Today Adobe announced that Flash Player 9 will gain support for standards-based H.264 video , which will enable compatibility with MPEG-4, QuickTime, and 3GP mobile video content. H.264 support is coming in an imminent update “dot” release, a beta of which will be available on Adobe Labs later today.
Flash Video is of course already broadly proliferated on the Internet. But until now Flash Video has been limited to specialized codecs that have had limited adoption on mobile devices, not much integrated HW acceleration, and not a great deal of choice iin software encoding tools. Now we can have the best of both worlds: seamless end-user experiences in Flash Player, and interoperability with a wide variety of video creation tools and device and PC HW-acceleration options. This announcement is also another strong demonstration of Adobe’s commitment to the open standards community.
Adobe Digital Editions, our new application for reading and managing eBooks and other digital publications, is built on an extended Flash Player 9 runtime (in effect a precursor to Adobe AIR). Digital Editions 1.0 was just released in June, but we are already hard at work on an update to, among other things, localize to a number of languages. We decided some time back to synch our update with the impending “MovieStar” Flash Player dot release – but until today couldn’t disclose one of the key underlying motivations. I believe the added benefit of H.264 video support definitely makes it worth the wait. Many publishers are eager to enhance learning and entertainment experiences by adding video to eBooks and other digital publications: the ability to choose a standards-based video encoding will be a big plus, and is consistent with Digital Editions native support of open standards PDF and EPUB.
Google, Others Contest Copyright Warnings , today in the WSJ, notes a pending complaint that the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) , a trade group in which Google, Microsoft and others are members, is filing about copyright notices that, according to the CCIA, mislead users by not noting legitimate fair-use reproduction rights. What Google’s role, if any, in the complaint is not entirely clear, but it certainly seems ironic that Google is being associated with this complaint, at the same time as they are putting putting highly misleading notices on scanned public domain works:
The Google notice, found as page 1 on downloadable PDFs of public domain works available via Google Book Search, “asks” users to:
Make non-commercial use of the files. We designed Google Book Search for use by individuals, and we request that you use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes…
Maintain attribution The Google “watermark” you see on each file is essential for informing people about this project and helping them find additional materials through Google Book Search. Please do not remove it.
There is clear U.S. precedent that scanning a public domain work does not create a new copyright so there seems to be absolutely zero legal basis for restricting use or forcing users to preserve inserted per-page watermarks-cum-advertisements.
In previous email-list discussions some have argued that Google is only “asking” users to not do these things. Yet putting the above in a sternly-worded “Usage Guidelines” notice (containing phrases like “Keep it Legal”) certainly makes it sound like it’s intended to convey to users the impression of restricted rights. And it hasn’t been entirely clear whether Google is claiming contract-based usage restrictions between it and users of Google Book Search.
So Google: which is it? If I make commercial use of one of these files or remove Google’s watermark advertisements am I violating a contract with Google or otherwise breaking any laws (in which case terms like “ask” and “request” are disingenuous)? Or, am I not in violation of anything legally (in which case your current notice seems at least as misleading as anything being complained about)?
Personally I hope that the latter is Google’s position and that, in the spirit of “do no evil” and to avoid undermining the FTC complaint it may be backing, Google will revise their notice to make it clear that it is perfectly legal for users to make commercial use of their files and/or remove their per-page watermarks.
My position is based on the principle that what’s in the public domain must stay in the public domain. That a deep-pocket corporation chooses to pay for digitization is meritorious but doesn’t give that corporation the right to dictate subsequent usage. If that company is the prevalent entry gate for discovery, and so can arrange that “its” copy of a work, rather than any other digitized copy, is the most widely utilized, the potential for undue corporate intrusion into the public domain is obviously even higher.
Today we announced the release of Adobe Digital Editions 1.0. Digital Editions is a lightweight consumer-focused application for acquiring, reading, and managing eBooks and other publications, and is the centerpiece of Adobe’s expanded digital publishing strategy. Free download here, or better yet experience the streamlined “install and read” of a free sample eBook from our sample library.
Digital Editions has many unique characteristics. The fact that we squeezed native PDF support, Flash support, and a consumer-friendly user interface into a 3MB download ought to be enough to turn some heads. But what I’m most excited about is that Digital Editions supports the new EPUB format in addition to PDF. EPUB (aka OPS), is an open standard, a reflowable XHTML-based format, packaged in a single-file container, that I believe will do for dynamic documents what PDF has done for paginated final-form documents. It will take a little while for publishers to fully adopt EPUB, but we’ve provided a key enabler by supporting one-button EPUB authoring for Digital Editions as a feature of the new new InDesign CS3. With PDF for final-form content and EPUB for “liquid” content that adapts to the user’s display size and preferred font size, I believe we have achieved an open standard format platform that the industry as a whole will rapidly adopt, and finally end the “Tower of eBabel” of competing proprietary formats.
