Posts in Category "Flash"

“Everybody knows” vs “Let’s test it!”

“It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”Will Rogers

Sean Christmann of EffectiveUI benchmarks Flash and HTML drawing and video on various current devices. Flash drawing performance is usually a multiple of each of the “HTML5″ engines, save for video where the availability of hardware acceleration controls all. (Jan Ozer had more on video acceleration last year.)

Background: Rich-media performance is hard. Even simple audio-mixing is hard, when you figure in latency and switching… HTML5 audio problems today are reminiscent of the first cross-OS media runtimes in the mid-1990s. Realworld video isn’t as simple as just adding a VIDEO tag… you need to make it work. Most runtime engines can’t afford to go as deeply into optimization issues as those who write engines for a wider base. Even when one runtime increases its JavaScript performance or its drawing performance, that doesn’t help when you need to run on more than one runtime.

Will the HTML runtimes continue to improve? Of course. Will Flash continue to improve and further diversify its support? Of course. Will commercial social-media accounts assert that Flash is slow and a battery hog, despite evidence to the contrary? That is, of course, possible. But here’s how Sean wrapped up his testing:

“The Flash VM performs really well on mobile chipsets and I don’t see any evidence here to support the idea that Flash is slow on smartphones and tablets.”

Comb Over Charlie vs the Web-Beacon’d Pundits of Doom

Short video worth watching… single game running across multiple screens… more info from Charlie Schulze and Jens Loeffler.

Simple story — delivering to a new form of device should require minimal redrawing/layout/interaction work, and delivering to a new brand of device should require even less work than that. It’s still early days, but Charlie’s experience shows that this is a reasonable and attainable goal.

Is this the story in the popular press? No… the goal of techpress is to earn revenue, and attracting the clicks is the main need. They don’t disclose their private communications with companies, and feature pseudonymous comments which could well be from marketing-agency personas. When they write of privacy their own pages will usually call assets from Google, Facebook, and other cross-site trackers. Even when the New York Times writes of a superquake and mega-tsunami in Japan, they’ll sensationalize the nuclear angle despite all science to the contrary. The chattering-class is often offbase in what they choose to discuss.

Please take a look at the video yourself. That cross-device delivery is the way things should be, and is increasingly the way things really are. And in the end, this reality will trump lame talk.

… because Adobe’s about publishing

Big drama on Techmeme today… they picked up on that Dreamweaver integration with the Kaltura approach to video, which hit the news last week.

Shouldn’t be a surprise… just like Illustrator’s support for drawing in “HTML5″, Dreamweaver’s support for code-hinting the new tags, and Adobe’s announced intention for ongoing improvements in HTML tooling.

Even further back, look at how Adobe’s founders approached things (excerpts on standards, culture, reinventionfollowup). There’s a remarkable consistency here.

Adobe’s about helping communicators reach their audiences — about easing practical publishing — regardless of the particular means to do so. Print, film, video, websites, mobile apps… all share that same drive. Goes back to how Dreamweaver 1.0 focused on bringing animation & interactivity to diverse browser silos, despite “competing” with Shockwave and the nascent Flash.

Marketing campaigns may have reason to portray a “Flash vs HTML” battle, but that isn’t the way things really work. The most exciting thing right now is that entire new classes of digital connectivity are arriving in hands around the planet. There are big problems to solve here… as we’ll see at MAX next week…. ;-)

Evaluating device choices

We’re entering a period of high change, high choice in new types of devices… phones, tablets, readers, televisions, computers in various form-factors. Things will change even quicker as more operating systems make their Flash-enabled releases. I don’t know enough to offer a model-by-model buying guide, but here are a few quick questions which can help classify device choices.

One of the tricky incentives is that nearly every manufacturer wants to highlight the world’s creative SWF content… they want Flash. This leads to differences between various Player 10.1 and Flash Lite offerings… between devices which have worked with Adobe for mutual optimization and those which haven’t… even between Adobe runtimes and non-Adobe SWF renderers (whether JavaScript or native code or third-party ports).

Fastest shortcut is to check the devices Adobe has tested, in the Player 10.1 System Requirements page. [Update: New device page now available, more models.] These are known quantities, where both parties have worked together for a highlighted release. I don’t know how frequently this list will be updated as device shipments swell this autumn, but if you see a model on this list, then you know Adobe has confirmed the results.

