Tag Archives: flash

If Microsoft is serious about Silverlight, it needs to do Linux

Today was a significant event for the UK broadcasting industry: the announcement of YouView, formerly called Project Canvas, which is backed by partners including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, and BT. It will provide broadcasts over IP, received by a set top box, include a catch-up service, and be capable of interactive features that hook into internet services.

Interesting stuff, though it may end up battling with Google TV. But what are the implications for media streaming services and media players? One is that they will have to run on Linux, which is the official operating system for Project Canvas. Google TV, for that matter, will run Android.

If you look at the YouView specifications, you’ll find that although the operating system is specified, the application player area is more open:

Application Player executables and libraries will be provided by 3rd party software vendors.

What is an application player?

Runtime environment for the execution of applications. Examples are Flash player, MHEG engine, W3C browser

I’d suggest that Adobe will do well out of YouView. Microsoft, on the other hand, will not be able to play in this space unless it delivers Silverlight for Linux, Android, and other open platforms.

Microsoft has a curious history of cross-platform Silverlight announcements. Early on it announced that Moonlight was the official Linux player, though in practice support for Moonlight has been half-hearted. Then when Intel announced the Atom Developer Program  (now AppUp) in September 2009, Microsoft stated that it would provide its own build of Silverlight for Linux, or rather, than Intel would build it with Microsoft’s code. Microsoft’s Brian Goldfarb told me that Microsoft and Intel would work together on bringing Silverlight to devices, while Moonlight would be the choice for desktop Linux.

Since then, the silence has been deafening. I’ve enquired about progress with both Intel and Microsoft, but vague rumours aside, no news. Silverlight is still listed as a future runtime for AppUp:

Microsoft® Silverlight™(future)

Silverlight is a cross-browser, cross-platform and cross-device browser plug-in that helps companies design, develop and deliver applications and experiences on the Web.

In the meantime, Adobe has gone ahead with its AIR runtime, and even if Silverlight eventually appears, has established an early presence on Intel’s netbook platform.

There have been recent rumours about internal battles between the Windows and Developer divisions at Microsoft, and I cannot help wondering if this is another symptom, with the Windows folk fighting against cross-platform Silverlight on the grounds that it could damage the Windows lock-in, while the Developer team tries to make Silverlight the ubiquitous runtime that it needs to be in order to succeed.

From my perspective, the answer is simple. Suppressing Silverlight will do nothing to safeguard Windows, whereas making it truly cross-platform could drive adoption of Microsoft’s server and cloud platform. When Silverlight was launched, just doing Windows and Mac was almost enough, but today the world looks different. If Microsoft is serious about WPF Everywhere, Linux and Android (which is Linux based) support is a necessity.

Latest job stats on technology adoption – Flash, Silverlight, iPhone, Android, C#, Java

It is all very well expressing opinions on which technologies are hot and which are struggling, but what is happening in the real world? It is hard to get an accurate picture – surveys tend to have sampling biases of one kind or another, and vendors rarely release sales figures. I’ve never been happy with the TIOBE approach, counting mentions on the Internet; it is a measure of what is discussed, not what is used.

Another approach is to look at job vacancies. This is not ideal either; the number of vacancies might not be proportionate to the numbers in work, keyword searches are arbitrary and can include false positives and omit relevant ads that happen not to mention the keywords. Still, it is a real-world metric and worth inspecting along with the others. The following table shows figures as of today at indeed.com (for the US) and itjobswatch (for the UK), both of which make it easy to get stats.

Update – for the UK I’ve added both permanent and contract jobs from itjobswatch. I’ve also added C, C++, Python and F#, (which hardly registers). For C I searched Indeed.com for “C programming”.

  Indeed.com (US) itjobswatch (UK permanent) itjobswatch (UK contract)
Java 97,890 17,844 6,919
Flash 52,616 2,288 723
C++ 48,816 8,440 2470
C# 46,708 18,345 5.674
Visual Basic 35,412 3,332 1,061
C 27,195 7,225 3,137
ASP.NET 25,613 10,353 2,628
Python 17,256 1,970 520
Ruby 9,757 968 157
iPhone 7,067 783 335
Silverlight 5,026 2,162 524
Android 4,755 585 164
WPF 4,441 3,088 857
Adobe Flex 2,920 1,143 579
Azure 892 76 5
F# 36 66 1

A few quick comments. First, don’t take the figures too seriously – it’s a quick snapshot of a couple of job sites and there could be all sorts of reasons why the figures are skewed.

Second, there are some surprising differences between the two sites in some cases, particularly for Flash – this may be because indeed.com covers design jobs but itjobswatch not really. The difference for Ruby surprises me, but it is a common word and may be over-stated at Indeed.com.

