Category Archives: flash

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Parts of EcmaScript 4 deemed unsound for the Web

This was the conclusion of an EcmaScript meeting in Oslo last month. Specifically, as Brendan Eich explains, three features – packages, namespaces and early binding – were considered too heavyweight unsuitable for a browser scripting language. Here is Eich’s “Executive summary”:

The committee has resolved in favor of these tasks and conclusions:

1. Focus work on ES3.1 with full collaboration of all parties, and target two interoperable implementations by early next year.

2. Collaborate on the next step beyond ES3.1, which will include syntactic extensions but which will be more modest than ES4 in both semantic and syntactic innovation.

3. Some ES4 proposals have been deemed unsound for the Web, and are off the table for good: packages, namespaces and early binding. This conclusion is key to Harmony.

4. Other goals and ideas from ES4 are being rephrased to keep consensus in the committee; these include a notion of classes based on existing ES3 concepts combined with proposed ES3.1 extensions.

This means that the evolution of JavaScript is now on a new path, focused for now on a more modest enhancement to the language called EcmaScript 3.1.

Given how loudly Eich protested about EcmaScript 3.1 last October, it is a surprising turn of events. Was Eich convinced by the arguments of Microsoft and Yahoo in support of a more lightweight JavaScript?

What this means is that JavaScript 2.0 won’t happen as previously envisaged. John Resig:

… you can forget a lot of what you learned about ECMAScript 4, previously. Many of the complicated concepts contained in the language have been tossed. Instead there is a considerable amount of effort going in to making sure that new features will be easily duplicable through other means.

Eich and Resig are keen to stress that JavaScript will still be a highly capable language. Still, the obvious conclusion is that this will be good for plug-ins which support more powerful languages: Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, Sun Java or Java/FX. Personally I’m disappointed.

It is also presenting Adobe with a tricky problem, as it implemented much of an earlier specification for EcmaScript 4 in ActionScript 3. Rather than being a standard language, as Adobe had planned, it looks like this will now be more of an Adobe language. I doubt this will have much practical impact on developers.

PS Brendan Eich has commented below.

BBC iPlayer supporting H.264 in Flash – what’s the point of downloading now?

The BBC’s streamed catch-up broadcasting, iPlayer, is about to be upgraded to the high-definition H.264 standard, according to this post, from the BBC’s Head of Digital Media Anthony Rose.

He says that the “Play high quality” option will be available “from this week”, though I couldn’t see any sign of it on a brief sampling of available content.

The question: where does this leave the download service, based on peer-to-peer file sharing? This is the thing that caused me considerable hassle this time last year, and which also drew criticism because it is Windows-only.

By contrast, the Flash-based embedded video seems to have performed as smoothly as Flash usually does.

When Flash streaming was introduced, the BBC said that the download option would remain for higher-quality viewing, but with H.264 Flash that argument has little force. It is still comforting to have a downloaded file, in case your Net connection fails or becomes congested, but other than that there is little advantage. My guess is that it will wither. Supporting both must be expensive.

It is unfortunate for Microsoft, whose technology is losing out to Adobe’s at the BBC, particularly since Silverlight would probably have worked nicely in this context. Unfortunately the old iPlayer is not Silverlight, but based on Windows Media Player, known to be hassle-prone as well as being single platform.

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Microsoft Silverlight: 10 reasons to love it, 10 reasons to hate it

A year or so a go I wrote a post called Adobe AIR: 10 reasons to love it, 10 reasons to hate it. Here’s the same kind of list for Microsoft’s Silverlight, based on the forthcoming Silverlight 2.0 rather than the current version. The items are not in any kind of order; they also reflect my interest in application development rather than design. It is not a definitive list, so there are many more points you could make – by all means comment – and it will be interesting to have another look a year from now when the real thing has been out for a while.

This Silverlight developer chart is available in full on Brad Abrams’ blog here, or in Joe Stegman’s Deep Zoom version here.

The pros…

1. The Silverlight plug-in means developers can target a single, consistent runtime for browser-based applications, rather than dealing with the complexity of multiple browsers in different versions. You also get video and multimedia effects that are hard or impossible with pure HTML and JavaScript; though Adobe’s Flash has the same advantages.

2. Execute .NET code without deploying the .NET runtime. Of course, the Silverlight plug-in does include a cut-down .NET runtime, but instead of dealing with a large download and the complexities of the Windows installer, the user has a small download of about 4MB, all handled within the browser. In my experience so far, installation is smooth and easy.

3. Performance is promising. Silverlight comes out well in this prime number calculator, thanks no doubt to JIT compilation to native code, though it may not compare so well for rendering graphics.

4. Support for Mono (Moonlight) means there will be an official open source implementation of Silverlight, mitigating the proprietary aspect.

