Category Archives: Web

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Sencha’s Michael Mullany talks about Flash developers “flailing around for an alternative” and the Big App Rewrite

I spoke to Michael Mullany, CEO of Sencha, a company which creates HTML5 frameworks and tools for desktop and mobile browsers. Ext JS is aimed at desktop browser applications, while Sencha Touch is for mobile devices, currently Apple iOS, Google Android and Blackberry 6+. Sencha’s tools include Ext Designer, a visual application builder for Ext JS, and Sencha Animator, a designer for CSS 3 animations. Sencha Touch apps can also be packaged as native apps for iOS or Android.

At its developer conference in Austin USA earlier this month, attended by around 600, the company announced Sencha.io, a cloud service for mobile web apps, as well as presenting Sencha Touch 2.0, a major update.

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Mullany talks on his blog about “The Big App Rewrite”:

It’s a world where HTML5 powers the client apps, and they’re enriched with local APIs that execute on everything from traditional desktops to Smart TV’s. And cloud services provide the fabric that enables continuous, shared experiences across the diversity of end-devices. We think this is the platform for the web.

Sencha is perfectly in tune with the trends towards cloud, HTML5 and mobile, which is why I was keen to speak to Mullany. I asked him to contrast Ext JS and Sencha Touch with JQuery and JQuery Mobile.

JQuery is a pretty tiny library that helps with Dom abstraction and animations but that’s it. JQuery UI gives you some visual components as well but Ext-JS is the full enchilada. It’s supposed to be the web equivalent of Cocoa or the Microsoft Windows presentation foundation. It’s got an event system, a theming system, a very rich set of user interface controls, its object oriented, and it’s got a complex layout system so you can build nested layouts that have very complex event handling among different parts of the user interface. We’ve seen user interfaces that have several thousand data elements on a page.

It also has a model-view-controller architecture library on the client side so you can structure your code properly for large applications, it’s got a theming system so you can variable-ise your colours, shapes and look and feel very easily. It also has a full data package so you can do very rich data manipulation on the client, bind data in various complex ways across variables, it’s very different than J query.

And just like you’d probably never use Ext-JS on a public web page, you’d never use JQuery to build something like Marketo or Salesforce VisualForce or a Documentum content management system, all of which use Ext-JS. Ext-JS is one of the most popular behind the firewall development libraries for desktop development.

Now on the mobile side the difference is slightly less. JQuery mobile does give you a set of user interface widgets, but the difference is also similar to the desktop … Sencha Touch is designed to let you do anything you could do with Cocoa Touch or an Android SDK or a Windows Mobile SDK. Its intent is to equip you to develop native quality experiences with native style interaction, things like fixed user interface chrome, multiple independent scrollable areas, nested layouts, those kinds of capabilities.

Our performance tends to be better cross-platform, we’ve done more performance work, we have our theming system, we have an MVC library, we have a templating system. With JQuery mobile you tend to want to add multiple things together and you can certainly assemble a collection of things that will look like Sencha Touch, but Sencha Touch is designed to be integrated, everything is designed to work the same, and the general feedback is that even though Sencha Touch is a much richer system that takes some insight to learn, you get better applications out of it.

I also asked about the new cloud service, Sencha.io. A notable feature is that according to Mullany developers do not have to touch the code that runs on the cloud, they just call its API from the client:

We call it the first client-centric HTML5 cloud, which is a set of authentication, data, data synchronisation, and geo-location services that help people build mobile applications without needing to write server side code. So you literally write your client side application in HTML 5 using Sencha SDKs and then you store your user’s data and you store your user’s authentication credentials in our cloud. You don’t have to worry about mucking around with anything from Ruby on Rails to PHP to Java, it’s all abstracted behind these very clean APIs. We think that’s the future of mobile development, that you’ll have these very thin abstracted server-side services, and and these very rich mobile clients that have off-line state and local data storage powered by HTML5. We think that model is the future of mobile web development and we obviously hope that Sencha.io will be the most popular back-end.

Sencha’s frameworks are open source and dual-licenced. You can use both Touch and Ext JS freely under the terms of the GPL v3. There is also free commercial licencing for Sencha Touch, while commercial licences for Ext JS are paid for. Sencha also has commercial tools, and I asked Mullany to describe the tool products:

We really see the three legs of the business being cloud, tools, and SDKs. We just did a preview of the Sencha Designer 2.0 release at our conference. That has support for Sencha Touch in it so you can drag and drop Sencha touch applications together and then actually package them from within the tool. The intent is also to allow you to hook up to cloud APIs from within the tool as well so it is an integrated, easy-to-use visual application builder for both desktop and touch. So that’s targeted at developers.

