Author Archive: Steve Wolkoff

I Left My Heart In FMS …

I know the title is grammatically suspect, but the sentiment is true.

I was recently offered the opportunity to join a “seed project” at Adobe – a new business initiative that takes a product from concept to launch a short period of time. I can’t talk yet about what the project is – only that it involves real time communications within Flash, Flex, and Apollo applications.

It was a difficult decision to leave FMS – the team is amazing and the product is at the forefront of the Flash Video explosion. However, the chance to start from a blank slate – to work with a small, talented, focused team to bring a new idea from whiteboard to market – was too fun to pass up.

I’m going to try to use this blog to track our progress and document what it’s like to work for a startup within a multi-billion dollar company. Next post: how we pulled off our “justify your existence” presentation to the executive team (a/k/a “please don’t cut our funding”). Also, how Darwinism functions in the ecosystem of a large corporation … stay tuned :-)

DRM for Hackers, Or, Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Oh, the irony. PSP firmware hackers want to encrypt startup screens to protect their rights and reputations as content creators, so one of them has created a content encyption scheme (i.e. DRM)

I truly sympathize with the motivations behind this effort. As Xart, the creator of this tool says on the forums

“That is why I am using DAS, to fully protect work that I spent a lot of time on.”

Unfortunately, that same exact argument is made by Sony, Universal, Disney, Viacom, and every other media company that wants to use DRM – They want to protect the work that they spent time and money building. (Note: this is a thought experiment, not a defense of the enforcement practices of the RIAA, MPAA, or other body.)

I’d be willing to be good money that Xart and the other folks on the PSP homebrew forums are stridently “anti-DRM”. (I put scare quotes there, because in online discussion today, being pro-DRM is like being pro-headaches, or pro-expensive auto repairs. DRM is a bogeyman, and is past being a useful term for discussion.)

The irony is lost on most of the commenters, many of whom simply want to use it to protect their own content:

” So… you mean that we can encrypt our games? Cool! Just like Sony…”

One commenter brings some specific knowledge of security:

[I]f the key is in your program, and the encrypted data is in your program, and the algorithm to decrypt it is in your program, (and all three have to be if you want to decrypt your stuff at any point on the PSP), then anyone with a disassembler (or psplink and gdb) and enough free time can find it, reverse it and alter it any way they like. Security through obscurity is not real security.

Well, there’s the rub with any DRM scheme. If you give the end user the program, the key, and the algorithm, you’ve already defeated your own encryption scheme. (Good references here and here)

I don’t have much more to say – only that we need to re frame the DRM discussion away from that toxic term and the easy to hate corporate monoliths, and focus on the reality – that people, real, warm-blooded, living breathing artists of all stripes (musicians, videographers, PSP firmware hackers) want and need legal and technological tools to protect the value of their unique creations.

I agree with the spirit of “anti-DRM” movements but I can’t help but feel that the time and energy should be spent less on being anti-something that’s bad, and more pro-something that’s better.

[SW: Edited for clarity and typo correction]

New Platforms Are Exponentially Expensive

An interview with Microsoft’s Amir Majidimehr, corporate vice president for Consumer Media Technology, provides a glimpse into Microsoft’s vision and strategy for digital media.

There’s a bit of corporate apparatchik speak(“the great strength, quality, and flexibility of Windows Media should not be limited to PCs only”), but Majidimehr speaks openly about the challenges that Microsoft has faced in moving Windows Media from PCs to home, mobile, and other devices.

One thing that’s often lost on web-biased technologists is that each platform on which you want to support your media ecosystem adds exponentially greater complexity, in both technical and business challenges.

When technology companies talk about where media goes, you’ll hear the phrase: “One Foot, Three Foot, Ten Foot.” This represents the triad of channels/windows through which the majority of people buy, view, and share media: One Foot is your mobile device; Three Foot is your PC; Ten Foot is the big(ger) screen in in your living room.

Solving Web video problems – the Three Foot challenge – is the easiest. As Majidimehr notes, media clients (decoders) can quickly be updated via always-on web connections, so you can rev your codec frequently. Hardware is relatively standardized and usually of good quality and recent manufacture. More cynically, expectations are low – if it “just works”, most end users will be content.

However, the other two arms of that triad are much more challenging.

Three Foot
Mobile video means a drastically different business model, working with carriers who control access to media and care about ARPU and little else, and device manufacturers who care about manufacturing and codec licensing costs, runtime footprints, and squeezing every last drop of performance out of a mobile processor. Not to mention that the carriers and device manufacturers get along as well as two Bettas sharing the same tank

Ten Foot
Move to the living room and face a huge installed base of legacy hardware that can’t decode or playback your video, MSOs/Telcos/Satellite who need full support for your protocols and codecs throughout their massive storage and delivery infrastructure before they’ll even think of deploying, and a dozen different Consumer Electronics manufacturers who need your codecs stable (i.e. frozen for years), widespread, and cheap.

In other words: there’s a lot more to bringing a codec to a new platform than just porting the player to a different OS, and I sympathize with the issues that Majidimehr talks about.

One other quote I found too provocative to let slide. In discussing the rise of Flash video, Majidimehr says:

“The biggest factor to that shift is installed market share—Flash is second only to Windows Media player in installed base for web video playback.”

Interesting statement. Is that all installed versions of WMP? Does that count multiple installations on the same PC? Are we counting back to the NetShow Player? I would love to see the statistics behind that claim.

