Flash Player 10 Officially Released

Mike Chambers posted that Flash Player 10 is officially live. This completes your 1-2 punch of RIA/game platform releases of Silverlight and Flash this week.

We have just released the shipping version of Flash Player 10 (Mac, Windows and Linux). You can find more information on all of the new features on the Flash Player product page.

You can download the player for Mac, Windows and Linux players from here.

You can grab debug and standalone players from here.

You can grab the release notes from here.

Flash Player 10 is great news. There are so many things in it from a new data structure (Vector), to local FileReference, to Matrix and 3D helpers, to speed improvements and video enhancements being able to play other video types and more (this was actually in a late version of flash player 9 as well but will be used more here). It does take time for flash versions to get out in the wild, about 9 months to where they are in the 90%-95% range where you can convince people to use it in production, but getting those skills now is good.  The scripting platform is still Actionscript 3 so anyone still making Flash Player 8 and AS2 stuff is now two revolutions behind.

Another thing I am looking forward to soon (next week) that is missing from both Flash and Silverlight, is the ability to develop for the iPhone, which Unity3D is dropping the iPhone kit on Oct 22nd. Unity3D has effectively taken Director’s 3d game development (hardware accelerated) market lead away this year and late last year and is a great platform. Director who?

Lots of great tools and platforms to create the innovative new applications, games and markets that are so needed right now. Go create!

Flash 10 Security Changes Good and Bad, Mostly Good (Full Screen Input, RTMFP, Clipboard, Local Save and Load)

Flash 10 security changes requiring user interaction are pretty breaking but they are for good reason.  Still though, the user could be inundated with prompts much like UAC on Vista. But, it is necessary otherwise security holes can be troublesome with the flash player and the “sandbox” of the web.  Much like Java signing, Active-X acceptance, and thus local file access, these actions need some user approval, it is that liability thing.

But what is a bit lost in this is some of the new support specifically for game development and app development.

Support for things like RTMFP which is bringing UDP support to flash.  UDP and reliable UDP (ordered) is really needed when it comes to larger scale networking applications and support for p2p apps.  Games for instance, that are large like MMOs and highly interactive real-time engines, need UDP to be able to scale.  So this is pretty useful, yet it currently looks like it is tied to Flash Media Server.  It appears Adobe is staying ahead of SmartFox, Red5 and OpenFMS with stuff like this.

Another great move in the way of security updates for Flash 10 for games is the allowing input from keyboard keys while in full screen mode. All these games and apps look pretty sweet in full screen until you try to use them.  There is only support for “Tab, the Spacebar, and the (up, down, left, right) arrow keys” but that is a start.  Enough keys for a casual game.  But still most keys could safely be used it must be a multi-platform support thing.

Limited full-screen keyboard input

Currently Flash Player does not allow keyboard input when displaying content in full-screen mode. Flash Player 10 beta will change this, allowing for a limited number of keys to be usable in full-screen mode. These include Tab, the Spacebar, and the (up, down, left, right) arrow keys.

Flash 10 is getting local save and load, this is great for any type of online editor, game or application. The ability to work on a file immediately without the server round trip initially is great.  I hope this is extended much further to local save and load with very high limits, there has been some confusion on the file size limitations here. Ideally this would be extended much further if the product direction is right. Typically making apps or games with more than 5-25MB of content quickly become non-economical in bandwidth such as gaming assets due to browser cache size limitations (defaults IE=50MB, Safari 5-25MB, FF3=50MB), I wish there was a better way to allow local saving for long periods of time.  Almost installing apps via flash with extended cache, talk about killer app feature. Downloading 10 MB of gaming assets that you know will be there for the month rather than the day.

Paste events can read the clipboard.  Using the clipboard is another great useful tool in applications and online editors.

Data can be read from the Clipboard inside a paste event handler

In Flash Player 9, the system Clipboard could not be read at any time. With Flash Player 10 beta, the new ActionScript 3.0 method Clipboard.generalClipboard.getData() may be used to read the contents of the system Clipboard, but only when it is called from within an event handler processing a flash.events.Event.PASTE event.

So yes, the security user interaction changes do break current features but it also takes this platform a bit more into secure applications and game features from security changes, hopefully these features are extended much further but they are on the right track.

Amazing New Feature for Flash 10 – FileReference Runtime Access

I have been consuming all the great additions to Flash 10 this weekend and one that really jumps out after you get past the visual, text and sound features (which are spectacular btw and most of what the community was asking for). But one feature snuck by, this is the one that ByteArray (Thibault Imbert) mentions/pointed out for managing files directly within Flash.

File Reference runtime access — Bring users into the experience by letting them load files into your RIA. You can work with the content at runtime and even save it back when you are done through the browse dialog box. Files can be accessed as a byteArray or text using a convenient API in ActionScript without round-tripping to the server. You no longer have to know a server language or have access to a server to load or save files at runtime.

This greatly lowers the bar to using Flash as a photo editor, document manager, customized application experiences, marking up content and saving locally, all without the need for server side script. I am a big fan of server side technologies and develop with them but even for bettering performance this could be huge.

Scenarios where this might be useful is editing applications, note taking (download a book with your notes), editors for docs/games/3d/textures,,, the possibilities are endless really.