Third, I noticed that of 892 Azure jobs at Indeed.com, 442 of the vacancies are in Redmond.

Fourth, I struggled to search for Flex at Indeed.com. A search for Flex on its own pulls in plenty of jobs that have nothing to do with Adobe, while narrowing with a second word understates the figure.

The language stats probably mean more than the technology stats. There are plenty of ads that mention C# but don’t regard it as necessary to state “ASP.NET” or “WPF” – but that C# code must be running somewhere.

Conclusions? Well, Java is not dead. Silverlight is not unseating Flash, though it is on the map. iPhone and Android have come from nowhere to become significant platforms, especially in the USA. Beyond that I’m not sure, though I’ll aim to repeat the exercise in six months and see how it changes.

If you have better stats, let me know or comment below.

Develop for Adobe Flash/Flex in Amethyst for Visual Studio

SapphireSteel Software is poised to release Amethyst, which lets you develop Flash and Flex applications with Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2008 or 2010.

Why bother? There’s two aspects to this. One is simply the comfort factor: if you are a .NET developer used to Visual Studio, but now working on Flash or Flex, this could be an easier way in than the Eclipse-based Flash Builder. There is a visual designer, a full-featured debugger, a property inspector with sections for properties, events, effects and styles, for example, and double-clicking an event generates an event handler as you would expect.

The other factor is areas where Amethyst can improve on what Flash Builder offers. One example is ActionScript refactoring, disappointing in Adobe’s product. Amethyst is not brilliant, but does have a few extras including Extract Method, Encapsulate Field and Extract Interface.


Another useful feature is that Amethyst can share projects with Flash or Flash Builder. Before you get excited, it does not do the magic you might want, Visual Studio editing of .fla files with embedded ActionScript. It does work reasonably seamlessly though: you can open .fla file in the Flash IDE by clicking within Amethyst.

This would have been even more interesting if Adobe had not added a measure of Flash Builder integration in Flash Professional CS5; and that is the challenge facing SapphireSteel – how to keep up with Adobe’s official development tools.

I’ve only played briefly with Amethyst but although I’ve been impressed with it in some ways, I also found myself missing features in Flash Builder, such as the Connect to Data wizards, and the view state management.

It is early days though; and I would be interested to hear from others who have tried Amethyst on what they do or do not like about it.

Price is not yet stated, but SapphireSteel also offer a Ruby product which is priced at $49 for a basic edition, or $199 for a professional version. Amethyst also comes in two editions so perhaps we will see something similar.

Render SWF in JavaScript – a solution for Flash on iPhone/iPad?

Looking at the blazing-fast JavaScript in IE9 Preview 4 made me wonder if anyone had tried to write a SWF renderer in JavaScript. SWF is the Adobe Flash file format and a published specification.

Of course someone has. Tobias Schneider has been working on Gordon and built his first full release in June.


Gordon is a little behind in terms of version support:

In this build, Gordon can read and parse all valid SWF’s, even if they are compressed with ZLIB, but plays only SWF1 files completely, as well as the most of the SWF2 features.

The Adobe SWF specification is now up to version 10.

It is still an interesting exercise. Consider Google Web Toolkit, which compiles Java to JavaScript. What if Adobe did something similar for Flash? In fact, if you look at the Smart Paste “sneak peak” from Adobe Max 09 something like this was demonstrated.

The Flash player includes some proprietary codecs that could not easily be replicated in JavaScript. Still, given such limitations, “Export to HTML 5” would be a nice option to find on some future version of Flash Professional, and would help Adobe’s tools business even if it also dented its ambitions for Flash as the universal runtime.

SOA, REST and Flash/Flex – why Flash does not PUT

Adobe’s Duane Nickull has an illuminating post on how the Flash player handles REST. Nickull is responding to a post by Malcolm Box in which he complains how hard it is to use Flash with a REST web service. Box observes that Flash cannot send POST, PUT and DELETE requests when running in the browser, and does not send cookies.

Nickull defends the Flash behaviour:

Flash’s HTTP libraries currently support GET and POST. My architectural view of this is that the HTTP libraries only should really support these and not worry about the others.

He also notes that cookies are a poor way to manage state:

Cookies are for the browser and belong in the browser. Having Flash Player able to access cookies would be a mistake in my own opinion. Any logic that is facilitated by a browser should probably be dealt with at the browser layer before Flash Player is used.

Now, I think the comments on REST are important to read if you are engaged in designing a web service, as many of us in these days of cloud+device. There is a kind-of “word on the street” approach to web services which says that REST is good, SOA/SOAP is bad; but in reality it is not so simple, and these distinctions are muddled. REST is arguably a form of SOA, you can do SOAP with REST, and so on.