There is a difference between “installed base” and “currently addressable base”. Argue all you want over Adobe’s published Flash Player penetration numbers, but you’d be hard pressed to find many folks doing PC-based streaming media who would not scratch their heads at Mr. Majidimehr’s statement above.

Amazing FMS Streaming Concert Archive: Wolfgang’s Vault

Rob Hall announced the launch of and FMS based project he worked on called Wolfgang’s Vault http://concerts.wolfgangsvault.com/

This is so great. Words (almost) fail me.

The content – original concert recordings of the pioneers of rock, R&B, soul, folk, jazz – is amazing, complete, and deep. Everything from David Bowie to Devo to Miles Davis.

I’m writing this while listening to Led Zeppelin live at the Fillmore West in 1969 visiting San Francisco during their first foray “across the pond”. The show, a good quality live recording from the sound board, begins with Robert Plant making small talk as Jimmy Page slowly replaces and tunes a busted string (he jokes: “Has anybody got a Les Paul?”). The lack of polish and showmanship is nearly stunning and reminder of how early they were in their legendary careers (Plant introduces the band members one by one); however, the music is pure energy and talent. Beautiful round bass tones, larynx shredding vocals, Bonham’s blistering drums – really a time capsule of a time and place in music history that I, in my relative youth, know only from posters and black and white photos.

Continue reading…

FMS Resource Center

Scott Morgan, FMS Support Engineer and jazz studies major, has created a pair of FMS tools to help get you started with or troubleshoot your FMS installation. In his words:

SimpleLive.zip is a demonstration of live publish/subscribe from FMS2. The .zip includes HTML, compiled SWF and FLA source file.

SimplePlayback.zip is a demonstation of streaming playback from FMS2. The zip includes everything you need (compiled Flash SWF and Spark encoded Flash FLV video file) to stream video from FMS and includes Flash FLA source code.

These tools are hosted in an Acrobat Connect meeting room. To download these tools, go to http://fms.adobe.acrobat.com/resources/ and log in as a guest (just put any name in the form field – it’s an open room).

If you have any questions or issues, please leave a note in the comments to this post.

Great job Scott, thanks.

Looking For A Site Using Fullscreen Flash Video

As we’re moving closer to the shipping release of the Flash Player 9.1 Beta, I’d like to find some customers who are using the fullscreen video feature and would like to be included in the “Customer Showcase” for the Flash Player product page (http://www.adobe.com/products/flashplayer/).

If you are interested, please leave a note in the comments for this post.

FMS Event In Hollywood November 9th

I’ll be presenting a free seminar on FMS in Hollywood next week. Details here.

It’s from 10am – Noon, with a networking lunch afterwards. I’ll be talking about FMS and Flash Video, showing demos, and some tutorials on getting started with FMS. If you’re an FMS guru, it will be a bit basic, but did I mention it was free? Lunch, too!

If you’re in the LA area, please consider registering and stopping by.

Adobe Wins Emmy Award for Streaming Flash Video

Just a bit of self-promotion, pardon the indulgence.

Adobe Wins Emmy Award For Flash Video

Earlier today, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced that Adobe was awarded a Technical and Engineering Emmy in the category of “Streaming Media Architecture & Components” for Flash Video and FMS.

This is a great recognition for the amazingly talented FMS development and QA teams, as well as those in the Flash Player and Authoring groups.

I’ll see if we can get “Emmy Award Winning” on the FMS 3 box :-)

FMS 2.0.3 Brings Commercial Use of Free Developer Edition

At MAX, I formally announced a change to the FMS EULA that had previously been reported on several blogs: As of FMS 2.0.3, the free Developer Edition can now be used in commercial applications. We hope this helps people build new, innovative businesses around FMS.

The FMS 2.0.3 EULA is posted here for reference.

Please note that the Developer Edition is limited to 10 concurrent connections (unlimiited bandwidth), and the updated EULA prohibits clustering or load balancing groups of Developer Editions.

Enjoy!

FMS.NEXT Feature Open Thread

Use the comment thread here for suggestions and recommendations for the next version of Flash Media Server. The FMS team will monitor and reply in the thread when necessary.

Thanks in advance for your ideas!

Update: Graeme Bulls writes:

I’m trying to stay positive here and that we WILL see another version of Flash Media Server. Due to the complete lack of new material about FMS on Adobe’s site nor at the huge MAX event in Las Vegas (and other Max events around the world), it’s a bit tough …. I have to say though, we (FMS community) have sent tons of opinions and ideas to him, to have to again start from scratch and write them all down is a bit frustrating. I would hope that it wouldn’t have been too much effort to say something like “this is what we have received so far,” (and list them) “any votes for these items or anything else to add?”.

Graeme – thanks for linking back.

Firstly: There absolutely, positively WILL be an FMS 3. However, I can’t talk about timeframes at this point. That Im asking for feedback should indicate that we are in the planning stages.

Secondly: We actually did have 5 or so sessions on FMS, though we had next to nothing going on from the Marketing side of things. I’m going to write more about this soon, but Adobe is taking steps to address the underfunding of FMS marketing.

Thirdly: I struggled with posting “ideas so far”. Believe me, I’ve got a long, long list of suggestions from various sources. The FMS team has gone through those, and added many of our own. However, I decided I wanted this thread to be an open suggestion box, with no ideas to predispose anyone – truly a blank slate. Also, it’s been several months since I asked publicly for this kind of feedback. In many ways, this thread will be a reality check to see how close our thoughts and ideas over the past year are to what the community wants today.

As (hopefully) more ideas and suggestions come in, I’ll break some into their own threads for further discussion.