Archive for June, 2009

Schedules of Open Screen Project

There was lot of attention given at Techmeme today to the HTC Hero announcement. I saw a few headlines with ambiguous titles, though, which could confuse readers.

Mobiles with regular Adobe Flash Player 10 capability are expected to begin shipping in volume in 2010. Adobe expects to provide a developer preview version of this engine at the MAX conference in October. Manufacturing partners in the Open Screen Project have already received earlier versions of this work. Current shipments will be using the current version of the mobile-specific profile, Flash Lite 3.1.

We’re in a transition year. Adobe combined mobile and desktop Player teams to pursue this effort early in 2008, and publicly announced the Open Screen Project in May 2008 (more info).

This year we’ll be seeing more mobile Flash capability delivered in the existing mobile profile. (It’s shipping, release-quality software.) Towards the end of this year we’ll start seeing real results of having a common engine across desktop and mobile. But it’s really next year when the volume of this mobile integration starts to become significant.

It’s hard to know precise schedules. Look at the manufacturers involved in the Open Screen Project — their release schedules are their own, and they each make different decisions on when they need to lock down their production schedules, when they make public announcements. I was surprised by the Internet television announcements made in January. These partners have a wide range of interests. We’ll see specific news on their schedules. Best advice may be “Be prepared to be surprised.” ;-)

Some asked today “Why did it say Flash, instead of Flash Lite?” That’s because it’s all now, at base, just “Flash”, whether mobile or desktop, Flash or Flex or AfterEffects or whatever. The ecology is far bigger than a single development workflow or a single delivery channel… we’ve seen a grand unification of the different niches over the past year. The “Flash Lite” version basically boils down to a versioning difference, one which we’ll soon erase. It’s all the same Flash Platform.

But the above is the general schedule. We’re significantly along in development now, working closely with a variety of important partners, and expect to have a public preview later this year, with widespread deployment next year. Until then most shipments will be of the existing mobile version.

The goal is to make it easy to publish to any screen. SWF is first, rendered by Adobe Flash Player, and the goal is to follow this with HTML in AIR. Whichever way you wish to construct a screen, a presentation, an application, a service — it should just run, on any type of digital display device.

Should be a fun ride. :)

Followup on last post

Yesterday I pulled out a section from the Adobe analyst call, where Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen was asked “What do you think of ‘HTML5’?” The key points were (a) “to the extent that an improved HTML standard accelerates innovation and consistent reach for web content, we’re very supportive”; (b) “the challenge for HTML 5 will continue to be consistent display across browsers”; and (c) “the fragmentation of browsers makes Flash even more important”.

That’s what Adobe says, and I agree with it.

But I also added some points of my own which may have confused others, judging from the comments at the original post, at Digg, articles, elsewhere. Let me re-run some passages:

“It’s hard for Adobe to have an official opinion on whatever this consortium of minority browser vendors chooses to do… seeing what the final agreement turns out to be, and how it is eventually manifested in the world, both are prerequisites for practical tool-making.”

Another way of speaking this idea: The WhatWG “HTML5″ proposals are underwritten by browser vendors, and will apply to browser vendors. As a toolmaker, Adobe would naturally be slower to speak on it than the browser vendors themselves. Tool vendors follow later, looking at what customers need to do, are able to do. It’s no surprise that most of the early “HTML5″ conversation has been dominated by browser vendors rather than tool vendors.

(That “minority” phrase confused some. Microsoft Internet Explorer is the majority browser… IE6 declining, IE8 advancing, IE7 used by the greatest portion of web surfers… all the other browsers added together support less than half the audience of what IE supports. I haven’t seen any realistic plan to make “HTML5″ practical for content developers or site owners, who cannot afford to turn the majority of people away. This “minority browser” problem needs to be addressed for “HTML5″ to succeed.)