Next, check the partner list at OpenScreenProject.org. These are manufacturers who are working with Adobe to bring a consistent high-performance interface layer across any screen. If they’re on this list then check more into particular models, but if they’re not a partner, then it’s good to check more into their particular SWF support.

Those are the big two differentiators — look for a known quantity, whether a model or a vendor. Here are some other tips, based on current online conversations.

  • Whose code? If an unexpected site offers an installation called “Adobe Flash Player”, then please really check into what it really is. There are some legit non-adobe.com installations (OS partners, some high-profile download aggregators, a few) but if a download doesn’t come from adobe.com, then it’s good to wonder why. Same goes for the operating system. Mainstream configurations are more predictable. (The history of early PostScript has some parallels, but on today’s Web there are additional security concerns.)
  • Flash Lite or Player 10.1? Up to you. Each is a different era, will do different things. There have been a billion or two devices shipped with Flash Lite through the world, and they’ll continue to play a role for some time to come. You may want your own high-end most-current device, but it’s really vital to know how your potential audience may experience things too. If you’re developing creative work for realworld audiences, then experiencing their experience is vital. Up to you.
  • Will my model play Flash later? Will it update? The manufacturer will be the best source of info. The general goal is for all devices to just automatically auto-update as time goes on, but it will take awhile to achieve that.
  • Will it all be totally groovy? Groovier than without, but the World Wide Web’s graphics & video haven’t always anticipated being displayed on itty-bitty screens (or great-big screens either, for that matter). It will take a few years before the Web is equally happy on all types of displays. High-resolution video files will particularly strain a connection. Set your expectation against prior reality, not idealized reality. It’s a big step forward.
  • How to troubleshoot? First step is to identify the actual problem, whether it’s stability, or performance, making the problem happen on-demand. On customizable devices it’s particularly necessary to get back to a known configuration. Adobe has info on general support, but for a new device, your manufacturer’s support area would likely have more pertinent and timely info.
  • Player vs AIR: The Adobe Flash Player works within browsers, and there’s a lot of existing web content, whether that’s one-third, two-thirds, whatever. AIR is applications, where the interface logic and data remain on your personal machine. Whether the app code itself is “in the cloud” or “on the desktop” is your own choice, and most people find both are necessary. First AIR/mobile deliveries are expected to appear on Android later this year. Do what makes sense for you now.

Bottom line: Try lots. Not just one form factor either. The devices you’ll use daily eighteen months from now likely don’t even exist yet. Experiment. Figure out how applications should work in daily life, how these devices should bend to your will. Watch young kids, to see how they naturally want to use it. Even if you can’t purchase one soon, then you’re still free to think, to imagine, to figure out what would be really useful, in a world where any screen communicate with any other. Now’s the time. Go for it.

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[Comments: Platform Wars elsewhere -- and personal attacks from anonymous accounts, no way. Creating the future is bigger and more important than any investment in a brand.]

What’s the point?

Odd… long unhappy writing of trying to install Player on an Android device got pushed up to Techmeme with hot title and no linking blogs… author finally approved a comment offering help with getting it to work… but the only reply was to another comment:

That said, the point of my article is that mobile Flash is a huge disappointment so far b/c it doesn’t work as advertised.

Wouldn’t it be better for “the point” to be “I just want to get on with my work?”

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Resources: Main Player Support page… troubleshooting Windows, Macintosh, Linux
quick guide for desktops… for mobile, check for best links provided on your product’s official support pages.

For what it’s worth, biggest Android problem I’ve been running into online is when people had installed some type of hack into the system in hopes of getting Flash earlier than their manufacturer deemed prudent. If you’re having problems where you shouldn’t, then please get the device back to a known state first.

If you see other people enjoying performance which you are not, then that’s an indication that you might be able to change something, improve things. You can expect to achieve the performance others do.

Adobe stance on local storage

Notice WIRED has coverage of a legal challenge to various websites which use Local Shared Objects in Adobe Flash Player to complement browser cookies in identifying return visitors… got picked up by Slashdot and Techmeme.

I don’t know details of the individual websites or the particular concern, but I do know that Adobe has expressed its position on this… see the February “Adobe condemns cookie respawning in comments to FTC” and “My Interview with Adobe Chief Privacy Officer”. Adobe is also working with the major browser vendors to integrate with their recent “private browsing” modes.

(For me personally, the bigger issue is any such storage and identification done by third-parties across websites… the WIRED article’s webpage itself requests assets from nearly a dozen third-party domains: “web beacons” which notify a service when you visit a page. Details of local storage or IP tracking only seem to matter once such third-party notification systems are in place.)