Flash 9 just got mainstream and production ready (flash 9 penetration) at the tail end of last year but there are so many great things in the new version that I hope it comes out very soon. Flash it turning into quite a platform.

Alternativa Platform also has updated their engine for Flash 10 already (they must have had some inside early accessibility to it) and there are great possibilities here.

It is only beta (Flash 10) but there are great market opportunities to prepare for when this launches. Keep your eye on where the puck will be, not where it is currently at. I was concerned when Adobe bought Macromedia and the future of Flash but it appears they are taking this bull by the horns.

If you are ready to play with Flash 10 here is Flex and FlashDevelop updates to help you get started.

Also here is some code posted at ByteArray from Pleh for testing the new FileReference runtime access, usage is extremely simple and rests on this

var data:ByteArray = fileRef['data'];

/*
  FileReference Load Example By Pleh 17/05/08
*/

package {
	import flash.display.Loader;
	import flash.display.Sprite;
	import flash.events.Event;
	import flash.events.MouseEvent;
	import flash.net.FileReference;
	import flash.net.FileFilter;
	import flash.utils.ByteArray;

	public class Flash10Test extends Sprite
	{
		private var fileRef:FileReference;

		public function Flash10Test()
		{
			fileRef = new FileReference();
			fileRef.addEventListener(Event.SELECT, selectFile);
			fileRef.addEventListener(Event.OPEN, openFile);
			stage.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK,stageClick);
		}

		private function selectFile(e:Event):void {
			fileRef['load']();
		}

		private function openFile(e:Event):void {
			var data:ByteArray = fileRef['data'];
			var loader:Loader = new Loader();
			loader.loadBytes(data);
			addChild(loader);
		}

		private function stageClick(e:Event):void{
			fileRef.browse([new FileFilter("All Formats (*.jpg,*.gif,*.png,*.swf)", "*.jpg;*.gif;*.png;*.swf", "JPEG;jp2_;GIFF;SWFL")]);
		}

	}
}

Adobe Opens Flash Format Specifications for SWF, AMF and Flash Video FLV (Open Screen Project)

Adobe is taking the inside lane in the industry it seems with the Open Screen Project. What does this mean? It seems like SWF and FLV formats are now largely open and licenses removed. With the XFL format possibly on its way (probably based on mxml) to replace closed .FLA files it is pretty clear that Adobe and Flash will see a large uptick in the mindshare. As well as looking to create a broader mobile platform for the flash player.

The Open Screen Project will address potential technology fragmentation by enabling the runtime technology to be updated seamlessly over the air on mobile devices. The consistent runtime environment is intended to provide optimal performance across a variety of operating systems and devices, and ultimately provide the best experience to consumers.

To support this mission, and as part of Adobe’s ongoing commitment to enable Web innovation, Adobe will continue to open access to Adobe Flash technology, accelerating the deployment of content and rich Internet applications (RIAs). This work will include:

  • Removing restrictions on use of the SWF and FLV/F4V specifications
  • Publishing the device porting layer APIs for Adobe Flash Player
  • Publishing the Adobe Flash® Cast™ protocol and the AMF protocol for robust data services
  • Removing licensing fees – making next major releases of Adobe Flash Player and Adobe AIR for devices free

This is big. It has mutiple prongs. Adobe would like to make Flash a common mobile standard, hrm no Apple on this list (it is probably a slight move there against that).

Adobe would also like to continue their lead of web video. And they finally are recognizing the closed format of SWF is not as desirable as an open one, there is still considerable control for Adobe over the player. But they get insights and contributions from many large companies to help make it work on their platform, engraining the format further. The providers, especially mobile and internet tv, will want to provide good user experiences to compete with the iPhone and regular T.V. respectively. Flash being open helps both of those markets.

Adobe is also moving further to open source key formats and technologies like the recent Flex 3 SDK and now the AMF format which was a roadblock. This is probably good news for servers like Red5 and also many other media servers and remoting services in many more place. AMF is particularly nice because it is a binary, extremely compact and limited bloat format. Without it being open it loses much of its benefit as a standard. Being open and a further crunching from the XML bloat services, this can be very good for many reasons such as throughput and faster services, apps and games with remote data.

Another reason is the desktop market. They want Flash to work flawlessly on Linux but they don’t’ have the manpower for a 2% market share. So this is a very smart move for the desktop players (AIR, and Linux Flash).

The only thing that partially makes it scary is the line up, Sony, Verizon, etc. As long as these are contributors and not partners in DRM crime then we have something. Hopefully they are in it to make better entertainment and mobile platforms cheaper.

Being able to peer into the code and a move to allow better open integration makes it a better platform, where better stuff can be built on top of that. Let’s hope it is done right. Everyone is making Apple look really closed and locked down lately.

Flash/Flex Application Proofs: Adobe Launches Photoshop Express

If there ever was a proof that more intense applications like word processors and image manipulation software are capable of being built and some aspects even better than their desktop counterparts with flash and flex then Scrapblog, Buzzword, Picnik and Photoshop Express are that (in fact Photoshop Express is a direct competitor with Picnik it seems…).  

