BBC replaces Flash with Flash in Android iPlayer

The BBC has announced its solution to the lack of mobile Flash on Android devices, which meant that its iPlayer catch-up service did not work on recent devices like Google’s popular Nexus 7 (though there are hacks to make it work).

However, the BBC is not really replacing Flash, but instead creating a media player that is compiled from Flash into a native Android app. This means that the Flash runtime is compiled into the app.

In the end, Flash was still the best choice of media format for us to use. And the only practical technology for us to play this format back on Android is Adobe Air.

says the BBC’s Chris Yanda.

Yanda points out that using HTTP Live Streaming is impractical since it is not supported on versions of Android prior to Honeycomb; and the majority of Android devices in use are Froyo or Gingerbread.

Judging by the comments, users are glad to have something but disappointed with the BBC’s support for Android. The native iOS app is much better, especially considering that it now supports downloads. On a recent flight I took an iPad with me solely for the ability to watch iPlayer content offline.

Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows RT tablets will support Flash, as I understand it, though only for a limited subset of web sites. Presuming BBC iPlayer is on that list, it should work.


Adobe results: 200,000 Creative Cloud subscribers and an impressive transition

Adobe has released its quarterly figures for its third financial quarter 2012. The figures show the success of Creative Cloud, Adobe’s subscription-based model for purchasing the Creative Suite applications, including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat and Flash. Total revenue is fractionally up on the same period in 2011, from $1013.2M to $1080.6M.

Adobe reports over 200,000 paid subscribers and 8,000 new subscriptions per week, compared to its projections of only 5,000 per week.

The Creative Cloud model has several advantages for Adobe. First, it gives assurance of a steady continuing income rather than the pain of driving a 2 year upgrade cycle. Second, it forms a platform from which to sell other products and services.

Adobe also says that its publishing platform, the Digital Publishing Suite, now has 1,100 customers distributing on average 125,000 publications daily, mainly to the iPad, with over 40 million delivered to date. This is good business for Adobe since it generally charges a fee per download.

The slight downside for Adobe is that the launch of Creative Suite 6 delivered lower initial revenue than is usual for a new launch, because customers are transitioning to the subscription model. That is not really a downside, but rather a sign that the strategy is working.

What impresses me about Adobe is how well the company has survived the decline of Flash and the relative failure of its efforts in enterprise applications (the digital enterprise segment is now subsumed in the figures into “Digital Marketing”). The segment breakdown for the third quarter looks like this:


  • Digital Media (Creative Cloud) 769.1 (71%)
  • Digital Marketing (analytics etc) 257.1 (24%)
  • Print and Publishing 54.4 (5%)

Think back a couple of years. Adobe was dependent on sales of shrink-wrap software and had a range of products which pivoted around Flash as the universal runtime and rendering engine. Now it has some claim to being a cloud company – though of course the primary benefit of Creative Cloud is in desktop software applications that you download – and in place of Flash it it betting on HTML5, together with its ability to compile Flash-based content into native applications.

The transition is not so easy for developers who invested in the Flash platform, coding applications in Flex and ActionScript. Adobe has stopped developing Flash for mobile, even on Android and other mobile platforms where it is not blocked. Still, if that has pushed developers into targeting HTML5 earlier than they would otherwise have considered, it may not be a bad thing.

Information Density in Metro, sorry Windows Store apps

Regular readers will recall that I wrote a simple blog reader for Windows 8, or rather adapted Microsoft’s sample. The details are here.

This is a Windows Store app – a description I am trying to get used to after being assured by Microsoft developer division Corp VP Soma Somasegar that this really is what we should call them – though my topic is really the design style, which used to be called Metro but is now, hmm, Windows Store app design style?

No matter, the subject that caught my attention is that typical Windows Store apps have low information density. This seems to be partly due to Microsoft’s design guidelines and samples, and partly due to the default controls which are so boldly drawn and widely spaced that you end up with little information to view.

Part of the rationale is to make touch targets easy to hit with fat fingers, but it seems to go beyond that. We should bear in mind that Windows Store apps will also be used on screens that lack touch input.

I am writing this on a Windows 8 box with a 1920 x 1080 display. Here is my blog reader, which displays a mere 7 items in the list of posts:


This was based on Microsoft’s sample, and the font sizes and spacing come from there. I had a poke around, and after a certain amount of effort figuring out which values to change in the list’s item template, came up with a slightly denser list which manages to show 14 items in the list. The items are still easily large enough to tap with confidence.