Sencha Animator is a little bit different. There’s no JavaScript in it really at all. It is a pure CSS 3 animation tool, and it is a traditional visual timeline with keyframe manipulation, and a style visual editor for creating rich animations.

The market we’re targeting for that is people doing interactive brand advertising on mobile. That’s where you have ubiquitous support for CSS 3 animations that are hardware accelerated so they tend to be the best performance. It’s also very web content friendly so you don’t have to write your application in Sencha Touch just to use Animator, it’s pure CSS output that you drop into whatever piece of content that you want to build.

The reason we built it is because we saw people flailing around for an alternative to doing Flash ads on mobile. Because Flash was banned from iOS, it meant that a whole segment of rich advertising that was based on Flash for the desktop had nowhere to go. They weren’t going to build native iOS applications, it had to be web. So the question then was what do you build it in, do you use JavaScript animation, do you use SVG, do you use Canvas, do you use some of the other graphic technologies such as Web GL? The answer is that CSS 3 is really the highest performance and cognitively pretty easy to wrap your head around.

People “flailing around for an alternative to doing Flash ads?” Mullany has his own agenda, but his comments do highlight the problems caused for Adobe by the success of Flash-free iPhone and iPad. I cannot help thinking that Sencha would be an attractive acquisition for Adobe or certain other companies, but I am sure smarter people than myself have thought of that.

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HTML5 scorecard: Amazon Kindle Fire weak, iOS 5 great, IE10 preview one of the best

The Sencha blog has a great series of posts on HTML5 support on various devices. This is of direct interest to Sencha because its products are JavaScript and CSS application frameworks, Sencha Touch for mobile and ExtJS for any browser. The latest post is on the Amazon Kindle Fire – and it is weak:

The Amazon Kindle Fire doesn’t seem designed to run HTML5 apps as a primary goal. It does a good job of displaying ordinary web pages and its resolution and rendering capabilities meet that need well. But there are too many sharp edges, performance issues, and missing HTML5 features for us to recommend that any developer create web apps primarily for the Kindle Fire. The iPad 2 running iOS 5 continues to be the tablet to beat, with the PlayBook a respectable runner-up in HTML5 capabilities.

Part of the problem is that the Fire runs Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread) which has a weaker browser than later versions. That is not the only source of disappointment though. According to Sencha’s Michael Mullany, the GPU is not used for hardware acceleration of browser content, the JavaScript timer is laggy, there is no embedded HTML5 video (videos launch in a separate player), and CSS corners are not properly anti-aliased.

But what about the Kindle’s cloud-accelerated browsing that we heard so much about when it was announced? This is the biggest disappointment:

One of the main selling points of the Kindle browser is supposed to be its cloud-caching and pipelined HTTP connection that uses the SPDY protocol. This does seem to speed up normal page browsing a little, but it’s not very noticeable and we didn’t test this rigorously. But for HTML5 web apps, where code is downloaded and executed, there doesn’t seem to be any performance difference when we tested with acceleration on and off. It doesn’t appear as if client JavaScript is executed on the server-side at all, so the Kindle does not seem to have Opera Mini-style server-side execution. And SunSpider scores were essentially the same when accelerated browsing was turned on or off.

Moving on from Kindle, it is interesting but not surprising to see a great report for HTML5 in Apple’s iOS 5. Less expected though is a big thumbs-up for HTML5 in Microsoft’s IE10 preview on Windows 8:

Simply put, (and with the caveat that we were running on the notably overpowered developer preview hardware) the IE10 HTML5 experience is one of the best we’ve seen on any platform to date. After a decade of web neglect, Microsoft is back with a vengeance.

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The main caveat is the absence of WebGL. Microsoft is supporting its own 3D graphics library.

Another worry for Microsoft is simply the level of hostility towards the company and IE in particular, among the developer and designer community it so much wants to reach. You can get a flavour of this from some of the comments to Mullany’s post, for example:

I never really like Windows and I absolutely despise Internet Explorer. There are so many exceptions in code to be made for Internet Explorer that i stopped trying so hard to make it look the same as other browsers. Hopefully, IE 10 will stop all of these exceptions and weird additions that are made to websites that make everything instantly awful so I can actually go back to trying to make things look nice in IE. It’s really sad though that so many people use Windows and IE that we cannot ditch it for a better system and better browser.