Another section some found confusing:

“I’m increasingly uncomfortable with calling the WhatWG proposals ‘HTML 5′ though, and particularly when it’s used in opposition to successful realworld capabilities of today. When ECMAScript 4 was in discussion there weren’t magazine headlines about how untyped variables were now evil. What counts is not a press release, but a realworld deliverable. De jure is nice, and potential de jure is also interesting, but de facto capability determines what you can actually do for real audiences.”

Much of the early evangelism about “The HTML5 Standard” attempts to persuade by implying that it is already “a standard”, a foregone conclusion, a done deal. If you’ve been following things closely, though, you know there are multiple friction points. The future is far from clear.

I use quotes around the term because it is a name-of-convenience we are applying to a particular process which has not yet run its course. It is not “HTML 5.0, a W3C Recommendation” … it is something we are calling “HTML5″ as a verbal shortcut. As the W3C Blog itself says, “HTML5 isn’t a W3C standard. We certainly look forward to the day when it is, but it isn’t yet.”

Comparing a future potential to a current reality may not make much logical sense, but it does make journalistic sense and evangelical sense. Particularly in light of consortia work such as XHTML and ECMAScript 4, it’s more sensible to observe what the world actually is, rather than assume the world will match our plans.

That’s why I’m putting “HTML5″ in quotes. It’s more realistic.

A sidenote: Most of the critical questions focused on minutiae off the main topic. I thought the “minority consortium” section didn’t warrant the commentary it received… there was a whole segment about iPhone helping Flash Lite… one person was sure I hadn’t been tracking this subject for years… some asked “Why are you so defensive when people talk of Killing Flash?” These glossed past what Shantanu emphasized about “consistent reach for web content”. Instead of focusing on how “HTML5″ will actually work for the world, commenters’ attention was fragmented into extraneous issues. Noteworthy.

One other oddity about the previous post and spinoffs: the number of anonymous critics. If you don’t think your words are valuable enough to own, then they’re probably not valuable enough for us to spend our time reading. Bet your rep — show us the totality of the person behind the words, and the other words you’ve written elsewhere — or your comment will not be published here on this entry. Open up.

Update Tue June 23: I’m closing off comments on this entry, for two reasons: (a) latter comments are repetitious and off-topic, with people seeking any reason to reject the neutral info presented above; and (b) one Mac-oriented blogger who attracts an abusive crowd has pointed this link out, and I’m not keen on hosting drive-by ranters.

Adobe on “HTML5″

The current WhatWG proposals called “HTML 5″ have been stirring up a lot of polarizing speech lately… articles with Flash-killer headlines lead to street-level fracases.

It’s hard for Adobe to have an official opinion on whatever this consortium of minority browser vendors chooses to do… seeing what the final agreement turns out to be, and how it is eventually manifested in the world, both are prerequisites for practical tool-making.

Still, I’m glad that an analyst asked a question about it at the quarterly financial call. Here’s what Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen had to say, from the transcript at Seeking Alpha:


David Hilal – Friedman, Billings, Ramsey

Okay, and then Shantanu, maybe a bigger picture question but as we read and learn more and more about HTML 5, I wanted to understand in your view both the opportunity and threat that that may present to Adobe.

Shantanu Narayen

Sure. So I mean, to the extent that an improved HTML standard accelerates innovation and consistent reach for web content, we’re very supportive and clearly from the perspective of our tools, we will support the creation and management of HTML content to the level that they want.

I think it speaks increasingly to the realization that rich Internet applications and delivering engaging experiences is increasingly important to all of our customers. I think the challenge for HTLM 5 will continue to be how do you get a consistent display of HTML 5 across browsers. And when you think about when the rollout plans that are currently being talked about, they feel like it might be a decade before HTML 5 sees standardization across the number of browsers that are going to be out there.

So clearly supportive in terms of making sure as HTML 5 is evolving that we will support it in our web authoring tools but from the perspective of continuing to drive Flash and innovation around Flash and rich Internet applications, we still think that actually the fragmentation of browsers makes Flash even more important rather than less important.