Adobe launches Photoshop Express today to add to that set that are very usable, quality applications built with Flash9/Flex and most of all actionscript 3 (as3) and the new AVM2. These apps just weren’t possible with AS2 and with Flex they can be easily managed codebases (one major problem with old skool flash actionscript is it was throwaway many times because it was so scripter specific and full of optimizations just to barely perform – now these are actual code bases made by programmers and you see the results).  The great thing about buzzword, picnik and photoshop express are that they are easy to use. Flash/Flex make sense in their case and they tend to mimic and use very good usability patterns.There is no way an AJAX app (even though I build lots of those too) can come close to this integration of style, usability and expected results on all browsers.One important point of this article on news.com mentioning this:

The service will go live in beta test mode on Thursday. Mack said that the company intends to use the test period as a way garner feedback from customers.Adobe intends to offer more features to consumers who pay a yearly fee. Some planned features include a printing service, more storage, support for audio and other media, and the ability to read additional image file types (the service works with .JPGs now.)Adobe also plans to build an offline client using AIR (the Adobe Integrated Runtime) so that people can edit photos offline, executives said.

A couple things here.  First there is going to be an AIR version for the same experience on the web and the desktop for a major application.  Second, flash IS limited to certain file types JPG, SWF, PNG, GIF, and a few others for sound and video.  So why an online photoshop is great, it is still only web based photos, simple edits, etc.  Photographers and users above 72dpi in the 300 600 ++ ranges will still be using Photoshop.  Users with EPS,RAW, etc will still have to use Photoshop until Adobe figures a way to either proxy an image and handle the real source (be it another format) behind the scenes.  Or, improve the flash player to handle other raster and vector image types.A project a while back we had this issue where it was a approval system of media types but the types could be PDF or EPS in addition to web image formats or on occasion other formats and it became a challenge where the content was marked up with flash.  Eventually it was in a div overlay so we could load in the unsupported types behind and sync them with javascript, where flash was just a canvas or screen on top to put notes and markings.  But when it comes to editing that is different, you expect to edit. Also, working with the real source in image manipulation is extremely important so a proxy to the real image seems unlikely a good choice except for simple web uses.In any case, Photoshop Express is a great web based image tool but there are limitations that prevent it from taking any large swath of share from the normal old desktop Photoshop any time soon.

Director 11 Is Released

I was able to download the demo and it is in the store and on Adobe’s site. The new AGEIA™ PhysX™  physics engine and some sort of updated 3D with hardware rendering is nice.

But, Director is like the Rodney Dangerfield of products at Adobe.  Everywhere you have to dig for it, it doesn’t even have updated marketing in most places, the shockwave player link is still from 2002 etc.  I wish that Adobe would support it more, open it up, allow better IDEs, integrate ES4 based Actionscript 3 or 4 into it and keep the 3d market that shockwave supports moving along.

Maybe they will give Director more love but if they don’t allow for some community input and work on the platform like Flex and Flash have thrived on, well they might just lose that piece of the market (3d gaming, hardware).

First impression is the fonts do look much better.  Unicode support is so far so good and I haven’t had a chance to dig into the AEGIS PhysX engine yet but that looks very very fun.

For instance here is a Physics Engine call that creates a rigid body terrain


//JavaScript Syntax
var objTerrain= member("PhysicsWorld").createTerrain("myterrain",terrainDesc,position,orientation,1,1,1);

Or some raycasting:

//JavaScript Syntax
var lstraycast = member(“PhysicsWorld”).rayCastAll (vector(10,0,0),vector(0,0,1));
for(i = 1; i < = lstraycast.count ; i++) {   raycstEntry = lstraycast[i];   put("Name:" + raycstEntry[1].name);   put"Contact Point:" & raycstEntry[2]);   put("Contact Normal:" & raycstEntry[3]);   put("Distance:" & raycstEntry[4]); }[/sourcecode]I use the Javascript source simply because it is much more usable to me. Unfortunately the docs are only partially converted to Javascript.  Lingo is pretty close to it though but it scares people off. What Adobe needs to do is port into Flash the ability to use Shockwave3D (hardware rendering for 3d), AEGIS PhysX, would that not blow up big time or what?

Moock Mentions XFL for Open Flash IDE Source Formats

Colin Moock an actionscript brain since the great Flash 4 advances that brought all sorts of fun to flash, like games, has mentioned XFL an open format for flash from a discussion with Adobe product managers.

This would be a format that would be able to import, export and allow compile to SWF. MXML for Flex does this now but bringing the two together into one common format and allowing for all sorts of open source and third party contributions to making flash will let it literally explode in support.

I recently met with Flash authoring product-manager, Richard Galvan, to talk about Diesel, the next version of Flash (i.e., Flash CS4, or version 10 for those counting). Adobe has already demonstrated a bunch of high-impact features for Diesel, including inverse kinematics, a new tweening model, 3D “postcards in space”, and advanced text components (see MAX 07 keynote, FOTB 07 keynote, and FITC Amsterdam 08 keynote). But Richard was keen to talk about a lesser known feature quietly percolating behind the scenes: XFL.