Tip: Keep an eye on OSMF

Summary: If you help people make choices in web technology, then it would likely be profitable to get the new Open Source Media Framework onto your personal radar now. OSMF is an industry-wide collaborative effort to make it easier, faster, cheaper and more reliable to developer advanced video interfaces for desktop and mobile.

How we got here: Real Networks started web video in 1997, before Apple and Microsoft expanded The First Codec Wars from CD-ROM to Web… in 2002 the ubiquitous Macromedia Flash cross-browser extension added video, and although fragmentation remained an issue for awhile, people like Jens Brynildsen clearly saw the trend… by 2005 phenomena like YouTube started showing how useful and popular play-on-demand video could be.

Popularity of web video has exploded since then… demand has gone viral. Meanwhile feature requests have increased too, from download-and-play to progressive streaming to live streaming to adaptive streaming to rights-management to advertising revenue to analytics to DVR functions to multi-feed to social annotations to… the list goes on. Content providers needed to continually reduce their increasing delivery costs, while the complexity of serving the video also increased.

How to reconcile delivery costs and feature costs? One tack has been to move to ordinary HTTP servers, rather than dedicated media servers. But this requires that much of the “smarts” in a dedicated media server be replicated in the client for a cheaper HTTP server. This increases development costs. But the Open Source Media Framework is designed to slash those development costs — tapping into the whole industry for best practices for a clientside presentation layer, making a framework which all stakeholders can expand.

Check out this June 10 post from Kevin Towes… he gives a deeper overview of the feature requirements and the trends. Then read Greg Hamer’s Devnet article on how to approach OSMF. Click on some of the links that interest you. After reading both these essays you’ll have a much clearer view of where video growth is going than will most of the other people who might advise your friends.

I think OSMF will be very useful in the real world. Lots of producers are now figuring how to minimize “The iPad Tax” of multiple deployment paths, and OSMF workflows will naturally integrate with the most efficient solutions. When large numbers of browsers start supporting the VIDEO/H.264 and VIDEO/VP8 approaches, the “HTML5″ UIs will likely integrate or parallel the OSMF methodologies to tap into its broader ecology. Mobile delivery adds multiple complexities, and OSMF efforts are explicitly designed to deal with them. And, at the leading edge, the community approach of OSMF will just make it easier to deliver better features, cheaper. Just as with Jens’ piece back in 2003, the trends are clear if you look at them.

Anyway, that’s my pitch… if you ever advise people about video at all, then spending a few minutes now examining the full release of the Open Source Media Framework will guarantee your video expertise into the future…. ;-)

Bi Sheng’s Big Night

“During the reign of Chingli, about the year 1040 of the Common Era, Bi Sheng of Bianliang, a man of unofficial position, invented moveable type…

“His method was as follows: he took sticky clay and cut in it characters, as thin as the edge of a coin. Each character formed, as it were, a single type. He baked them in the fire to make them hard.

“He had previously prepared an iron plate and he had covered his plate with a mixture of pine resin, wax, and paper ashes.

“When he wished to print, he took an iron frame and set it on the iron plate. In this he placed the types, set close together.

“When the frame was full, the whole made one solid block of type. He then placed it near the fire to warm it. When the paste at the back was slightly melted, he took a smooth board and pressed it over the surface, so that the block of type became as even as a whetstone.

“For each character there were several types, and for certain common characters there were twenty or more types each, in order to be prepared for the repetition of characters on the same page.

“When the characters were not in use he had them arranged with paper labels, one label for each rhyme-group, and kept them in wooden cases….”

– via Wikipedia, via Shen Kuo

One night, just shy of a thousand years ago, one of us had an idea. A complex, multi-step idea. An audacious idea that he would carry out the next day. Would it work? There were so many steps, all untried. Would people accept it? People misunderstood when he tried to tell them about it. Would it make a difference? Even though Bi Sheng had belief in his work, he must have thought this over and over, wrestling with anticipation, that whole night through.

It’s a similar night tonight. Except there are more of us now. Bi Sheng’s work let any printer compose any book without the need for custom woodblocks. Now we’re on the verge of any creative person being able to reach nearly any device.

Any person, any experience, any screen.

I bet Bi Sheng was excited, on that last night before his first real test. I know I sure am. There’s tons more work yet to do, but it’s truly exhilarating to see the first results.

