Big changes ahead for Flash

Macromedia promises significant changes to Flash interface and video capabilities, and talks about tech for cell phone carriers.

SAN FRANCISCO--Macromedia took center stage at the Flashforward2005 conference here Thursday morning to promise significant changes in its Flash animation software.

Chief Software Architect Kevin Lynch addressed a nearly full Herbst Theater to describe the bells and whistles in store for Flash authors in the company's upcoming release of the Flash 8 player, code-named Maelstrom, and authoring tool, code-named 8Ball. Lynch also outlined plans for FlashCast, a new system in development to help mobile phone carriers run a variety of Flash-based applications.

"This is the biggest Flash update ever," said Lynch following his Flashforward address. "We've dramatically improved the performance of the player as well as adding more graphical expression than has been possible in the history of Flash. We've included radical new video and text-rendering quality. This is a larger number of improvements than in any previous update to the player."


What's new:
Macromedia said it will soup up its Flash animation software and introduce a product for mobile phone companies that want to offer Flash-based applications.

Bottom line:
The changes could advance Flash in both the hotly contested streaming-video and mobile-computing markets.

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Updates due this year in Flash 8 include both interface changes, to make things easier for designers familiar with other Macromedia applications, such as the Dreamweaver Web-authoring tool, and eye candy for end users, which Macromedia hopes will lure video publishers as well as designers to the Flash format.

Macromedia's signals the company's desire to go toe-to-toe with streaming video technology providers Microsoft, Apple Computer and RealNetworks. Macromedia displayed a presentation mocking the process by which end users have to choose their bandwidth rates and player before watching a video clip on the Web, and hawked Flash as a way to bypass those steps.

"This is a real opportunity for video to become a first-class citizen on the Web," said Mike Downey, Macromedia's technical product manager for Flash authoring.

Flash 8 will include new filters and special effects for text and images, and an improvement in rendering performance, designed to solve what Lynch termed "a slowdown problem in Flash 7."

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