Since its inception, the Flash authoring tool has stored documents in a binary source-file called .fla. Historically, interchanging source with the Flash authoring tool has been virtually impossible for third-party software because the specification for .fla has never been public. But things are changing in the next version of Flash. Flash CS4 will be able to export *and* import a new source format called XFL. An XFL file is a .zip file that contains the source material for a Flash document. Within the .zip file resides an XML file describing the structure of the document and a folder with the document’s assets (graphics, sounds, etc). The exact details of the XFL format are not yet available, but Richard assures me that Adobe intends to document them publicly, allowing third-party tools to import and export XFL.

If this is a market test or check of interest I think that everyone I know working with flash would be very excited about opening and unifying the flash format and allowing great IDEs and tools to help produce better flash content more quickly. Also, with the competition Silverlight using XAML (uncompressed) this also allows a competitive advantage maybe making Silverlight add better compression and loading tools beyond their downloader object.

I hope this is also in the plans for Director. If they used similar formats it could be very nice and something to watch as an emerging market to prepare for.

Read the full post at moock.org

Adobe AIR 1.0 and Flex 3 Launched Today

on_adobe_air_logo.jpg

AIR 1.0 and Flex 3.0. have launched.

AIR is finally 1.0 and live as well as Flex3, both launched today. That is quite a 1-2 punch.  These are both great technologies and AIR extends the reach to the desktop and lots of power with that being finally 1.0 and officially launched.  It has been hard to convince people to develop on it other than tech demos and prototypes, this should help.

Ajaxian has the run down: 

Adobe AIR

The AIR runtime and SDK has gone through an especially long beta cycle (since June 2007) to ensure that both security and compatibility with existing frameworks was achieved. Some key new and/or updated features include:

  • Enhanced Desktop Fucntionality: Drag and drop to the operating system, copy and paste between applications, launching of AIR applications from the desktop or the browser, and run in the background with notifications.
  • Data Access: Adobe AIR now provides both synchronous and asynchronous access to the local file system, as well as structured data within a local database. This database is implemented using the open source SQLite database.
  • JS Library Support: Most major Ajax frameworks can be used to build AIR applications. Supported frameworks include jQuery, Ext JS, Dojo, and Spry. Adobe AIR integrates JavaScript and ActionScript to allow cross-scripting between the two languages, and integrated rendering of Flash and HTML content.
  • Security: Applications built on Adobe AIR can only be installed through a trustworthy install process that verifies that the application is signed via industry standard certificates, providing users with information about the source and capabilities of the application.

Flex 3.0

Adobe’s Flash-based RIA development platform, Flex, continues to mature and has been picking up steam in both the corporate space as well as sites such as blist and Scrapblog who have embraced Flex whole-heartedly. Some of the new features in Flex 3.0 include:

  • Intelligent coding, interactive step-through debugging, and visual design of user interface layout
  • New capabilities for creating RIAs and building applications on Adobe AIR
  • Integrates with Adobe Creative Suite® 3 making it easy for designers and developers to work together more efficiently.
  • New testing tools, including memory and performance profilers and integrated support for automated functional testing, speed up development and lead to higher performing RIAs.

One of the most compelling parts of the Flex announcement is the fact that Adobe has released the Flex SDK under the open source Mozilla Public License.

A Take on Flash on the iPhone by Daring Fireball

Flash not being on the iPhone yet is quite telling of the type of company battles going on. I like what Apple produces many times but they love a locked down environment more than Microsoft, in fact Microsoft seems like an open company and open market that is for sure compared to Apple. I am starting to think it will not happen, Flash on the iPhone. I have to boycott the iPhone for the type of closed environment that only non-developers can love. There are certain technologies, open or not, that become base technologies that create a platform of commonality to even make a market possible, the mobile market seems to be doing everything to not let that happen.

Daring Fireball (John Gruber) has a good take on the situation.

There are currently two ways to develop software for the iPhone (and iPod Touch): using HTML/CSS/JavaScript web standards, and using Cocoa. Cocoa is proprietary, but from Apple’s perspective, it’s the good sort of proprietary: a competitive advantage completely owned and controlled by Apple. Apple doesn’t control the HTML/CSS/JavaScript web standards, but neither does anyone else. And Apple does control and own WebKit, which is by anyone’s measure the best mobile implementation of these standards today.

Flash, on the other hand, is (from Apple’s perspective) the wrong sort of proprietary — owned and controlled by another company. Apple and Adobe aren’t enemies, but they’re certainly competitors, and the history between the two companies is not entirely warm.1 In the grand scheme of things, I suspect Apple’s executives aren’t happy at all about Flash’s prominent and entrenched role in desktop computing, particularly the fact that Flash, rather than QuickTime, has become the de facto standard for video on the web.

It is all about control…

The mobile market is wide open in ways that the desktop market is not. E.g., in the mobile OS market, Microsoft isn’t even in first place, let alone a monopoly. And, in the mobile world, Flash is rare, not ubiquitous. Why would Apple help Adobe establish Flash as a de facto standard for the mobile web, too? If Flash does turn into a major force in the mobile world, Apple can always add it later. But why shouldn’t Apple push for a Flash-free mobile web future now?