David Hilal – Friedman, Billings, Ramsey

Great. Thank you.

Adobe’s about communicating your ideas — publishing to various channels — not just about Flash. Dreamweaver, ColdFusion and the imaging tools all benefit from an increase in HTML. Flash is a strong bet for emerging platforms — we really do need the ability to predictably deploy advanced capability across a range of device brands and browser brands — but Adobe profits from easing communication in general.

I’m increasingly uncomfortable with calling the WhatWG proposals “HTML 5″ though, and particularly when it’s used in opposition to successful realworld capabilities of today. When ECMAScript 4 was in discussion there weren’t magazine headlines about how untyped variables were now evil. What counts is not a press release, but a realworld deliverable. De jure is nice, and potential de jure is also interesting, but de facto capability determines what you can actually do for real audiences.

But Shantanu’s last point in there really resonates with me… this whole “HTML5″ campaign will likely benefit Flash, because few remain who oppose the idea that “experience matters”. Things are quite a bit different than five years ago. Silverlight’s launch helped boost the popularity of Flash… iPhone helped to radically increase the number of phones with Flash support… the “HTML5″ publicity helps marginalize those few who still argue that images, animation, audio/video and rich interactivity have no place on the web. Flash will be able to deliver on those heightened expectations, regardless of what each separate browser engine does.

Update Tue June 23: I’m closing off comments on this entry, for two reasons: (a) latter comments are repetitious and off-topic, with people seeking any reason to reject the neutral info presented above; and (b) one Mac-oriented blogger who attracts an abusive crowd has pointed this link out, and I’m not keen on hosting drive-by ranters.

Under-promise and over-deliver

The Firefox 3.5 roadshow is producing some remarkable press… reporters so far seem credulous and gee-whiz, while comments from readers usually bring things back to earth. Raising expectations which cannot be satisfied makes for a high buzz level, yet risks sustainability.

Here’s the intro to a demo after-report at The Standard:

Firefox 3.5, which is due out in final release at the end of the month, will allow people to edit digital images from within the browser without need for a third-party application, thanks to a new Javascript engine Mozilla has built for the browser, said Mike Beltzner, director of Firefox at Mozilla, during an interview in New York.

The software also will include the ability to run videos directly in the browser without the need for a third-party viewer or player, and will allow other elements of a Web page to interact with that video content, he said.

That part’s pretty much okay — it’s just a reporter’s paraphrase and summary — but think of the effect of those words on a reader, particularly the “run videos directly” part, and what people are likely to expect as a result.

More troublesome paraphrases start to appear a little further in:

The new Javascript engine, called TraceMonkey, is twice as fast as the one in Firefox 3.0, and allows for image editing from within the browser without need for software such as Adobe Photoshop, Beltzner said. Javascript is a standard scripting language for Web applications.

“We can do this just as well with an online Web application as well as you could on a local application,” he said, thanks to TraceMonkey.

It’s hard to tell Mike’s intent without the full quote context, but direct comparisons to Adobe Photoshop CS4 can set naive readers’ expectations ‘way too high. Perhaps FF3.5 comparisons to existing in-browser image-editing of the last few years (photoshop.com, Aviary, Picnik, Fotoflexer etc) risk underwhelming the reporter, but “do it just as well as desktop” seems counterproductive.

(And, of course, you’re welcome for the Adobe-donated nanojit which keeps your JavaScript implementation competitive with Google and Apple. It would be good to lay grounds for similar cooperation in the future.)

“Video written for the Ogg codec can be played within Firefox 3.5 without a separate media player, Beltzner said. Moreover, to develop video to be played within the browser, developers don’t have to license proprietary codecs from the vendors that own them, as they do with Flash Player or other proprietary-player content, Beltzner said.”

