keep in mind: to take advantage of the new Stage Video tools, sites like YouTube and Vimeo will need to alter their video players. So, it may be some time before the full benefit of Stage Video’s improvements makes it to your day-to-day web browsing.

As for other new features in this release, there’s Internet Explorer 9 GPU support and support for fullscreen mode with dual monitors — meaning that you can have a movie on one screen and keep working on another.

Custom cursors get some love in this release, too, with Flash Player 10.2 handing off the job to the operating system rather than using resources to manually draw custom cursors. The beta also improves text rendering, adding sub-pixel rendering enhancements that should make your typography look a bit nicer and more readable.

It’s worth noting that the Flash Player 10.2 beta does not replace the Flash Player “Square” preview release — in other words, Flash Player 10.2 still isn’t 64-bit native. If 64-bit support is important to you, stick with the Flash Player “Square” preview.

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