As it stands today, Apple is dependent on no one other than itself for the software on the iPhone. Apple controls the source code to the whole thing, from top to bottom.2 Why cede any of that control to Adobe?

Unfortunately if Gruber is right the mobile market will continue to be a lag in areas such as gaming, vector based apps, video, competitive markets, and many other things that lead to innovation. I think some of the recent changes in mobile recently are extermely cool (iPhone, Android, new flashlite) but unfortunately they have added about 20 new directions that mobile developers have to develop for. It is anything but a consistent platform even within the company silos being created in the mobile market.

AS3, AS2, Silverlight, Actionscript in Google Trends for Vector Wars

Here is an interesting look to start the new year at Google Trends for some common keywords to this blog audience. Comparing AS2, AS3, Silverlight and actionscript you can see that there is some pretty interesting things happening.

as3 as2 actionscript silverlight  

First off, AS2 and AS3 are clouded because they are also related to EDI and EDI-INT so they get a bit inflated. Silverlight though is pretty unique in the naming. So from this graph we can see this happening:

  • Silverlight and AS3 are growing rapidly
  • Silverlight is crossing over as3 or meeting it
  • The market looking for Silverlight is about 8-10 times as large as actionscript/as3/as3
  • Silverlight and AS3 are growing, AS2 has no growth left and is an EOL language (end of life)
  • AS2 (even with crossover to EDI trends for “as2”) leveled out, where AS3 is starting to lift to a larger market. This is strongly due to it being a fun language based on ES4 and interests programmers.
  • The as3 effect started right in March-April 2007 (hrm I started this blog in April 2007 coincidenc? j/k :))

Another chart including Flex shows a better picture of the keyword wars between flex and silverlight.

as3 as2 actionscript silverlight flex

So from this graph we can see this happening:

  • Flex has a large buzz
  • Adobe’s marketing efforts are many while silverlight is more unique and focused
  • Flex, as3 and Silverlight are popular, and growing in their support (the growth market for technology is in these areas, not in tech from Flash 8/as2)
  • AS2 still taking a nosedive

Flash and Flex programmers and designers should know that with Silverlight 2.0 release coming and the capabilities of Silverlight 2.0 more competitive, flashers should be working on Flex, Flash9 or at least AS3 if not Flex. The RIA competition market will heat up immensely this year with Silverlight 2.0 and possibly Flex3 and coding and programming for Flash and Flex is becoming more involved. It also has a very strong competitor in Silverlight 2.0 coming that will drive this market.

This is all great news if you are ready for it, if you are still coding actionscript2 (AS2) and paying no mind to Silverlight, Flex or at least actionscript3 (AS3) then you will see your market slowly start to fade as things are ramped up and more of a programming focus in the vector wars. If you are a flash coder and ignoring Silverlight, your solutions will suffer. If you are a silverlight coder or .NET coder and ignoring the Flex and AS3 rise your solutions will suffer. I have been playing in AS3, Flex and Silverlight for over a year on both now and they are an entirely new platform with great programming models. The competition puts focus on this market so it is a great time to be skilled in these areas.

MosesProposes: Standardizing Animation and Motion Kits for Flash, Flex, After Effects, Javascript and I add Director and haXe

The Proposal

Moses, the maker of FuseKit, is hoping to influence Adobe product lines to include a common base for animation and motion going forward. Currently the AS3 world is very alive and is inspiring developers like myself to build lots of toolkits and really creating reusable code and kits that can make things very easy from going to Flash to Flex. But wouldn’t it be nice if a part of these kits that have to be downloaded every time you have an application use them be part of the native Adobe applications, or a core animation kit that partially standardizes animation basics to build upon further?

Are we just asking for trouble or is this a good idea? I don’t’ think it can hurt to bring this to the surface. I know that common syntax and familiar kits can really help the developers and designers move from Flash to Flex to After Effects to Javascript, it could also help Adobe with usage and usefulness of their entire suite of products. Or further this could be a standard that allows Silverlight to also build upon (open standard) and may the best platform win.

I think it would be very wise for Adobe to:

  • Standardize animation toolkits across their products and
  • Start standardizing some of the basic tools of building motion and filter kits to native but still allowing a flourishing open source and community research and development aspect.

What MosesProposes:

Moses did speak with someone at Adobe about this and it is generally in the plans:

“It was also a pleasure to see Richard Galvan present the upcoming crop of Flash features: the sleek update to the animation timeline (better late than never?), support for columnated flowing text (double finally!) and the big one, native 3D player support for Display Objects as rotatable 2D planes. He ran out of time and didn’t get to a few others shown at Adobe MAX, such as built-in IK (inverse kinematics) and faster pixel-level drawing for texture-mapping and photoshop-like filter effects.

Talking to him after the presentation I learned that Richard has a keen awareness of exactly where each feature is at currently. We chatted about low-level animation mechanics of the Flash Player, and I found out that the holy grail of a time-based player is indeed on the distant horizon, but that each rev will need to be a small step toward this goal. The new Flash timeline features meld After Effects, Premiere and Live Motion, and from what I’ve seen I have to say that they are nailing this long-overdue upgrade with great design decisions and a level of usability we’ve never seen in Flash. Kudos, team!”