That first phrase, qualifying video as Ogg Theora video, is an important one. Up to that point the impression given was that any video on today’s Web would be viewable… even if a naive Firefox user had Adobe Flash Player installed, they’d still run across the occasional .WMV, .MOV or .RM file.

But that key constraint is underplayed. If you’re on the Web, and want to watch video, Firefox 3.5 will not do it. Firefox needs Flash in order to view the real Web.

The second part would contain some objectionable disinfo, were it a straight quote, but right now it’s still possible to ascribe it to a transcription error. The only people who would license modern high-performance codecs would be those creating their own video export tools. For everyone else, codec licensing is included in the cost of whichever video editor they use.

Firefox 3.5 also allows developers to build applications for other parts of a Web page that can interact with the video playing, which has potential for enhancing next-generation Web-based applications such as advertising campaigns as well as enterprise applications, he said.

Currently, video technology is coded separately from other Web-site assets and there is no interaction between them, he added. For example, if someone is watching a television program on Hulu.com that is written to the Ogg codec and likes a shirt a character is wearing, Firefox 3.5 will allow that person to click on the shirt and see links to sites where it can be purchased, Beltzner said.

People who actually work with web video know this as errant speech, embarrassing to the speaker. I like the part about Hulu using Theora though, that’s cute.

Any time you put work and attention into something, it’s natural to want to shout it out to the world. It’s easy for me to forgive marketing flacks who spit out straight misinfo, because I know that savvy readers will spot it and question their whole rap.

But what’s a little more dangerous is to set consumer expectations too high. This can produce ugly scenes when the truth is learned.

The relevant marketing phrase is “under-promise and over-deliver” — peer-to-peer recommendations take longer to form, but are stronger than setting very high expectations which cannot be fulfilled.

… and just imagine the marketing claims they could have made, had they devoted that engineering time to improving browser/plugin cooperation….

More like nine months to “Upgrade the Web”

Summary: It may take 35 days to upgrade Firefox’s minority share, but to “Upgrade the Web” in an open way, across all browser choices, takes more like nine months.

Flash’s success paints a target on its back. A few years ago Microsoft started supporting the idea of rich-media plugins, and this year Apple & Google are trying to get “standards” blessing of their own controlled runtimes, which in some cases specifically exclude cross-browser renderers. It’s great to have them join in, but many of the marketing claims are recycled from Macromedia.

Last year at MAX Kevin Lynch spoke of how Adobe Flash Player is the only technology which can essentially “upgrade the web” in under a year:

So on the client, of course we’ve been doing some really great innovation with Flash Player 10. It’s already been released. It’s being adopted broadly and it’s reaching, already with Flash Player, pretty much all the computers on the Web today. The situation we’re in is pretty amazing because we can actually update that software now in less than a year, in about nine months, we can actually upgrade the capabilites on the Web and induce new capabilities for everyone who are using these applications interacting with content. What this means for you is that we can innovate at a much faster rate. We can deploy new technologies, like Pixel Bender or new 3D effects or a faster scripting engine. We can get that out to everyone on the Web in a consistent way. And you can start taking advantage of it very quickly.”

You’ve seen this “Upgrading the Web” theme in presentations since then. The wide and diverse ecology around SWF creates a cycle where the entire world upgrades their machines quickly… 75% consumer support in five months, and up towards the “ubiquity” area of 90% consumer support in nine. “Upgrading the Web” is what happens with each new Flash generation.

Last year’s Firefox launch had the “Guinness Records for Most Downloads in 24 hours!” campaign (ignoring how daily downloads of Adobe Flash Player trump that for the minority browser), and this year the marketing slogan seems to be “Upgrading the Web in 35 Days!” [Tristan Nitot, Chris Blizzard, more undoubtedly to come].

The difference is, of course, that most people use Microsoft browsers… about twice as many as all other browser brands combined. Firefox reaches only a small minority of people on the web… about as many as still use IE6, released back in 2001. But Flash reaches nearly everyone.

