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Macromedia boosts Flash for video

The software maker announces a hosting partnership and other deals aimed at promoting the use of its Flash format to serve up video clips online.

Macromedia announced a hosting partnership Tuesday and several other developments intended to popularize the use of its Flash format for delivering streaming video.

The software maker said it will work with VitalStream to offer the Macromedia Flash Video Streaming Service, which will host and deliver Flash-based video for companies that don't want the expense and hassle of maintaining their own media servers.

Macromedia added streaming-media capabilities to Flash with its major overhaul of the format last year. The Flash plug-in, installed on more than 90 percent of Internet-connected PCs worldwide, now includes a media player based on Sorenson Media's software.

Macromedia has touted a number of advantages for Flash over competing media formats, such as Microsoft's Windows Media and RealNetworks' RealPlayer, including faster loading of content and the ability to play videos without opening a new browser window.

"Video experiences are horrible on the Internet today," said Chris Hock, director of product management for Macromedia. "You have to make a lot of choices, like bandwidth and format. And when you do finally get the video, it pops up in another window, takes forever to buffer...We think we can improve the experience dramatically."

The hosting service will enrich the experience further by giving companies an easy and reliable way to get their video online, Hock said.

"We're hearing from larger customers that have a ton of video they want to deploy, and they want it on a well-managed, reliable network," he said. "They don't want to set up servers and have this huge upfront cost. This way, they can simply upload their videos and pay as they go."

Richard Doherty, president of research firm The Envisioneering Group, said Flash as a media format is still running well behind Windows Media, RealPlayer and Apple Computer's QuickTime. "They're still paying catch-up way behind Real," he said.

Macromedia faces a number of obstacles, Doherty said, including the relative expense and complexity of Flash developer tools.

"Microsoft will just throw tools at you," he said. "Macromedia just can't afford to match that."

Companies also may be leery of the Flash format because of its frequent revisions, Doherty said. "The Flash plug-in has been changed quite a bit, so you can't be sure who has what level of it," he said. "Macromedia has to demonstrate better audience participation and better stability of the player."

Macromedia also announced the release of a collection of templates, instructional material and software tools for creating Flash-based video, plus the Flash Video Gallery, a collection of Flash-based clips.