The Current Situation

Right now Tweener and TweenLite (and animation package and a few others) have a unique position in that they work the same almost for AS2 and AS3 (Flex or Flash – with minor property changes such as _x to x as that has changed in AS3). But it would be nice if these kits also had a version for After Effects (really bringing that tool into Flash/flex developer worlds) and Javascript and it would be great if Silverlight also were supported (AgTweener anyone?).

Tweener is leading the pack in this aspect of creating a similar experience from AS2 to AS3 in Flash and AS3 in Flex and even JSTweener for Javascript, and a kit for haXe which is becoming my favorite toy and the dark horse with the most upside potential, with haXe on the loose these points may all be moot as haXe can target any platform (except After Effects easily, correct me if I am wrong and Silverlight but it could easily be done so to do it for Silverlight 1.0 which is ES3 based).

I don’t use After Effects as much right now but if I could easily incorporate this into Flash/Flex and script and animate in a similar syntax and way I know After Effects would definitely have a boost in interest.

Also, the forgotten one Director, can we please get an ES4 based language in that application, or an update? Then kits and add-ons are much more possible. I really miss hardware accelerated 3d in browser as a pushed technology, Director is still around but it does not get the focus it needs. Feel the freedom and coolness just in this small test here in director, hardware accelerated 3d is the best, the Director application environment and Lingo and hacked in javascript are not the best. As a long-time Director user, hobbyist and professional I am disappointed in Director’s support at Adobe thus far, but I digress.

The Reality

The reality is right now the only problem with kits like Tweener, TweenLite, Tween, mx.transitions, mx.motion, etc is that the source has to be embedded in movieclips multiple times. Sometimes there are multiple animation kits per compiled SWF that have to be used for more advanced features. This adds bulk that if common might not need to be there (this comes into play still on mobile and large games/apps).

Let’s say you have an application that pulls in many disconnected SWFs and they all have animation in them, well if you have 20 of these let’s say, and you embedded a very small Tweener at 9k per SWF. That is about 200k of duplication of AS code. Due to the kits small sizes this is not a problem really but when animation kits like Animation Package come into play, you are talking 40k per SWF which would leave you with almost a meg of just duplicated animation code. I don’t think this is that major of a problem for kits like Tweener (9k compiled) and Tweenlite (3k compiled) but as projects get bigger and more depth of animation platforms needed this can be a problem. This can also be solved in architecture with a controller and dummy SWFs to animate but there are times when you need animation in the compiled SWFs and then also need it in many others and the controller.

The other reality is the animation kits (mx.transitions.easing, mx.transitions.tween) for Flex and Tween for fl are a little bloated, more difficult than needed to use and as has been seen, much slower than kits currently available in the community. My one fear about this is that if Adobe makes this, possibly like Microsoft’s toolkits and libraries they put out, they are always bloated and slower, then because they are embedded they are untouchable. If it was standard enough as building blocks that are faster because they are native, then this is the best option as embedded script would be hard pressed to beat native code in the players/applications.

The Future Plans

Some of this is underway….

Animation kits for future, Adobe is releasing Flash 10 called ‘Astro’ that has many new improvements in tweening with xml closer to flex or even Silverlight like transitions and storyboards. Aral Balkan, a sponsor of OSFlash, posted on this and even that Diesel Flash CS4 will include more Tween tools for IK/bones. Tweener , TweenLite, Animation Package, Animation System etc these are all helping to define the best way to do animation kits.

Physics toolkits have their own animation kits currently usually to handle the movement according to algorithms. FOAM, APE , Box2DFlashAS3 (just released very recently will be posting more on this after I check it) and Motor Physics (unreleased but heavily demoed at polygonal labs) are great physics toolkits and I like this being part of the community to get refined, maybe one of them or the best performing ones becomes part of the proposed Adobe Animation bundle. These will define the best way to do physics kits.

3d in flash toolkits have also been emerging rapidly in 2007 with Papervision3D, Away3d based on pv3d, Sandy, and even engines starting to get built on top of these platforms.

The general direction is moving towards another platform in there somewhere but I think much work is left to be done to standardized physics systems, 3d and advanced motion filter tweens and bezier, splines (Catmull-Rom), editors, etc. I think it is getting time for basic animation kits to become more standard though and in latest versions of flash this is included in the flex and flash scripts but not the native code.

Right now the standard in syntax and the broadest reach is Tweener and due to the bigger fish syndrome, haXe that can target any platform, it also has a Tweener and can create code for as2, as3 and any target written in if After Effects, Premiere or other apps get more robust and standard animation and motion kits. Tweener has kits made and contributed for AS2, AS3, haXe, Javascript and others.

There is also Hydra and the AIF Toolkit that are standardizing After Effects and Flash shaders and filters into a new shader language like Cg and reminiscent of processing.org.

As humans we trial and error and build new platforms in the market to step on to create better platforms to build cool stuff, it is evolving right now. AS3 is inspiring platforms within platforms of Flash and Adobe kits as well as on Silverlight and in the Javascript world with JSTweener, jquery etc. As these things are refined we build a level standard platform to build more stuff on. Eventually this will be there and whoever does the standard platform for animation will probably reap in users and abilitty to easily add new products and solutions where people already have training. Silverlight is an example with .NET developers. .NET was also an example with C# so similar to Java. ES4 based AS3 has proven it is inspiring all types of new platforms and kits and will continue to do so and it is an interesting time in this industry whichever direction it goes.