And as mobile devices become more and more prevalent, and as content needs to be sliced and diced and augmented in new and different ways that don’t necessarily mach up with paper-like pages, I believe EPUB has the potential to be at least as important to the future of portable documents as today’s PDF.
Getting back to the product, the commercial release of Digital Editions is a huge step forward from our Adobe Labs public beta releases. It adds support for bookmarks, highlights, and text notes (stored in an open XML format to facilitate future social networkign features), multiple bookshelves in Library view, and sports a reworked user interface that improves reading navigation, TOC display and addresses a host of issues. Publisher and content distributor support has been very strong.
The Labs beta process was definitely a tremendous accelerant – enabling us to engage with customers and partners and evolve the product much faster than a traditional shrink-wrapped software development cycle. We had close to 400,000 downloads during the 9 month process: a bit more than is probably ideal to experience the “first pancake off the griddle”, especially when some of them were users who hadn’t necessarily made an explicit decision to use not-ready-for-prime-time beta wares, but had simply upgraded to Reader 8 and therefore needed our Digital Editions companion software to read their eBooks. Certainly it’s a very different way to deliver software to make 4 public releases over an 8 month period. But overall our users have been patient with us, and as a result the 1.0 release benefits from customer-feedback-driven changes that make it, in my mind, signficantly more mature than a typical 1.0 process. We probably were a bit too ambitious in the changes we decided to make from our beta to 1.0 – but I’m really impressed that the team pulled it off.
The 1.0 release is available for Mac (PPC & Intel native) and Windows (XP, Vista, and Windows 2000). And today at the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference we are also demonstrating a desktop Linux version that will be in public beta soon. Mobile/device support is also coming, as evidenced by our announcement today that Sony wil be incorporating Digital Editions capabiliities, including EPUB and Adobe DRM support, into the Sony Reader product line.
For those publishers who require DRM capabilities, we have also debuted a new hosted service for content protection, Adobe ADEPT. More later on ADEPT and all the issues around DRM. I also want to highlight the Flex-based development of Digital Editions, which in many ways is Adobe’s first AIR (aka Apollo) style application. But that will also have to wait for another post.
Gilbane’s Steve Paxhia writes that many publishers are experiencing “Kodak Moments”.:
…changes in customer expectations that are easily as profound as those experienced by the Photography industry. They don’t just want their information to be more timely and less expensive, they also want their information to concisely answer their questions and seamlessly integrate with their work flows or learning styles.
Perhaps the most significant change is the redefinition of the EDU [Economic Delivery Unit]… In the digital world, authors and publishers are potentially freed from the strictures of printing economies. Therefore, information currently found in textbooks, references, magazines and journals can be rendered as as short information objects or more comprehensive content modules. Or publishers can produce information objects or content modules that are not anticipated to ever take book form. The objects can be delivered in many ways including search engines such as Google. These new EDUs can be purchased or licenses separately or mixed and matched to create a course of instruction or a personal reference work.
Drilling down, Steve notes a stumbling block:
To many publishers, the perfectly formatted page has become almost an art form. They consider those pages to have many of the same aesthetic values that Kodak attributed to images produced via their traditional film technologies… Because books and computer screens represent quite different form factors, the value of the perfect page can actually limit rather that enhance the effective presentation of information in digital formats. … Publishers that cling to the page metaphor are putting their futures in jeopardy.
In the digital world it’s clear that the “perfect page” (and its standard representation, PDF) will still have important roles to play. For many kinds of highly composed content – children’s books, elaborately inset textbooks, coffee table books – it doesn’t make much sense to think about “reflowing” to different sized displays, any more than it makes sense to chop up a perfect photograph. But for many types of content, it will pay off to “keep it liquid” for improved reusability, accessibility, and mobile readability. That’s why Adobe is promoting the new IDPF OPS reflow-centric XML format as a complement to PDF . We’re supporting OPS in our new Digital Editions client software and InDesign CS3 publishing tools.
Next month O’Reilly Conferences is holding a new conference on publishing technology: Tools of Change, June 18-20 in San Jose, California. This should be a great venue for exchanging ideas about these tremendous business and technology challenges facing the publishing industry – hosted by an organization that has been at the head of the pack on everything from eBooks to XML content repositories to Web 2.0. Adobe is one of the sponsors of TOC and our CEO Bruce Chizen is speaking. You can look forward to seeing some exciting new stuff from us (after all, it’s taking place in our back yard). So if you are involved in charting the future of publishing, as a publisher or vendor, I hope you will consider joining Tim O’Reilly and team at TOC. Early bird registration ends Monday 5/8, so “act now, operators are standing by“.
Interesting article -”Is Print Dead? Not on Your (Second) Life” in Advertising Age. In the process of arguing for the future viability of print, author Robin Steinberg acknowledges the increasingly critical role of digital content. It’s no longer a “print industry”, so “Is Print Dead?” is really the wrong question, even though the answer is a resounding “No”. Via (ironically) the Print Is Dead blog and Peter Brantley.