Straight talk on Flash

At Cold Hard Flash, Aaron Simpson and Sean McKenzie have an excellent interview, “Flash Co-Creator Jonathan Gay Responds to Steve Jobs”… cuts through the last few months’ worth of fluff on touchscreen mouseovers, “bloated CPU hog”, “H.264 killing Flash”, and their ilk. I’m pulling out some striking quotes here, but only to whet your appetite for reading the full interview.

(By the way, if you’re not familiar with the work Aaron and friends do at Cold Hard Flash, then I’d really recommend the site… focuses not on technology capabilities, nor on technology marketing, but on how real people around the world are using technology to accomplish their personal goals, and to satisfy their audiences… a realworld tonic to phony blogospheric controversies.)

Top-level takeaway:

“In general, I think getting bogged down in discussing the details of Apple’s criticisms of Flash misses the point. The technical and performance problems are solvable and there would be real value to Apple’s customers to be able to view web sites that use Flash content.”

And what’s really driving the controversy:

“It’s disappointing to me that the media is letting Steve get away with dinging Flash on its openness while Apple advocates a much more closed model of application development. The fact that Steve wrote a letter explaining their position suggests how powerful the demand for Flash is from their partners and customers.”

He notes that Flash’s usefulness was first demonstrated on early desktop computers which were primitive and underpowered compared to today’s top pocket devices, and concludes:

“I think the iPhone should have plenty of processing power to run existing Flash content with reasonable performance. It’s always important when building media content to keep in mind the constraints of the delivery platform and I think that even without much performance work, Flash Player could deliver a good experience on the iPhone.”

Elaborating on this a bit further on:

“I don’t think there is any technical basis for Steve’s assertion that Flash is stuck in the PC world. Note that the Unix technology in the iPhone OS is a mini computer technology but it works well in the iPhone. Since Flash was developed, the two fundamental innovations in multimedia technology have been the development of sophisticated scripting engines and the availability of powerful graphics hardware acceleration. Flash has a state of the art scripting engine and Adobe is working on supporting graphics hardware. I think multimedia support in HTML5 will be less capable and lower performance than what Flash offers today. When Steve says Flash is stuck in the PC era he must mean that the Flash business model of free players, open content and affordable technology has been eclipsed by the closed, highly-profitable mobile platform of censored applications that Apple is building with the iPhone.”

How has Adobe handled it?

“With any technology, like Flash, the web or the Internet, where there are millions of people who have invested money and energy into making it part of their lives and their businesses, it’s important for there to be a good steward of that technology. The open source and standards body approach is one way for that stewardship to happen but having a good corporate steward of the technology is also a successful model. I believe that Macromedia, followed by Adobe, have done a good job of being stewards of Flash.”

Browser stability? After noting that browsers are having an increasingly hard time with ambitious HTML, he comes back to the commonsense approach of actually fixing problems rather than going all exclusionary on parts of today’s real web:

“My main thought here is that any problems that are present can easily be solved by Apple and Adobe working together to make web multimedia reliable for their customers.”

In response to “Jobs also jabbed Flash for having a bad security record. Do you think that’s warranted?”

“I don’t think so. I think Adobe has done a good job on security with Flash. Any Internet software written in C++ is going to have security challenges. It’s inherent in the complexity of the technology.”

For HTML, he itemizes many of the costs for delivering atop multiple runtimes rather than a single runtime, then concludes:

“It will be good for simpler content but the more sophisticated media content will still be Flash… it will take time to work through these issues and, in many cases, it will be significantly more expensive to develop HTML5 content than Flash content… This is an expensive multi-year process and its not really clear what benefit site owners would gain from this transition. It will cost them more money than Flash content. There will be uneven customer experiences until developers get it all figured out and the browser implementations mature.”

Further:

“My rule of thumb is that if you want to displace an incumbent technology, you need to offer a very large benefit. HTML5 will offer better integration of media if you just want to add media to a web application you are already building in HTML, but if your goal is to build media content for the Internet, I think it will be more expensive to build and a worse experience for your customers. How many sites want that?”

And finally:

“Flash is well established and has survived lots of competitors over the years. Years ago, we were afraid that DHTML, VRML, Java and other technologies would displace Flash but it’s actually hard to build a good multimedia platform and it takes a long time for developers to build skills in a new platform. In many ways, all the talents, skills and techniques in the millions of Flash developers are a more important asset than the technology in the player and tools.