Games aside though, I am noticing that other Windows Store apps also have low information density. Tweetro, for example, a Twitter client, shows only 11 tweets to view on my large display.

The densest display I can find quickly is in Wordament, which is a game but a text-centric one:


I have noticed this low information density issue less with iPad apps. Two reasons. One is that iOS does not push you in the same way towards such extremely large-looking apps. The other is that you only run iOS on either iPhone or iPad, not on large desktop displays.

Is Windows 8 pushing developers too far towards apps with low information density, or has Microsoft got it right? It is true that developers historically have often tried to push too much information onto single screens, while designers mitigate this with more white space and better layouts. I wonder though whether Windows 8 store apps have swung too far in the opposite direction.

When will Blend, Microsoft’s Visual Studio design tool, be done? Not for a while says Soma Somasegar

During the Visual Studio 2012 launch last week I took the opportunity to ask Developer division Corp VP Soma Somasegar when Blend, Microsoft’s design tool for Visual Studio 2012, will be finished. A tricky question to answer, since there are multiple versions, as explained here:

  • Blend for Windows Store apps (HTML or XAML) is fully released and available as part of Visual Studio 2012


  • Blend for WPF and Silverlight is in preview. For production you are meant to use the old Blend 4, unless you are targeting Silverlight 5 where you have no choice but to use the preview version.
  • Blend for Windows Phone is part of the Windows Phone SDK 7.1

The SketchFlow prototyping tool is also part of the preview Blend.

So when will Blend for Visual Studio 2012 be done? Somasegar refers to HBlend, which is the HTML version, and XBlend, which is for XAML.

“We shipped HBlend, and we shipped a preview of XBlend. It will take several months to finish. We also want to continue adding to HBlend. So I can’t tell you that Blend is ever going to be done [laughs],” he told me.

That said, the full Blend for Visual Studio 2012 will come out of preview sometime. Will it coincide with the first update for Visual Studio, announced for later this year?

“It is going to be later than the update, but I don’t have a specific timeframe,” he said.

Personally I have mixed (ha!) feelings about Blend. On the one hand, it is obvious that the simple designer in the Visual Studio IDE is insufficient, and that the rich Blend tool is needed, for those who can make sense of its intricate user interface. On the other hand, the designer aspect of Microsoft’s tooling seems to me messy, with too many versions of Blend and overlap between Blend and Visual Studio which gives developers a difficult choice: do I work with Blend, or stay within the simpler but more limited IDE tools?

Dropbox turns to CoffeeScript to beat JavaScript syntactic noise

Dropbox is a high-profile convert to CoffeeScript, a language that has the elegance of Ruby or Python but compiles into clean JavaScript in order to run in the browser. The Dropbox team says that CoffeeScript fixes many of JavaScript’s “syntactic problems.” In addition, a porting exercise reduced 23,437 lines of JavaScript to 18,417 lines of CoffeeScript, code, and this brevity was considered the “strongest argument” in favour – even though many of those eliminated lines were just curly braces and parentheses.

In order to port the code, the team used the Js2coffee tool; a bit of a brain-twist, a tool to convert JavaScript to a language that later compiles back to JavaScript.

The whole post is worth a read, and gives before and after examples.

Consider also the following:

Google’s Dart is an alternative web language that compiles to JavaScript, as is Google Web Toolkit

Microsoft’s Office Web Apps are written in C# compiled to JavaScript with a version of Script#. Microsoft’s Roslyn compiler as a service project lets you copy and paste VB code as C# and vice versa, and is already also being used to compile C# as JavaScript. Microsoft’s Anders Hejlsberg is rumoured to be working on a JavaScript project.

JavaScript seems to be becoming the new Common Language Runtime, not that Microsoft’s .NET CLR is going away, but rather that JavaScript now better fulfils the goal: pick whatever language you like and run it in the browser. 


I was intrigued to note that the Dropbox post does not render properly in Internet Explorer 10. For some reason that must appeal to geeky humour, it includes code spoken as audio, but the audio tags fail:


instead of


Possible reasons: the Dropbox page has a DOCTYPE of XHTML 1.0, and the files are in .wav format where IE is documented only to support MP3 or MP4. IE10 therefore refuses to play the audio, which works fine in Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

The significance of this is not so much the technicalities, but rather what it implies about how many people now use IE in the community most likely to read this post.

85% of user reviews are genuine says Gartner

Except that it doesn’t. The headline on the press release just received is:

Gartner Says By 2014, 10-15 Per Cent of Social Media Reviews to Be Fake, Paid for By Companies

The full paid-for report is here.

