Adobe Systems issued a release candidate for Flash Player 11 yesterday, an update that brings major new features to its widely used but competitively threatened browser plug-in.
Flash brings cross-platform advantages to programmers, letting them write software without having to worry so much about browser compatibility matters. But a wide variety of new Web standards--some now developed with Adobe help--are injecting new life into a plug-in-free version of the Web. At the same time, Flash is banned outright from iOS devices and only has a small foothold on Android devices.
Adobe is working to keep Flash relevant, though, in part by heading for the high end. As Web standards take on formatting, layout, animation, and some audio and video tasks, Adobe is aiming Flash primarily at gaming, high-end video, and in-house company applications.
Thus, a number of new features are coming to Flash 11, which is available for download on Adobe Labs. Among them:
• A 64-bit design. Browsers increasingly are 64-bit software, letting them take advantage of more memory and some extra processor features, but it's difficult to use 32-bit plug-ins in 64-bit browsers. The lack of 64-bit plug-ins is one reason people are increasingly browsing the Web without plug-ins, Microsoft believes.
• The "Molehill" interface for hardware-accelerated 3D graphics. This is a prime area of interest to gaming programmers, where online app developers are faced with deciding among Flash, native apps, Khronos' WebGL standard, and Microsoft's Silverlight. Unity, whose cross-platform game engine is widely used in mobile device software, just gave Flash a vote of confidence by announcing developers can generate Flash versions of Unity apps.
• Support for JPEG XR, an image format designed by Microsoft that's now an international standard. It offers better compression than conventional JPEG, allies assert, but Adobe is interested in JPEG XR because it can make some areas of the image transparent, reduce image file size, and improve color quality. Plus, it's "computationally lightweight," Adobe said.
• New codecs--the software that encodes and decodes audio and video data. Flash already could decode H.264 video, but now it can encode it, too, which could be handy for Webcams. The audio support now includes the G.711 codec for telephony. The release notes so far make no mention of Adobe's promised support for Google's VP8 video codec. For copy-protected video, Flash 11 also brings support for Adobe's Flash Access Content Protection technology to the mobile version of Flash, too.
Flash 11 is paired with AIR 3, a version of Adobe's cross-platform foundation for standalone programs. AIR includes browser technology as well as Flash.
AIR 3 will bring new features, too, including "captive runtime" technology that packages AIR under the covers with software; support for background audio on iOS; and the ability to use front-facing cameras on Android.