Adobe continues the Flash fight with 10.3 beta

Advanced audio and other features show Adobe's commitment to Flash even as it embraces HTML. Also: 64-bit Flash due to arrive with Flash 11.

Flash Player logo

Revving the Flash Player development engine as fast as possible, Adobe Systems has issued a beta of version 10.3 that lets programmers use a variety of new audio tools.

Those audio possibilities could be very useful for those writing Net-based voice communication software. Features include canceling noise and echoes, detecting when a person has started or stopped speaking, and correcting microphone volume levels to even out speech loudness, Flash product manager Thibault Imbert said in a blog post late yesterday.

More broadly, though, the software embodies Adobe's push to keep Flash competitive. The browser plug-in is, if not fighting for its life, in a much less secure position than in years past when programmers could safely assume virtually all browsers had the plug-in installed.

Even as Adobe seeks to make Flash--and a close relative, AIR--a foundation for software that runs on a wide variety of computing devices, the technology faces two big challenges. First are mobile devices, which can lack the processing horsepower and memory to handle Flash and which in the case of Apple's iOS bans Flash altogether. Second is a maturing suite of Web standards that increasingly can handle many programming tasks that previously required Flash--including on those mobile devices that lack Flash.

Adobe tries Web standards, too
Adobe is hedging its Flash bets by embracing those Web standards. Perhaps the best example is Adobe Wallaby, which rewrites Flash elements to use Web standards including HTML (Hypertext Markup Language, the language to describe Web pages), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets, used for formatting and increasingly advanced animations), and JavaScript (the language of Web-based programs that's a cousin to Flash's ActionScript). Adobe is billing the technology in part as a way for Flash programmers to reach iOS devices.

"Adobe's job is to help you solve problems, not to get hung up on one technology vs. another," said John Nack, a principal product manager at Adobe who focuses on mobile-device apps, in a blog post today.

But Adobe continues to push Flash hard, too.

Flash Player 10.3 is the third significant point release to Flash Player 10, and its arrival reflects a growing trend in online software development toward smaller, more frequent releases. Google's Chrome browser, with a six-week cycle, is perhaps the fastest, but Mozilla is moving to a quarterly release cycle with Firefox. The general idea is that online software distribution lets software developers get new features into users' hands sooner rather than waiting for large updates with a long list of changes.

Version 10.1 was a long time in the making; its most notable feature was that it ran on higher-end Android phones and not just personal computers. With the mobile transition under way, Adobe now seems to be working through a backlog of smaller but significant features it wanted to add. Flash Player 10.2 brought more efficient video through a feature called Stage Video that uses hardware acceleration.

With the arrival of HTML5's built-in video abilities, online video is a particular competitive battleground for Flash, which for years had the market largely to itself. Here, Adobe is continuing its sales pitch of offering higher-level features useful to those in the business--in this case by building in some online analytics features of Adobe's Omniture acquisition.

"Media Measurement for Flash allows companies to get real-time, aggregated reporting of how their video content is distributed, what the audience reach is, and how much video is played," Imbert said of the analytics technology.

Flash 11: 3D and 64-bit
Meanwhile, for Flash programmers in the avant garde, Adobe last week issued preview version of Flash 11 with 3D graphics called Molehill. The Molehill interface is a big deal for Flash, which has a stronghold in online gaming but which faces competition from an emerging Web standard called WebGL.

Developers are starting to kick the Molehill tires. Lee Brimelow, an Adobe Flash platform evangelist, shared a list of Molehill demos yesterday.

Also coming with Flash Player 11 will be 64-bit support, an update that follows the release of several 64-bit browsers--notably Apple's Safari.

"Now, you may be thinking, what! No 64-bit version!" said Imbert in a personal blog post. "64-bit is coming for the next major version of the Flash Player, so please wait a little more time, I know it is painful, but this is for the good! Next major version will be killer."

64-bit software can handle vastly larger tracts of memory than 32-bit software, which is limited to 4GB, and 64-bit operating systems have become ordinary when it comes to Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. The large memory address space isn't terribly important for browsers today, though, so 64-bit Flash isn't at the top of Adobe's priority list.

Adobe can't wait forever, though. 64-bit computing can improve some performance--Safari's Nitro JavaScript engine, for example--and it's difficult at best to use a 32-bit plug-in with a 64-bit browser.

Closer to the here and now, though, is Flash Player 10.3. Along with the audio controls, it comes with a control panel that runs on a person's machine. It's integrated with the regular Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux control panel rather than the present mechanism that uses a Web site. The control panel brings "streamlined controls for managing [users'] Flash Player privacy, security, and storage settings," Imbert said.

And in a separate control panel change, Flash Player can integrate with a browser's control panel to let people control settings there, too. That can help address the "evercookie" problem, in which a person tries to delete a browser's regular cookies but fails because duplicates can be stored using Flash.

Finally, the new version integrates with Mac OS X's built-in notification system when it comes time for a software update.

The Flash Player 10.3 beta will is designed for mobile phones as well as personal computers, Imbert said. Programmers who want to try the new features of 10.3 should note that they're available in the Flash Player 11 preview version, too.

 

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