I think we can agree that fake user reviews are a Bad Thing; but the current agitation about sock puppetry among book authors and fake reviews in general seems to be missing the key point, which is that user reviews in general have had a transformative and beneficial impact and should be applauded.

Examples that come to mind are tripadvisor, which has hotel and restaurant reviews, user reviews in general on Amazon, and restaurant reviews on Yelp.

Since the emergence of sites like these, I have had fewer disappointments and more pleasant surprises in travel, books, music, technology and more.

That said, there are plenty of flaws in the various systems for gathering user opinions. The problems are not confined to the most extreme examples of paid-for reviews masquerading as genuine.

You often get what I think of as a smiley face effect, where across the spread of reviews there are disproportionate numbers that are highly favourable, because fans are more likely to post reviews, and disproportionate numbers that are too negative, because users who have a bad experience are more likely to post.

After all, if you use a product or service and it is so-so, why bother posting a review?

Another problem on sites like Amazon is competition for top reviewer status, which means reviews are upvoted by friends and downvoted by rivals, a kind of meta-sock-puppetry.

On balance, I reckon 85% is far too high, if you want a measure of what proportion of user reviews on social media are both genuine and useful. Certainly, Gartner’s headline seems back-to-front in terms of what would be more surprising.

Those reading the reviews should also be credited with some common sense. Most people will look for a balance of opinion over a quantity of reviews where possible, and observe which reviews seem to be based on a solid analysis of facts rather than on bland opinions.

Long live user reviews.

Visual Studio 2012 launch: focus on Modern Apps

Microsoft is holding a launch event in Seattle for Visual Studio 2012, attended by selected Microsoft-platform developers as well as press from around the world.


Corporate VP Soma Somasegar kicked off the keynote, saying that Visual Studio 2012 has already been downloaded 600,000 times since its release to the web around one month ago – a take-up, he said, which exceeds previous versions.


But what is Visual Studio 2012 all about? It’s for Modern Apps, said Somasegar, though you would be wrong to imagine that this means a Windows 8 formerly-known-as-Metro app. Rather, a Modern App implies continuous services and multiple client devices, connected over both public and private networks. In other words, think mobile as well as desktop, public and private cloud, and bring your own device as well as corporate desktops.

Fair enough, but it is all a bit vague and still leaves us wondering what exactly apps for the Windows Runtime are called at Microsoft. Visual Studio calls them Windows Store apps, which does not make complete sense when you consider that you can deploy the apps without going through the Store, and that the Store can include desktop apps although these are links rather than direct downloads.

Visual Studio 2012 is a vast and impressive product though. Developers were shown various new features, including asynchronous development for maintaining a responsive user interface, pixel-level debugging in DirectX, after the fact debugging using Intellitrace, and new HTML and CSS support in the editor, with error highlighting that adapts to the specified version of HTML.

There was a quick demonstration of developing for Kinect, in which we saw an avatar mimic the movements of VP Jason Zander.


Technical Fellow Brian Harry spent some time showing off application lifecycle features in Team Foundation Server, including improved Scrum support and an emphasis on agile concepts like whole team development (the development team is not just developers).

There were a couple of announcements, including news of an update in preparation for Visual Studio 2012 which will include new features. There will be a preview later this month and delivery by the end of 2012.

Visual Studio Express for the desktop has now shipped and is available for download. This supports development in C#, Visual Basic and C++, so there is now a free C++ compiler available for Windows desktop development in the Visual Studio 2012 family.

I spoke to a couple of the invited developers after the morning event. Visual Studio 2012 looks good, they told me, but then again what choice is there for Windows platform development? That said, they had expected a stronger push for Windows 8 development, especially on the Metro-style side. Why did Microsoft not spend more time evangelising Windows 8 app development and the Windows Store? Of course there is a lot to cover but given how critical app momentum is to the success of the new Windows, it struck me as a valid point.

SharpDX: Managed DirectX for Metro from the community

One of the disappointments in Microsoft’s new Windows Runtime platform is lack of support for XNA, a gaming/fast graphics API which wraps DirectX and is supported on Windows, Windows Phone and on Xbox 360.

Developer Alexandre Mutel has stepped up to fill the gap with the open source SharpDX, which also provides access to the DirectX API from C#, supports both desktop and Windows Runtime development. One of the first games to use SharpDX, ARMED, has already arrived in the Windows Store.


In addition, Mutel says “it will certainly be possible to use ShardDX from Windows Phone 8”.

SharpDX was made possible by a custom tool called SharpGen which generates the .NET API automatically from the DirectX SDK.