One factor is that reading data in a web client is far more common than writing data. It is easy to be an advocate of the simplicity of REST if all you are doing is GET.

The question Nickull asks is whether the transport protocol has any business dictating how the data it transports should be processed, for example whether it is an operation to retrieve or to write data:

In an SOA world, the transport functionality (usually implemented using SOAP) should focus on just delivering the message and it’s associated payload(s) to the destination(s), optionally enforcing rules of reliability and security rather than declaring to the application layer processing instructions to the service endpoint.

Read the post for more of the rationale behind this. Maybe, even if you are doing REST, restricting your web service to GET and POST is not such a bad idea after all.

That said, whatever you think about the architectural principles, you may find yourself having to write a browser-hosted Flash client for a service that requires an HTTP verb other than GET or POST. There are ways round it: see this discussion of Amazon S3 (which uses PUT) and Flash for an example.

Adobe financials: strong Creative Suite 5 and Flash, claims company undervalued

Adobe has released its financial results for its second quarter, reporting $227.3 million net income (GAAP) compared to $161.4 million in the same quarter last year; and revenue of $943 million which it says is 34% year on year growth.

Much of this is thanks to a successful launch for Creative Suite 5, which accounts for 56% of Adobe’s revenue. However, Adobe has also reported 12% year-on-year growth for LiveCycle, its enterprise server products about which I learned last week in Amsterdam. The “platform” segment, which includes the Flex development tools, Cold Fusion, and Flash media services, is also growing, from $36.8 million in Q2 2009 to $45.4 million in Q2 2010.

CEO Shantanu Narayen is upbeat, saying “we believe Adobe is significantly undervalued today” and backing his judgement with a share buyback program.

I was particularly interested in the focus on Flash in Adobe’s statements and conference call:

Approximately 3.5 million Flash designers and developers are working with Flash-based solutions today, and their ranks grew by 59 percent in 2009

said Narayen; while Executive VP Mark Garrett noted:

CS5 products containing Flash authoring and output as a product component achieved revenue growth of 22% version-over-version to date

making the point that this exceeded the growth of CS5 overall.

Any clouds on the horizon? Two that I can think of. One is that Apple wants to kill Flash. CEO Steve Jobs says:

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.

The other issue is that Adobe is dependent on Creative Suite, desktop software that arguably will be a business hard to sustain in the cloud and device era.

Still, these are good figures, the best we have seen from Adobe for a while, and despite the efforts of Steve Jobs both Adobe and Flash are prospering right now. A side-effect of Apple’s Flash downer is that competitors have hastened to support it, with Google building Flash support deeply into its Chrome browser.

Detailed figures from Adobe are here.

Adobe LiveCycle and the Apple problem

Earlier this week I attended Adobe’s partner conference in Amsterdam, or at least part of it. The sessions were closed, but I was among the judges for the second day, where partners presented solutions they had created; the ones we judged best will likely be presented at the Max conference in October.

Seeing the showcased solutions gave insight into how and why LiveCycle is being used. LiveCycle is actually a suite of products – the official site lists 14 modules – which are essentially a bunch of server applications to process and generate PDF forms and documents, combined with data services that optimise data delivery and synchronisation with Flash clients, typically built with Flex and running either in-browser or on the desktop using AIR. These two strands got twisted together when Adobe took over Macromedia.

LiveCycle applications are Java applications, and run on top of Java Enterprise Edition application servers such as Oracle’s WebLogic or IBM’s WebSphere. This does mean that support for Microsoft’s .NET platform is weak; Adobe argues that that Microsoft’s platform has its own self-contained stack and development tool (Visual Studio) which makes it not worth supporting, though of course there are ways to integrate using web services and we saw examples of this. Many of the partners whispered to me that they also build SharePoint solutions for their Microsoft platform customers, and that SharePoint 2010 is a big improvement on earlier versions for what they do. Still, Java is the more important platform in this particular area.

Why would you want to base an Enterprise application on PDF? The answer is that many business processes involve forms and workflows, and for these LiveCycle is a strong solution. PDF is widely accepted as a suitable format for publishing and archiving. One thing that cropped up in many of the solutions is digital signatures: the ability to verify that a document was produced at a certain time and date and has not been tampered with plays well with many organisations.