Firefox does achieve a rapid upgrade rate among its base, because it “calls home” every day. Flash Player is set by default to check for updates only once a month. They get away with it; we can’t.

Flash’s success paints a target on its back. Flash breaks silos, and this threatens entrenched interests. Copying features and going for low-hanging fruit makes sense. But swiping slogans like “Most Downloaded Software!” or “Upgrade the Web!” seems as weird as going on about Rich Interactive Applications.

Nothing wrong with being inspired by Flash, but it’s a little strange to be so bipolar about it.

Adobe in Enterprise

The Internet — the ability of networks to network together — supports various applications, such as The World Wide Web of interlinked hypertext documents. But The Web is merely one application built atop The Internet, and The Internet supports many uses beyond the common WWW system.

Bob Gourley has a good overview of this beyond-the-web aspect of Adobe technologies in “What CTOs should know about Adobe”. It shows PDF as a document platform, beyond its Web use for brochures, and how this interacts with communication technologies, management technologies and the rest.

Sometimes you want everyone else in the world in your network, and web browsers are (ideally) safe vehicles in which to do such universal exploring. But sometimes you want to grant greater permissions to a trusted local network, and this enables new types of client applications, beyond a general browser.

My favorite line: “Adobe has adopted a philosophy of being able to work with every other capability in the IT stack. So if you are using Sharepoint or Oracle Fusion Middleware or Java or Endeca or whatever else, Adobe is likely going to work just fine.” It’s that common theme of removing fragmentation, uniting silos.

The big takeaway: “It is certainly OK to think of PDF when you think of Adobe. It is a great, open format. But think also of the other great enterprise-class capabilities they are providing.” Same holds true if you swap “SWF” for “PDF”, and “web” for “enterprise”.

[via Andrea Mangini, Jingleyfish]

An infected Web

The Internet is “the network of all networks”. It is open to all, and this has brought many benefits. But that doesn’t mean our own computers and networks should be open to all. We individuals need to discriminate.

Dan Goodin at The Register has been covering the story of legit websites serving malware. Sites you trust may be bad. Sometimes the attackers gain control through a server exploit, sometimes through password cracking, sometimes through keystrokers.

The site owners rarely know they’re distributing malware to their audience. This exploit injects obfuscated JavaScript at the bottom of the site’s front page, redirecting visitors to various pages which attempt to force a download via old browser/plugin exploits.

Keeping your own software up-to-date, private and secure is necessary… the websites you’ve trusted may no longer be trustworthy. There is no “little network” of trust in the Web world — a browser will visit any site, and new hacks can demolish trust zones. (That’s why I’ll trust a separate AIR client more than I will an HTML5 uberbrowser.)

And in such a “network of all networks”, other people getting infected is bad for the rest of us — more noise, more confusion, less clarity.

Surfing the Web is like walking a strange city, particularly one with a high crime rate. The open-to-all nature requires us to be aware, and avoid unsafe situations.

Some sites we trust may be infected. We need to keep Web software up-to-date, and encourage others to do so.

You are the product

Striking study of web beacons and other devices on popular websites… New York Times summarizes:

“Google showed up as the most conspicuous tracker on third-party sites. Google Analytics, a free product that allows online publishers to gather statistics about visitors to their sites, was used on 81 of the top 100 online sites. Cookies from the advertising company DoubleClick, which is owned by Google, were present on 70 of those sites. When combining trackers from those two services, Google had a presence on 92 of the top 100 sites. Others weren’t far behind. Cookies from Atlas, Microsoft’s DoubleClick rival, appeared on 60 sites, and trackers from two other analytics companies, Quantcast and Omniture, showed up on 54 sites… What is striking in the Berkeley students’ report is that in a sample of nearly 400,000 Web domains, Google’s presence remained high, at 88 percent, while those of other companies declined sharply… ‘Our data shows that even if you are not going to Google, if you are browsing the Web they are collecting data about you.'”