The puzzle is why Microsoft did not make more effort to support XNA in Windows 8, or failing that to provide an alternative for .NET developers.

If you want to use SharpDX, be prepared for considerable effort learning the API, as there is little documentation so far. Still, it will likely be easier than learning C++, which is the official solution for DirectX on the Windows Runtime.

Telerik acquires Fiddler

Windows component vendor Telerik has acquired Fiddler, a free tool for inspecting and modifying web traffic, usually used to test and debug network and application issues. The announcement states that Fiddler’s creator Eric Lawrence, currently at Microsoft, is joining Telerik’s testing division.

The story seems to be that Fiddler was a spare time activity for Lawrence, who will now be able to focus on it exclusively. Telerik’s Christopher Eyhorn says:

This was a natural extension because Fiddler is already in use as the core technology behind Test Studio’s load and performance features.  Additionally, we gain a formidable competitive edge over other tools as both Eric and Fiddler join the Test Studio product family.

Eyhorn also refers to “our commitment to keeping Fiddler free and making further investments into the tool,” so it looks as if its freeware status is safe for the time being. Fears for its future have already been expressed, but Eyhorn says:

Please don’t judge us by the actions of our competitors; we will earn your trust through our actions.

He adds that Fiddler is installed over 10,000 times every weekday. The website has attracted over 5 million unique visitors so far this year, showing that maintaining a popular freeware tool represents a great PR opportunity.

Adobe’s Roy Fielding patches Apache to ignore IE10 Do Not Track privacy request

Adobe’s Roy Fielding, who is also the original author of the W3C’s Tracking Preference Expression draft, has patched Apache, the open source web server, to ignore the Do Not Track header sent by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 10, the browser in Windows 8:


Under the heading “Apache does not tolerate deliberate abuse of open standards,” Fielding’s patch sets Apache to remove the Do Not Track request header if IE10 is the web browser.

Fielding’s argument, one presumes, is that IE10 breaches clause three in the Tracking Preference Expression draft:

Key to that notion of expression is that it must reflect the user’s preference, not the choice of some vendor, institution, or network-imposed mechanism outside the user’s control. The basic principle is that a tracking preference expression is only transmitted when it reflects a deliberate choice by the user. In the absence of user choice, there is no tracking preference expressed.

However the document goes on to say (highlighting is mine):

We do not specify how tracking preference choices are offered to the user or how the preference is enabled: each implementation is responsible for determining the user experience by which a tracking preference is enabled. For example, a user might select a check-box in their user agent’s configuration, install an extension or add-on that is specifically designed to add a tracking preference expression, or make a choice for privacy that then implicitly includes a tracking preference (e.g., Privacy settings: high). The user-agent might ask the user for their preference during startup, perhaps on first use or after an update adds the tracking protection feature. Likewise, a user might install or configure a proxy to add the expression to their own outgoing requests.

Here is what happens in Windows 8 after startup. This is among the first screens you see when installing Windows 8, before you get full access to the operating system:


One of the settings specified is “Turn on Do Not Track in Internet Explorer. If you click Learn more about express settings you get this:


If you click Customize you get this:


Does this respect the user’s preference? It seems to me a reasonable effort. The only objection I can see is if you consider that any user agent that defaults to setting Do Not Track on cannot be respecting the user’s preference. The draft specification does not state what the default should be.

It is also worth noting that clause 3 in the Tracking Preference Expression draft has changed; the wording about “not the choice of some vendor” was inserted in the 7th September draft, after Windows 8 was released to manufacturing. Here it is in the latest (March 2012) W3C Working draft:

Key to that notion of expression is that it must reflect the user’s preference, not the preference of some institutional or network-imposed mechanism…

Even if you agree with Fielding’s views on browser defaults, quietly patching the world’s most used web server to ignore the IE10 setting looks hard to defend, especially on a matter that is far from clear cut. Fielding is personally involved, not only as the author of the Tracking Preference Expression document, but also as an employee of Adobe, which specialises in digital marketing and may be more aligned with the vendors and their brands which may want to track user activity wherever their ads appear, rather than with end users.

Of course Apache is an open source project and Fielding’s patch has attracted the attention of the Apache community and may not survive.

It is also possible that a future draft of the Tracking Preference Expression document will state that Do Not Track must be off by default; but even if it does, patching the web server to ignore the browser’s header strikes me as a contentious solution.

Finally, it is worth noting that sending the Do Not Track header has little effect on whether or not your activity is tracked, since its meaning is unclear and respecting its value is a a choice made by third-parties, so this is a debate with little practical impact for the time being.