Good Usable RIA Applications in Flash and Silverlight

Flash and Silverlight allow developers to make amazing tools, they allow creative expression and they also are usually a bad user experience many times.

Lots of that is changing as more applications are made and frameworks like Flex and Silverlight progress. Much of the needed performance is now available for Flash/Flex in AS3 and the AVM2 virtual machine that runs it, making full applications much faster for all actions that might have been a drag in AS2 and vector based application’s of the past. Some great tools were made with this still that were usable like gModeler a flash based UML modeling tool but the performance boost will make these applications even more usable for mainstream.

Some great examples of user friendly apps where the flash or the silverlight element doesn’t blind the developer from usability. These applications might really have a market for general users of applications from advanced depending on feature set as long as they are usable.

buzzword (Flash/Flex/AS3)

Is a word processor that is really well done. This is made with Flex and everything from validation to the toolset is very usable and clean. I use Google Docs and haven’t looked back for about a year but this application is a nice change to web editors for documents at the current state. It included all the usual basic functionality and great new zoom, revision history and sharing tools that web office tools like word processors has come to expect. Be sure to try this one.

scrapblog (Flash/Flex/AS3)
scapblog is a bloggy/presentation that is a great template editor and the tools are broad and expected from users including great integration with the web for photos and video at major sites such as photobucket, flickr, etc.

Google SearchMash (Flex/Flash/AS3)

This is a Flex 2 (actionscript 3) application that is very fast and usable in vector.

Sample Textured 3d Vista demo(Silverlight 1.0)

This demo showcases the speed of Silverlight and a usable OS like interface that performs well. It showcases Silverlight but also has great usability in expected user actions and results.

tafiti (Silverlight 1.0 demo)

Tafiti is a search tool that uses SIlverlight and live search to represent search results in a rich way. They did a pretty good job with usability and especially considering the Silverlight 1.0 lack of good input controls. Little bit laggy.

The point is solution developers should use technology but most importantly make it functional and usable to what users expect. RIAs will succeed very well as long as you can select text, hit back buttons, deep linking, use menu systems, integrate services, have all the features of apps not in vector engines like Flash or Silverlight and to make it mainstream friendly they need to have a low bar of entry and just work. RIAs have an advantage right now as office apps move to the web and photo apps as well, many of these apps above would appeal to general computer users in addition to advanced users.

Flash 9 Player Penetration at 93% and thus AS3 AVM2 Development Is Upon Us…

Flash 9 has reached 93%/94% penetration rates. If 90% wasn’t good enough from July then September and now Oct/Nov numbers are at 94% and probably 95% by now. To put it in perspective last December Flash 8 was at 94%.

If you aren’t using Flash9 and especially AS3 now for performance and code reuse you are hurting yourself and your clients. The recent animation package comparisons in AS2 to AS3 show us the type of power that AS3 has. Now you can jusify it by the numbers…and the tests that compare and show 10 times improvement in scalability compared to AS2, even for small motion apps, getting the most out of performance is important.

Flash Player 6 Flash Player 7 Flash Player 8 Flash Player 9
Mature Markets1 99.1% 99.1% 98.4% 93.3%
US/Canada 99.0% 99.0% 98.5% 94.1%
Europe2 99.2% 99.2% 98.2% 93.7%
Japan 99.5% 99.5% 99.0% 93.7%
Emerging Markets3 Not surveyed in this wave

<!–

Notes

  1. Does not include Flash Player 5 and Emerging Markets.
  2. Supports Adobe Flash Video (FLV).

–>[source]

I won’t even go into the business reasons that include AS3 being Adobe’s main focus compared to AS2 and the AVM1, from now on AVM2 will be the staple of focus at Adobe for the Flash team. Support will continue but don’t get smoked by AS3 interactives that AS2 ones can’t compete with. Get your AS3 learn on

Motion Detection In Flash (AS2 and AS3) and C#

Currently working on some motion detection with flash/c# and webcams right now. Here’s a basic overview of some motion detection source files and tricks. Most motion detection is based on snapshots and finding brightness of a pixel with all combined colors, then comparing that to previous snapshots to detect enough variance and thus movement. If you have a webcam hooked up, this sample in Flash AS3 highlights this well showing the camera on the left, then the brightness snapshots on the right. It also has an indicator to the amount of movement due to much brightness.

C#

Here is a nice example of motion detection using various motion detection algorithms in C#. This is built on the very slick AForge.NET Computer Imaging Library.

If you ever wanted your own motion detection or recording it is all possible with the basics of checking brightness and snapshots in the most simple form checking how much change or variance their was to bright pixels or the count of bright pixels compared to previous snapshots.