5. Silverlight interprets XAML directly, whereas Adobe’s XML GUI language, MXML, gets converted to SWF at compile time. In fact, XAML pages are included as resources in the compiled .XAP binary used for deploying Silverlight applications. A .XAP file is just a ZIP with a different extension. This also means that search engines can potentially index text within a Silverlight application, just as they can with Flash.

6. Third-party component vendors are already well on with Silverlight add-ons. For example, Infragistics, ComponentOne and DevExpress.

7. Take your .NET code cross-platform. With Macs popping up everywhere, the ability to migrate VB or C# code to a cross-platform, browser-based Silverlight client will be increasingly useful. Clearly this only applies to existing .NET developers: I guess this is the main market for Silverlight, but it is a large one. The same applies to the next point:

8. Uses Visual Studio. Microsoft’s IDE is a mature and well-liked development environment; and since it is also the tool for ASP.NET, you can use it for server-side code as well as for the Silverlight client. For those who don’t get on with Visual Studio, the Silverlight SDK also supports command-line compilation.

9. Choose your language. Support for multiple languages has been part of .NET since its beginning, and having the .NET runtime in Silverlight 2.0 means you can code your client-side logic in C#, Visual Basic, or thanks to the DLR (Dynamic Language Runtime) Iron Ruby or Iron Python.

10. Isolated storage gives Silverlight applications local file access, but only in a protected location specific to the application, providing a relatively secure way to get this benefit.

The cons…

1. If Apple won’t even allow Flash on the iPhone, what chance is there for Silverlight?

2. Silverlight is late to the game. Flash is mature, well trusted and ubiquitous; Silverlight only comes out of beta in the Autumn (we hope) in the version we care about – the one that includes the .NET runtime – and will still lack support on mobile devices, even Windows Mobile, though this is promised at some unspecified later date.

3. The design tools are Expression Blend and Expression Design – but who uses them? The design world uses Adobe PhotoShop.

4. While having solution compatibility between Expression Blend and Visual Studio sounds good, it’s actually a hassle having to use two separate tools, especially when there are niggling incompatibilities, as in the current beta.

5. No support for the popular H.264 video codec. Instead hi-def video for Silverlight must be in VC-1, which is less common.

6. It’s another effort to promote proprietary technology rather than open standards.

7. Yes Linux will be supported via Moonlight, but when? It seems likely that the Linux implementation will always lag behind the Windows and Mac releases.

8. Silverlight supports SOAP web services, or REST provided you don’t use PUT or DELETE, but doesn’t have an optimized binary protocol like Adobe’s AMF (ActionScript Message Format), which likely means slower performance in some scenarios.

9. Silverlight is a browser-only solution, whereas Flash can be deployed for the desktop using AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime). Having said that, yes I have seen this.

10. You have to develop on Windows. This is particularly a problem for the Expression design tools, since designers have a disproportionately high number of Macs.

FluorineFx and Weborb bring fast web services to .NET and Flex

Adobe’s Andrew Shorten contacted me following my piece on consuming .NET SOAP with Flex.

He mentioned two free products which integrate Flex with .NET.

Fluorine “provides an implementation of Flex/Flash Remoting, Flex Data Services and real-time messaging functionality for the .NET framework.”

WebORB from Midnight Coders “supports Action Message Format (AMF) version 0 and 3 and can be used to process Flex and Flash Remoting requests. Additionally, WebORB provides an implementation of the RTMP protocol and supports the following real-time messaging and streaming features: Flash Video streaming, video recording, data push, server-to-client invocation and remote shared objects.” There are also implementations of WebORB for Java, PHP and Ruby.

These look useful if you want to take advantage of the faster AMF protocol or use other features like RTMP. The disadvantage: more server-side gunk.

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The messy world of the Web 2.0 user interface

Verity Stob’s Web 2.0 app diagram is worth a look.

So is it back to plain old HTML+forms then? That won’t do either; your app will look a decade old, and offline will never work.

This is why the current RIA wars are fascinating – particularly since Apple seems averse to runtimes like Flash, Java or Silverlight on its iPhone.

Which leaves what? JavaScript, hélas.

Why developers don’t write apps for Vista

From Evans Data we get this statistic (email address required):

Only eight percent of North American software developers are currently writing applications to run on Microsoft’s Vista operating system, while half are still writing programs for XP, according to Evans Data’s Spring 2008, North American Development Survey. These same developers forecast a fragmented Windows market in 2009 with only 24 percent expecting to target Vista and 29% expecting to continue with XP.

Matt Asay picks this up, saying that 92 percent of developers are ignoring Vista.

Sorry, this is silly. Sane Windows developers are writing apps that work on both XP and Vista. Writing an app that only works on Vista is equally as short-sighted as writing an app that only works on XP. Even WPF apps work on XP. So what are these 8% of Vista-only developers doing? Targeting DirectX 10?

Or did they get a somewhat ambiguous questionnaire and were collectively inconsistent over which boxes they ticked?

I agree that Vista has some problems, but this is not a useful analysis.