What about Android? The most recent offering covered in the Sencha series is Motorola Xoom which is a disaster:

We were excited about the first true Android operating system for tablets and had high hopes for a mobile browser that was as powerful as the platform. Sadly, the Xoom and Honeycomb are a real disappointment. We found consistent and reproducible issues in CSS3 Animations and CSS3 Transitions among other things. We had issues where the browser either hung or crashed. Regular scrolling was slow or below full framerate. We had issues where media playback failed or performed incorrectly. At times it felt like we were using a preproduction device, but we bought our test device from a Verizon Wireless store.

I have a hunch that the latest Galaxy Tab might fare better. Sencha did like the HTML5 support in the BlackBerry PlayBook though.

With Adobe Flash now in decline on mobile devices (Adobe is no longer working on the mobile Flash player) HTML5 support is all-important for rich browser-hosted apps; I will be watching with interest for future Sencha reports.

Microsoft backs ECMAScript, dismisses Google Dart

Microsoft has posted an article on Evolving ECMAScript on its IE Blog. ECMAScript is the official standard for what we call JavaScript. The company is proposing some minor additions “to address gaps in Math, String and Number functionality as well as Globalization.” It has also taken the opportunity to take a shot at Google, which is proposing a new web language called Dart:

Some examples, like Dart, portend that JavaScript has fundamental flaws and to support these scenarios requires a “clean break” from JavaScript in both syntax and runtime. We disagree with this point of view. We believe that with committee participant focus, the standards runtime can be expanded and the syntactic features necessary to support JavaScript at scale can be built upon the existing JavaScript standard.

Dart will compile to JavaScript so there is a measure of compatibility, but if the language catches on then browsers without a native implementation will be disadvantaged.

Adobe “shifting its business model”: more publishing, less programming

Adobe has announced a shift in its business strategy, together with the loss of around 750 employees.

So what is changing? Adobe says it will be focusing on digital media and digital marketing, while investing less in “certain enterprise solution product lines.” In line with this strategy, Adobe acquired video advertising company auditude last week.

Here are the things which Adobe says are “important elements” in its new approach:

  • Creative Suite extended with tablet apps and delivered through the cloud
  • Greater investment in HTML 5: Dreamweaver, Edge and PhoneGap
  • Flash positioned for “advanced” web, video, and mobile apps
  • Digital publishing solutions
  • Video advertising
  • Document services such as electronic contracts and signatures

So what will Adobe be doing less? This is harder to discern as the releases, naturally enough, say less about it. The key remark is that:

the company will reduce its investment, and expected license revenue, in certain enterprise solution product lines

We can conclude, I guess, that the Digital Enterprise Platform once known as LiveCycle is going to get less attention as the company focuses more on digital content and less on providing a platform for enterprise applications. I would guess that this will impact the middleware services more than things like the Flex framework and Flash Platform tools, but I am speculating. More information is coming in a financial analyst meeting tomorrow in New York.

Twilio: programmable telephony, SMS comes to the UK, Europe

Web telephony provider twilio, which is based in San Francisco, has today announced its first international office, in London. You can now purchase UK telephone numbers at a cost of $1.00 per month, or Freephone numbers for $2.00 per month.

Twilio is not in competition with Skype or Google Voice; rather it offers an API so that you can incorporate voice calls and SMS messaging into web or mobile applications. The REST API lets you provision numbers with various options for what happens to incoming calls (conferencing, forwarding to another number or voice over IP, recording, transcriptions), as well as notifications so that you can get email or SMS alerts.

CEO and co-founder Jeff Lawson came from Amazon Web Services (AWS), and has a similar business model in that twilio targets developers and offers infrastructure as a service, rather than selling complete applications to its customers. Twilio does not own any datacenters, but uses mainly AWS and some RackSpace virtual servers to provide a resilient and scalable service.

The launch partner for the UK is Zendesk, a cloud-based helpdesk provider, which is using twilio to add voice to what was previously an email-based product. Zendesk forms an excellent case study. Using the service, you can provision a support number and have calls redirected to agents, or have a voicemail recorded, using a simple setup procedure. Calls can be recorded and you can have alerts sent when they are received.

What this means is that even the smallest businesses can offer helpdesk support using a pay-as-you-go model.

Lawson observes that twilio is the 6th and 13th most popular API on ProgrammableWeb (he says it is 5th if you combine voice and SMS) and claims very rapid growth in traffic using the API, though he will not talk about revenue. The company has around 60 employees in San Francisco and just one in the UK initially.