Using a cookie-blocker is not enough… any bit of third-party content on a page sends an HTTP request from your IP address to such a central service. Over a surfing session a variety of such requests build up a profile of the surfer at that IP address. This can then be compared with similar session profiles within that general IP block from other days. And, of course, if you sign into a Google service then your name is associated with your IP address.

An ad-blocker is necessary defense. Just as a Flash-blocker protects you from poor choices by site owners, an ad-blocker prevents websites from advertising your arrival to such central repositories of information.

Is Google actually tracking and analyzing the data they collect? No one knows. They’ve been closed and non-transparent about their privacy practices ever since the initial controversies over their perpetual cookie. Their longtime “special advisor” is a polarizing former Vice President of the US who spearheaded the V-chip effort and was involved in ECHELON and CARNIVORE. The lack of a response to reasonable questions may itself be an answer.

The business model is to sell your exquisitely-qualified attention to advertisers. You are the product. The “open web” is used as a massive profiling tool. You are the product. The process is opaque, closed, proprietary. You are the product.

Many people initially deride their own personal privacy — “privacy is an illusion” and all that. Many also think they would never be mugged, and so flash wallets or iPhones on subways and deserted streets. Habits can change very quickly, once your own personal experience changes.

When you visit most sites, Google Knows. That’s too much power to place in such an opaque organization. To the degree you do not minimize your own exposure to such data collection, you are the product.

Flash’s Grand Unification

Theme: Technologies which are useful and lasting do not always grow in a straight line. A useful technology will often fragment to explore alternative niches. But a lasting technology will then find ways to unite that fragmentation, creating a larger, more interesting technology ecosystem.

A subtle aspect to this week’s milestone: With Flash Catalyst, Flash Builder, Flex Framework and FXG, there’s now a coherent creation process uniting the creative design worlds and the coding development worlds. Flex had jumped out from Flash into another environment, and the larger Flash now unites both worlds.

It made sense for Flex to branch out on its own a few years ago. That was when the “Rich Internet Application” meme was new, and the only paying projects came from enterprise. And coders didn’t want to look at timelines. Flex found a way to efficiently create data-driven interfaces and became very successful.

Now there’s a proven coding workflow which works naturally with standard visual-creative workflows. The fork merges back into the trunk. The fragmentation is united. It’s larger than before.

You can see it in the name. I used to ask “Why do you call them ‘Flex Apps’, when they run in the Flash Player?” I was told it was because coders shunned timelines, and there was prejudice against Flash as being “only for cartoons”. A new name helped in exploring a new niche.

But Flash and Flex have both been such a success, in so many ways, that that rationale no longer holds. Today it’s easier and more meaningful to say “It’s all Flash. Just Flash. That’s what it is.”

The developmental niches are being united… the names are being united… but there’s a third and extremely important unification going on now as well.

Last year at MAX you heard how the “Flash Lite” branch would be merged into the desktop Player. A single runtime codebase, supported within multiple device form-factors. That work is proceeding now.

Forking to Flash Lite made sense. No way a handheld five years ago approached desktop capability. Code from older runtimes kept pace with chip growth. Let us explore new ecologies, learn firsthand what was needed.

Now, though, the high end of mobiles is approaching a laptop’s capabilities. Those fragmented cross-device runtimes need to be united. The same development process must support any screen.

Big engineering challenge. But it’ll happen. I was in a “town hall” session with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen today, and he repeated that this is the single top priority at Adobe now. We need to make it easy to publish to any screen. A common Flash Player across desktops, pockets and walls — that’s the goal. Remove the fragmentation, unite the silos.

Flex split out from Flash, grew large, and now both are united with the Adobe toolset.

Mobile development split out from desktop long ago, and now the fork is merged back into the trunk, picking up the TV set in the process.

And the names have been united too. Seems fitting. It’s all Flash.