Apple did innovate in opening up the North America mobile market to diverse business plans, and in “writing developers a check” through their App Store:

“On one hand, I think it’s fantastic how the App Store has created opportunity for lots of developers but ultimately, I don’t think a closed system like Apple is building can own the mobile applications market. There is simply too much diversity in the marketplace. People buy lots of non iPhone/iPad mobile devices and Apple’s resistance to Flash will probably actually accelerate opportunities for Flash developers on these other devices. Ultimately, I think Apple will be forced by competitive pressure to open up the App Store but it might take a couple of years.”

Long-term prognosis for the controlling approach?

“Personally, I think that Flash content will probably outlive iPhone and iPad apps because Flash is designed to deliver media content while the iPhone/iPad development tools are designed to build applications for a specific hardware platform that will be obsolete in 5 or 10 years.”

And:

“It’s up to consumers to embrace Apple’s model or to push back against it and decide that they want a more open model like Android provides. Ultimately, I suspect the cell phone carriers will decide that it’s OK for Apple to have a high-end niche, but that they will not give control over their customers to Apple for a really large numbers of devices. For Flash developers, this whole conflict will probably lead to a better Flash implementation on the non-Apple smart phones and more opportunities for delivering Flash content to mobile devices. Apple has momentum in the mobile application market right now, but I think they may lose their mindshare leadership position as consumers and carriers see the benefits of more open models. At the end of the day, the world benefits if there is a way to create multimedia content that is viewable on a wide variety of devices.

What’s more important: a technology platform, or what people have created atop that technology platform?

“I think Steve Jobs is willfully missing a key point with his arguments against Flash. The important reason to put Flash on the iPhone is that millions of developers have invested millions of hours building Flash content in Flash. The Flash content out there in the world is an asset of our society and the people who created it.

We’re at the end of a long hype cycle, now that the significant work of uniting desktop and mobile codebases is about to ship. Phony controversies will fade away, now that we’re at the dawn of a new design. Thanks again to Jonathan, Aaron and Sean for showing where the true priorities are.

The Road To The Pocket (or: Vive Flash Lite!)

Been thinking about posts last week from Dan Rayburn and Matt Voerman. I saw parts of that history too, and don’t agree with all of the views expressed (particularly those from anonymous accounts ;-) but the blogposts made me think.

Big takeaway: A road may not always be straight and linear, but it does tend to bring you to the destination.

Lots of bright minds at lots of firms have been working toward personal connected interactivity for well over a decade. The path has not been straight, but what matters now is that we have nearly arrived — a world full of new economical devices, with a common presentation layer, and with a new set of tooling for today’s design/development tasks. Most importantly, we have already seen strong consumer receptivity to such new devices.

Tinder and kindling, awaiting a spark… the dawn of a new design.

Adobe Creative Suite 5, the Flex 4 ecology, and the cross-device Adobe Flash Player 10.1 will all help many more designers and developers reach these new devices more easily… sort of like when railroads first united frontier towns. But I believe the domain knowledge acquired over the past few years by the pioneers — Flash Lite developers — will give them a unique edge in this upcoming surge of growth.

Flash Lite developers know about smaller interfaces and more constrained devices viscerally, first-hand… they have experiential knowledge which Device Central alone cannot convey. Flash Lite developers are also experienced in figuring out how to create a business serving device owners — the hustle and scuffle of making things work in novel arrangement. They’ve also watched more, learned more from the experiments of others. For these new devices, Flash Lite developers will have more knowledge, richer context.

And, of course, atop those skills applied to newer smartphones and tablets, there’s also the entire population of existing devices, and new non-smartphone sales… those existing code skills will remain valuable for a good while to come. In a world where selling 50,000,000 of a particular device is considered revolutionary, an audience of 1,200,000,000 isn’t really inconsequential either.

Here’s my point: Creative Suite 5 and Player 10.1 make it easier for more people to reach this new generation of devices. I think it will really open the floodgates. But the early innovators who have grown Flash Lite skills over the decade — they have an intangible edge. They have great domain knowledge, they know how to make things work.

Doesn’t matter how we got here, how you’d do things differently with hindsight. What matters now is that humankind is finally at the point of being able to carry around a connected, interactive screen through daily life.

And you will be the person to design, develop, deliver that screen.

This is where we’re at right now. Doesn’t matter how we got here. What really matters is the road ahead.

I think it’ll be fun, fun, fun. :)

[Comments: Software wars elsewhere, and please "own your words", thanks.]