The service is also launching in beta for 5 other European countries: Poland, France, Portugal, Austria and Denmark. 11 other countries will be added by the end of 2011, though there are prominent omissions – no Germany or Spain, for example.

I was impressed by the demo and presentation at the press launch. Lawson provisioned a conferencing number and had us dial in during the briefing. He says twilio is engaged in disrupting on-premise telephony applications with a cloud service, in the same way Salesforce.com has done for CRM (Customer Relationship Management). The service is inexpensive to set up; Lawson said that this commodity pay-as-you-go pricing is essential for disruptive technology to succeed, another strategy borrowed from AWS.

There are server libraries for web platforms including Ruby, PHP, Java and C#, and client SDKs for JavaScript, Android and iOS.

Internet security hangs on a DNS thread, as hacks of The Register, Telegraph, Acer sites demonstrates

Several well-known web sites including The Register, The Daily Telegraph, UPS.comn and Acer.com suffered a DNS hack on Sunday evening. The consequence is that visitors to the sites may see a Turkish hack message.

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The hacked sites share a common registrar, Ascio Technologies, and were registered through NetNames. Both NetNames and Ascio are brands of GroupNBT. Zone-h suggests:

It appears that the turk­ish attack­ers man­aged to hack into the DNS panel of Net­Names using a SQL injec­tion and mod­ify the con­fig­u­ra­tion of arbi­trary sites, to use their own DNS.

This kind of attack is more serious than simply hacking into a web server and defacing the content. DNS maps internet names to the IP numbers that identify actual servers on the internet. This means that the hackers can intercept not only web requests for the affected names, but also email. Hackers could also read cookies placed on user’s computers by the real sites, possibly gaining access to user accounts in cases where there is a saved logon.

What this means is that access to DNS records is security-critical. It should give any business pause for thought. How strong is the username/password which gives access to your ISP or registrar’s control panel, allowing the DNS records to be changed? How secure are the servers themselves at that ISP or registrar – it is this that was cracked in this case, according to Zone-h.

Fixing a DNS problem is never instant, since records are replicated across the internet and any changes take time to propagate. This also explains why some users see hacked sites, while others get through to the correct destination. It is possible that the hackers chose to strike at the weekend, in the hope that corrective action would take longer. At the time of writing (23.30 on Sunday) the sites I checked have been fixed at source, including The Register and The Daily Telegraph, but some users are still seeing defaced sites.

jQuery usage soars as Adobe Flash shows slight decline

A press release from .appendTo, a company which offers jQuery-based services and training, states that “jQuery Overtakes Flash on World’s Top Websites”. I found it a curious claim insofar as jQuery is not really an alternative to Flash, though there is some limited set of graphical effects for which I guess you could use either.

I took a look at the source data from httparchive.org – note that the data at this link changes regularly. I compared the most recent stats, from August 15 2011, to the oldest available, November 15 2010, an interval of nine months. The data is based on the most visited sites based on various lists and seems to amount to between 15,000 and 20,000 URLs.

In November 2010, jQuery was found on 39% of the sites, whereas Flash was on 49%. In August 2011, the stats show jQuery on 48% of sites with Flash on 47%, hence the press release.

Other figures that caught my eye: in web servers, Microsoft IIS has moved from 21% to 20%, apache from 51% to 49%, nginx from 11% to 13%.

Google analytics is the most commonly found script, moving from 61% to 63% of these sites. The amount of data Google receives on internet traffic is remarkable.

The real story here is the ascendancy of jQuery rather than the decline of Flash. If you want your website to work on Apple’s mobile devices as well as on desktop PCs, then Flash is not an option.

Adobe does not make money from the Flash runtime, which is free. It makes money from design tools and server-side services, among other things. Although it is good for Adobe if everyone uses its Flash client, it can still succeed in an HTML 5 world.

Flash has other roles too. Adobe AIR uses the Flash runtime on desktop PCs and some smartphones, and an iOS compiler lets you build Flash apps for Apple’s iPhone and iPad.

There is also some evidence that Adobe is tilting its efforts a little more towards HTML, with products including the preview of Edge which is a motion and interaction design tool for HTML5, CSS and JavaScript.