Here’s a quick flavour of some of the solutions we saw. Ajila AG showed an application which handles planning permission in parts of Switzerland; everything is handled using PDF form submissions and email, and apparently a process which used to take 45 days is now accomplished in 3 days. Another Ajila AG solution handles the electronic paperwork for complex financial instruments at the Swiss stock exchange. Ensemble Systems showed an e-invoicing system which includes a portal where both a company and its suppliers can log in to view and track the progress of an invoice. Impuls Systems GmbH used PDF forms combined with Adobe Connect Pro conferencing to create online consultation rooms and guided form completion for clients purchasing health insurance. Aktive Reply built a system to replace printed letterheads for an insurance company with 10,000 agents; not only does the system save paper, but it also synchronises any address changes with a central database. Another Aktive Reply application lets lawyers assemble contracts from a database of fragments, enforcing rules that reduce the chance of errors; we were told that this one replaced a complex and error-prone Word macro.

OK, so why would you not want to use LiveCycle for your forms or document-based workflow or business process management application? Well, these solutions tend to be costly so smaller organisations need not apply; and I did worry on occasion about over-complexity. More important, the whole platform depends on PDF, often making use of smart features like Adobe Reader Extensions and scripting. After all, this is why Adobe added all these abilities to PDF, despite security concerns and the desire some of us have for simple, fast rendering of PDF documents rather than yet another application platform.

PDF is well supported of course, but once you move away from Windows and Mac desktops, it is often not the official Adobe Reader that you use, but some other utility that does not support all these extra features. In many cases it is not just PDF, but Flash/Flex applications which form part of these LiveCycle solutions. Adobe understands the importance of mobile devices and I was told that more effort will be put into Adobe Reader for mobile devices, to broaden its support and extend its features. Reader for Android is also available, as an app in the Android Market.

That’s fair enough, but what about Apple? Curiously (or not) PDF is not well supported on the iPad, though you can read PDF in Safari and in mail attachments. This is not Adobe Reader though; and given that PDF now supports Flash as well as scripting there seems little chance of Adobe getting it onto the App Store. Flash itself is completely absent of course.

Lack of compatibility with Apple devices did not seem to be a big concern among the partners I spoke to at the conference. Many of the solutions are internal or work within controlled environments where client compatibility can be enforced. Nevertheless, I can see this becoming an increasing problem if Apple’s success with iPhone and iPad continues, especially in cases where applications are public-facing. My suggestion to Adobe is that it now needs to work on making LiveCycle work better with plain HTML clients, in order to future-proof its platform to some extent.

Flash and AIR for Windows Phone 7 by mid 2011?

I’m at an Adobe partner conference in Amsterdam – not for the partner sessions, but to be one of the judges for tomorrow’s application showcase. However, I’ve been chatting to Michael Chaize, a Flash Platform evangelist based in Paris, and picked up a few updates on the progress of Flash and AIR on mobile devices. AIR is a runtime which uses the Flash player for applications that are not hosted in the browser.

It’s well known that AIR for Android is ready to preview, though it is not quite public yet. Which platforms will come next? According to Chaize, AIR for Palm webOS is well advanced, though a little disrupted by the coming HP takeover, and Blackberry is also progressing fast. He added that Windows Phone 7 will not be long delayed, which intrigued me since that platform itself is not yet done. Although Microsoft and Adobe have said that Flash will not be in the initial release, Chaize says that it will come “within months” afterwards, where “months” implies less than a year – maybe six months or so.

We also talked about the constraints of a mobile platform and how that affects development. Currently developers will need to use the standard Flex components, but Chaize said that a forthcoming Flash Mobile Framework will be optimized for devices. Of course, the more you tailor your app for mobile, the less code you can share with your desktop version.

The Apple question also came up, as you would expect. Chaize pointed out that Adobe’s enterprise customers may still use the abandoned Flash Packager, which compiles Flash code to a native iPhone app, since internal apps do not need App Store approval. That said, I suspect that even internal developers have to agree the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, with its notorious clause 3.3.1 that forbids use of an “intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool”. Even if that is the case, I doubt that Apple would pursue the developers of private, custom applications.

What chance for MeeGo in the age of the iPad?

Today is Apple iPad day in the UK; but the portable device I’ve been playing with is not from Apple. Rather, I downloaded the first release build of MeeGo, proudly labelled 1.0, and installed it on my Toshiba NB 300 netbook, which normally runs Windows. You can choose between the evil edition with Google Chrome; or the free edition with Chromium – I picked the Chrome version. I did not burn any bridges: I simply copied the image to a 2GB USB memory stick and booted from that. There was one oddity: the USB boot only worked when using the USB port on the right by the power socket, and not from the one on the left edge of the netbook. It is a common problem with USB, that not all ports are equal.