// Calculate white pixels

private int CalculateWhitePixels( Bitmap image )
{
    int count = 0;
    // lock difference image
    BitmapData data = image.LockBits( new Rectangle( 0, 0, width, height ),
        ImageLockMode.ReadOnly, PixelFormat.Format8bppIndexed );
    int offset = data.Stride - width;
    unsafe
    {
        byte * ptr = (byte *) data.Scan0.ToPointer( );
        for ( int y = 0; y < height; y++ )
        {
            for ( int x = 0; x < width; x++, ptr++ )
            {
                count += ( (*ptr) >> 7 );
            }
            ptr += offset;
        }
    }

    // unlock image
    image.UnlockBits( data );
    return count;
}

Flash AS2

In Flash this is also possible here is a good article from Flash8 that explains cycling through each pixel to compare the image data and implement motion detection from a webcam.

For instance the basics here show how you can compare each pixel and the change in the brightness for each pixel:

//accuracy
tolerance=10;

//color of the current pixel in the current snapshot
nc=now.getPixel(x,y);

//red channel
nr=nc>>16&0xff;

//green channel
ng=nc>>8&0xff;

//blue channel
nb=nc&0xff;

//brightness
nl=Math.sqrt(nr*nr + ng*ng + nb*nb)

//color of the same pixel in the previous snapshot
bc=before.getPixel(x,y);

//red channel
br=bc>>16&0xff;

//green channel
bg=bc>>8&0xff;

//blue channel
bb=bc&0xff;

//brightness
bl=Math.sqrt(br*br + bg*bg + bb*bb);

//difference in brightness between now and before
d=Math.round(Math.abs(bl-nl));

if(d>tolerance)
{
//there was a change in this pixel
}

Flash AS3

Here is a link to grab a conversion of the AS2 Flash motion detection above to AS3.

Source of AS3 motion detection here.

Grant Skinner has done some interesting things with motion detection with Flash and webcams in the past in the incomplet gallery.

C# or other hardware accelerated capable kits are faster but AS3 and Flash with the new AVM2 virtual machine  should be about 10 times faster than AS2 as much of the improvement in performance and the virtual machine is on iteration speed increases such as loops (i.e. pixel loop).

Flash 10: Hydra and AIF (Adobe Image Foundation) and Hardware Rendering

Adobe has announced the release of the inital developer views of AIF and Hydra in “Astro” the next version of the flash player (10).

AIF (Adobe Image Foundation) like AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) is a new technology just out of the gate but it does show that Adobe is into innovating and the vector wars. AIR is beta2 and Flash player 9 “moviestar” updates for video are coming along nicely but here we have more news out of MAX in Chicago that AIF is now available.

What is AIF? It is a new imaging and effects technology to help people create their own filters for Flash (blur, drop shadow etc are defaults). Hydra the new language for this is reminiscent of processing.org (if you haven’t been to flight404.com since the 90’s then processing is all it is about there) and Cg from nVidia to write and test shaders. The fact that it is based on GLSL (OpenGL Shading Language) will help it easily port shaders coming in 3d gaming into Flash which is really sweet. The direction slowly is that Flash and maybe Silverlight will become more of gaming platforms and this is a nice point in that direction.

From Adobe here is what AIF is:

Introduction to the Adobe Image Foundation Toolkit Technology Preview

The Adobe Image Foundation (AIF) Toolkit preview release includes a high-performance graphics programming language that Adobe is developing for image processing, codenamed Hydra, and an application to create, compile and preview Hydra filters and effects. The toolkit contains a specification for the Hydra language, several sample filters, and sample images provided by AIF team members. The AIF technology delivers a common image and video processing infrastructure which provides automatic runtime optimization on heterogeneous hardware. It currently ships in After Effects CS3 and will be used in other Adobe products in the future. The next release of Flash Player, codenamed Astro, will leverage Hydra to enable developers to create custom filters, effects and blend modes.

Hydra is a programming language used to implement image processing algorithms in a hardware-independent manner. Some benefits of Hydra include:

  • Familiar syntax that is based on GLSL, which is C-based
  • Allows the same filter to run efficiently on different GPU and CPU architectures, including multi-core and multiprocessor systems in a future update
  • Abstracts out the complexity of executing on heterogeneous hardware
  • Supports 3rd party creation and sharing of filters and effects
  • Delivers excellent image processing performance in Adobe products

Reaction is that this is a strong Adobe direction to move towards more capable technology as in AS3 and Hydra and allow more customizable possibly hardware rendered and accelerated shader like technology for Flash filters. The new AVM2 and AS3 allow for faster processing and pixel based operations that you need for buildng filters and or shaders.

This is pretty interesting, it isn’t full blown hardware rendering which would just be excellent. So far hardware accelerated full screen stretching in Flash 9 Moviestar beta and now filters will have an element of hardware capable rendering, it should help performance. Full hardware acceleration seemingly will not happen in Flash 10 so the 3d engines and new 3d elements from Adobe are all software rendered still. However dual and multi-core processing will help rendering of 3d in flash BUT video cards are more prevalent than dual or multi-core for some time. Basic hardware rendering even for a low bar could greatly change the flash platform.

It is still a while off yet but it was good to know that performance and shaders/filters are getting attention but hardware rendering not just yet for 3d and basic drawing/rendering. One thing is for sure, in 2007 developing interactive for the web is being shook up and changing rapidly.

Here’s a video taken by Aral Balkan of the Astro presentation at MAX