Two more interesting questions would be:

1. What proportion of developers are starting new projects that are cross-platform rather than Windows-only?

2. What proportion of developers are starting new projects that run from the Internet with zero desktop install, or maybe just a plug-in dependency?

There is a reason why Microsoft is fighting to establish Silverlight, and why Flex and Flash are suddenly so interesting to developers.

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Quick code performance test for Flash vs Silverlight

Quick performance test for Flash vs Silverlight. This just counts prime numbers and doesn’t touch graphics or multimedia. See Bubblemark and GUIMark for some more comprehensive tests; I just put this one together to satisfy my own curiosity. More details, and the code to scrutinize, here.

Please don’t take this too seriously. I may have messed up the test; it is only one small aspect of performance; and there are lots of other factors to think about. I just find this sort of thing interesting.

Update: Note that both Flash and Silverlight have just-in-time compilers that dramatically speed this type of code.

Comments are welcome here.

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Flash in PDF – breakthrough, disaster, or irrelevant?

I’m interested in opinions on the integration of Flash and PDF in Adobe Acrobat 9 – an obvious move, I guess, but nevertheless one that moves PDF away from its original speciality of print fidelity, and more towards – what? Online alternative to XHTML? Application container? Or just what it always was, but with the ability to add Flash decoration?

If I wanted to send someone a video, after the release of Acrobat 9, I might well use a PDF with embedded Flash, because I’d bet that it would play OK irrespective of the recipient’s OS. Then again, I wouldn’t email a video; I’d email a link to an URL; far more sensible. Especially since restrictive size limits are still in place for many business email users.

There are some interesting comments to Joe Wilcox’s breathless blog post on the subject. Smart documents are all very well; but distributing things that you can execute has well-known risks.

Will you use Flash embedded in PDF?

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Adobe’s Acrobat.com connects with online storage, collaboration

Adobe has launched Acrobat.com, a free collaboration service now in beta. On the site, you can store up to 5GB of files, create documents with the Buzzword online word processor, share documents either with the world or with specified email addresses (the recipient must sign in with an Adobe account), and convert documents to PDF online. The PDF conversion is a trial limited to 5 documents, unless you subscribe to an online service, or buy Acrobat 9 and convert on the desktop (of course, there are plenty of other ways to convert to PDF these days). There is also an online conferencing application called Connect Now, which you can use for meetings with up to two other participants.

Connect Now is brilliant; I’m now yet convinced by the other services. Don’t get me wrong; 5GB of free online space is a fantastic offer, though it happens to be the same as Microsoft offers in Skydrive. However, everything is implemented in Flash, and this can be annoying. I find myself trying to right-click items to get a context menu; this doesn’t work, and I just get the Flash player settings menu. Right-click works OK in Google Docs, which also lets you create spreadsheets and presentations online, not just word processor documents. What is the compelling reason to use Acrobat.com, as opposed to these other services? And what is the business model – will Adobe go full tilt at the online productivity market, and offer Acrobat.com subscriptions for the Enterprise? And finance the free consumer/small biz services with advertising? I guess that is likely; but it is not good enough for those kinds of moves yet.

Connect Now on the other hand is a great conferencing system; Flash makes sense here, because it removes much of the friction that I’ve seen with other systems. You get chat; whiteboard with elegant drawing tools; webcam; shared notes; and screen sharing. The application can run with within or outside the browser. I presume it a cut down version of Connect Pro, formerly Breeze. I can see wide take-up for this; useful in its own right, and a good taster for the full version.

Screen sharing is a powerful feature, though I had a few problems on my first attempt, pretty though:

 

My second attempt worked fine.

Who needs AIR? NY Times does desktop Silverlight app for Mac

The New York Times is porting its excellent Times Reader application to the Mac using Silverlight 1.0:

Times Reader for the Mac is a native Cocoa application, which uses the Safari toolkit and Silverlight to render the pages.

Follow the link for some screengrabs. Adobe’s AIR (which also uses the Safari toolkit) is the obvious choice for this kind of online app; it’s interesting to see the NY Times adapting Silverlight in a similar manner.

I spoke to developer Nick Thuesen about this at Mix07, so this is not news for readers of this blog; though I’d become sceptical about whether it would be delivered because of the delay. Now, I’m surprised that the NY Times is still using Silverlight 1.0 rather than waiting for 2.0.

The Silverlight version appears to have some compromises. In particular, it cannot flow text on the client:

We paginate the pages for the Mac version on our servers (the Windows version does this on the PC). When you sync, we send you pages for the four window and three font sizes described above.

Still, the screens look good and I look forward to trying it – especially as the public beta will be free, whereas you need a subscription for the full release.

There is a high level of hostility towards Silverlight in the comments to the post. Mostly these appear to be religious in nature – ie. Mac users hate all things Microsoft. It does illustrate the difficulty the company has in persuading the world to take its cross-platform ambitions seriously.

Thanks to Ryan Stewart for the link.