MeeGo is a joint project from Intel and Nokia, formed by the merging of Intel Moblin and Nokie Maemo. It is a version of Linux designed for mobile devices, from smartphones to netbooks, though this first release is only for netbooks. Further releases are planned on a "six-month cadence", and a wider range of devices including handsets and touch-screen tables is promised for October.

First impressions are mixed. Starting with the good news: performance is great, the user interface is smooth and polished, and less child-like and cutesy than the last Moblin I looked at. The designers have really thought about how to make the OS netbook-friendly. Applications run full-screen, making the best use of the limited screen size. Navigation is via a toolbar which slides into view if you move the mouse to the top of the screen. From here, you can switch between "Zones" – in effect, each zone is a running  applications. Not difficult but laborious; I found myself using Alt-Tab for switching between applications. I also miss the Windows taskbar, despite the screen space it occupies, since it helps to have a visual reminder of the other apps you have running.

There is also a home page which is a kind of local portal, showing showing current Twitter status (once I had added my Twitter account), application shortcuts, current appointments, recent web history, and other handy shortcuts.

Getting started was relatively quick. I soon figured out that the Network icon in the toolbar would let me configure wireless networking. It look me a little longer to find the system preferences, which are found by clicking the All Settings button in the Devices menu. Here I was able to change the keyboard layout from US to GB, though since it does not take effect until you logout, and I was using the live image which does not save changes, I was still stuck with the wrong layout.

A terminal – essential for serious Linux users – can be found in the System Tools section of the Application menu. I needed a password to obtain root access, which I discovered is set by default to "meego" in the live image. I presume this is a feature of the live image only, as this would otherwise be a serious security risk.

I soon found annoyances. This may be version 1.0, but it is described as a "core" release and seems mainly intended for software developers and I presume device manufacturers who are getting started. The selection of pre-installed applications is very limited, and does not include a word processor or spreadsheet.  There is a "Garage" utility for installing new apps, but although it seems to offer Abiword and Gnumeric, I could not get the links to resolve. I cannot find an image editor either. Without basic apps like this, MeeGo is not something I could rely on while out and about.


I was surprised to find no link to the Intel AppUp store, which will offer applications for MeeGo, and when I tried to install the AppUp beta I got failed dependencies. I optimistically tried to install Adobe AIR; no go there either.

There must be other ways of getting apps installed – this is Linux after all – but I was looking for a quick and easy route.

Adobe Flash 10.1 is installed and works, though not on my first attempt. Trying to play a Youtube video made Chrome unresponsive, and I could not get Flash content to play on any site. Rebooted and all was well.

A big irritation for me is that you cannot disable tapping on the touchpad. There is a checkbox for it in settings, but it is both ticked and grayed so you cannot change it. I detest tapping since you inevitably tap by accident sometimes, on occasion losing work or just wasting time. No doubt there is some setting you can change though the terminal but I haven’t had time to investigate. It  is also possible that doing a full install to hard drive would fix it, as the live image does not save changes.


Nevertheless, the progress is encouraging and if development continues at this pace I can see MeeGo becoming a strong alternative to Windows on netbooks: faster, cheaper, and better optimized for this kind of device. Even against the Apple iPad, I can see the attraction of something like a MeeGo netbook: freedom, Flash, value for money, and a keyboard.

The big question though: what chance has MeeGo got in the face of competition from Apple, Google with Android, and Microsoft with Windows? It seems to me that all these three are safe bets, in that they are not going away and already have momentum behind them. Will the public also make room for MeeGo? I like it well enough to hope it succeeds, but fear it may be crowded out by the competition, other than for Nokia Smartphones.

A business web site implemented entirely in Silverlight

Ever wondered what the web would look like if Silverlight or Flash were used for everything? The other day I came across a business site implemented entirely in Silverlight – well, apart from the forums, which seem to be HTML and JavaScript. ForefrontSecurity.org is a third-party resource site for Microsoft’s firewall and server security products. It is mostly documents and videos.


On the plus side, the site looks good, provided you can run Silverlight; and given the target readership that’s not too much of a stretch in this instance. Playing the embedded screencasts is very smooth, and they feel seamlessly integrated with the site, more so than with HTML plus a video plug-in.

That said, I found the site infuriating. Without thinking, I tried to scroll a document using the mouse wheel; nothing happened. The page up and down keys do not work either. Copying text works with Ctrl-C, but if you select and right-click, you just get the Silverlight “about” menu. I also found that the graphic effects – screens typically fade in as they change – made the site seem slow. Some things, like hyperlinks in full-screen mode, did not work as expected.

An interesting experiment; but for a site like this which is mainly about finding and reading documents, its hard to see a good reason not to use HTML.