Android only 23% open says report; Linux, Eclipse win praise

Vision Mobile has published a report on what it calls the Open Governance Index. The theory is that if you want to measure the extent to which an open source project is really open, you should look at its governance, rather than focusing on the license under which code is released:

The governance model used by an open source project encapsulates all the hard questions about a project. Who decides on the project roadmap? How transparent are the decision-making processes? Can anyone follow the discussions and meetings taking place in the community? Can anyone create derivatives based on the project? What compliance requirements are there for creating derivative handsets or applications, and how are these requirements enforced? Governance determines who has influence and control over the project or platform – beyond what is legally required in the open source license.

The 45-page report is free to download, and part-funded by the European Union Seventh Framework Program. It is a good read, covering 8 open source projects, including the now-abandoned Symbian Foundation. Here is the result:

Open Governance Index (%open)
Eclipse 84%
Linux 71%
WebKit 68%
Mozilla 65%
MeeGo 61%
Symbian 58%
Qt 58%
Android 23%

The percentages are derived by analysing four aspects of each project.

  • Access covers availability of source code and transparency of decisions.
  • Development refers to the transparency of contributions and acceptance processes.
  • Derivatives covers constraints on use of the project, such as trademarks and distribution channels.
  • Community structure looks at project membership and its hierarchy.

What is wrong with Android? I am not sure how the researchers get to 23%, but it scores badly in all four categories. The report observes that the code to the latest “Honeycomb” version of Android has not been published. It also has this to say about the Open Handset Alliance:

When launched, the Open Handset Alliance served the purpose of a public industry endorsement for
Android. Today, however, the OHA serves little purpose besides a stamp of approval for OHA
members; there is no formal legal entity, no communication processes for members nor frequent
member meetings.

By contrast, Eclipse and Linux are shining lights. MeeGo and Mozilla are also praised, thought the report does mention Mozilla’s “Benevolent dictators”:

In the case of conflicts and disputes, these are judged by one of two Mozilla “benevolent dictators” – Brendan Eich for technical disputes and Mitchell Baker for non-technical disputes.

Qt comes out OK but has a lower score because of Nokia’s control over decision making, though it sounds like this was written before Nokia’s Windows Mobile revolution.

WebKit scores well though the report notes that most developers work for Apple or Google and that there is:

Little transparency regarding how decisions are made, and no public information provided on this

Bearing that in mind, it seems odd to me that WebKit comes above Mozilla, but I doubt the percentages should be taken too seriously.

It is good to see a report that looks carefully at what it really means to be open, and the focus on governance makes sense.

Wolfram announces Computable Document Format for interactive docs

Wolfram has announced the Computable Document Format (CDF), a document format that enables live computation to be embedded within it. “It’s a new way to communicate the world’s quantitative ideas much more richly than we have in the past, and in doing that a new kind of active document,” says  Conrad Wolfram, Strategic Director of Wolfram Research. That said, the technology here is not really new. There is a close relationship between CDF and Mathematica, Wollfram’s tool for creating mathematical calculations and simulations. The authoring tool for CDF is Mathematica:

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The announcement then is really about a new player for Mathematica content and applications, to broaden their usage. The CDF player is free, though there are some limitations. If you charge for your document, or want to display it without the player chrome, then a paid licence is needed. A CDF document can also be compiled into a standalone executable, blurring the distinction between document and application.

The CDF player is available for Mac, Windows and Linux. There is also a browser plug-in for embedding CDF documents into web pages.

It is easy to find use cases for CDF. It is for documents where there is value in performing calculations or interacting with data within the page. An example is pension planning:

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We have all seen those documents with a series of projections based on different assumptions about retirement age, contributions, investment growth and so on. This works better as an interactive chart where you can enter whatever values you like.

Other examples are statistical analysis and business intelligence, textbooks and course books where students can interact with equations and simulations, business proposals where you want to show how financial projections change based on different assumptions, or even general news reports where instead of a static chart you might want to show interactive graphics that let readers drill down into the data that interests them, or see real-time results.

Along with the computation engine, CDF supports a decent range of traditional content formatting features including cascading stylesheets.

Wolfram is correct in assuming that this kind of interactive document is important, and something we will increasingly take for granted in the era of the Web, eBooks and tablets. But can it succeed in establishing its own new document format when we already have HTML, Adobe PDF and Flash, Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, and other formats which are also capable of embedded interactive content?

That is a key question. Wolfram offers a table which claims to show the benefits of CDF versus competitors such as HTML and PDF, but it is as skewed as these tables usually are. Wolfram says a PDF document cannot be compiled as a standalone executable, for example, but a PDF in an Adobe AIR application comes close. It is also worth noting that you can embed Flash in PDF, which would be an obvious route to something like the pension planning document mentioned above.

Nevertheless, CDF does have advantages. In particular, it has Mathematica, and whereas authoring a Flash applet requires programming and design skills, Mathematica is more approachable presuming you have the necessary mathematical, scientific or financial skills; and if you do not, you should not be authoring the document. Mathematica will construct a user interface automatically. It also has a huge range of built-in algorithms, functions and charts. Wolfram claims that authoring a CDF should be within reach of anyone who can work with an Excel macro.

The challenge Wolfram faces is how to make CDF usable across a broad range of devices and clients. Having to install a player or plug-in is a considerable deterrent. PDF or better still HTML5 has broader reach and works on Google Android and Apple iOS as well as on desktop PCs.

I tried the CDF plugin and player on Windows 7 and encountered several issues. The plug-in does not play nicely with Internet Explorer’s Protected mode and I saw this dialog frequently:

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I also had some issues with the player. I could not get an example document on Gulf Oil Spill Estimation to work:

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The player is currently for Windows, Mac and Linux – what about Apple iOS? Wolfram says it is working on this, with a two-pronged approach. One idea is presumably based on some sort of app, I’d guess either a player if Apple allows it, or some way to compile a CDF into an app. The other idea is to render the interactive parts server-side, so you could use them in a web page without a plug-in. This second idea could also remove the need for a plug-in on the desktop. You will get a performance hit because of all those trips back and forth to the server, but this could be mitigated by high performance computing on the server that will perform calculations more quickly than your client.

I can see CDF being popular within its niche, but whether it can transition into being a mass-market format I am not sure. Established plug-ins and runtimes such as Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, and Java on the client are all under pressure, particularly as Apple’s iOS spreads its reach; it is not a good moment to launch a new format that has a plug-in or runtime dependency. I wonder if Wolfram is exploring the possibility of compilation to HTML5 and JavaScript?

Despite these reservations, the broader vision behind CDF seems to me spot-on. There are many cases where we currently see static charts, that would be better served by an embedded computation engine.

Adobe releases 64-bit Flash Player 11 beta, AIR 3 with packager for Windows, Mac, Android

Adobe has released a beta version of Flash Player 11 and AIR 3. The AIR release is of limited interest since as yet there is no public SDK; Adobe mainly wants to test compatibility.  That said, the announcement describes a key new feature, the ability to package AIR applications as standalone executables on Windows, Mac and Android. You can already do this on Apple iOS, a feature that was forced on Adobe by Apple’s refusal to allow application runtimes on iOS – unless they are WebKit or FileMaker. This is new for the other platforms though, and I assume comes as a result of the popularity of the iOS packager. The effect is that you no longer have to advertise the fact that your app runs on AIR or require users to obtain the runtime; your app will just work.

Adobe may have its eye on the Mac App Store, which will disallow applications that require a runtime. Extending the AIR packager to desktop OS X should get around that limitation.

64-bit Flash Player is also a big deal, and really long overdue, though there has already been a preview codenamed Square which offered 64-bit. Although there are probably not many Flash applications that really need 64-bit, this is good for compatibility with 64-bit browsers and of course desktop applications when compiled with AIR. There could also be value in 64-bit for business intelligence clients which manipulate large datasets.

Another new feature in Flash Player 11 is Stage3D, codename Molehill, which is a new API for hardware-accelerated 3D graphics. Stage3D has its own shader language, called AGAL (Adobe Graphics Assembly Language); my heart sinks a little when I see vendors inventing new languages rather than using one that is already available, such as OpenGL Shading Language, but Adobe says AGAL is simpler and more secure. If you would like to use GL SL with Stage3D, check out the 3rd-party Mandreel framework which comples GL SL shaders to AGAL.

Flash Player 11 also has a built-in H.264/AVC software encoder for cameras, which will improve video chat and video conferencing, and adds potential for applications that stream video out as well as in.

Native JSON support will simplify and accelerate the handling of data in this popular format.

Another feature that caught my eye is socket progress events. When transferring data, it is important to give feedback to the user on progress. A new property lets developers monitor the number of bytes remaining in the write buffer, and a new event is raised when data is being sent, enabling more informative data transfer applications.

LZMA compression for SWF files, the compiled format for Flash content, is claimed to reduce SWF size by up to 40%.

When do we get a full release? Adobe is taking its time, but my hunch is that it will be in 2011, maybe in time for the MAX conference in October.