Microsoft puts Flash in Windows CE devices

Microsoft on Tuesday put more of its industry weight behind Macromedia's Flash technology, announcing that it will offer to bundle the Flash Player with its Windows CE embedded operating system for device manufacturers that use the operating system.

Under a licensing deal between the long-standing industry partners, Microsoft will offer OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) a license for the Flash Player at a reduced price when they license Windows CE. That operating system can be used to build such devices as car computers and smart phones.

"We've been working with a variety of OEMs who are Microsoft partners to have the player available on their devices," said Peter Goldie, general manager of rich media at Macromedia. "There aren't a lot in the market yet that we can point to."

Four companies have agreed to take advantage of the new licensing agreement, Macromedia said. They are Casio Computer Co. Ltd., Samsung Group, Siemens Corp. and Thomson Tak -- an interactive TV maker owned 70 percent by Thomson Multimedia Corp. and 30 percent by Microsoft.

Up until now, OEMs have had to pay a licensing fee for the Flash Player, royalties for each unit shipped that includes the player, and costs associated with porting the player to different computing platforms -- such as a cell phone or set-top box. Under the new offer, those companies will only have to pay a standard fee factored into the cost of the Windows CE license, both companies said.

"From an OEM's prospective, there are costs associated with bringing over the Flash Player to a new platform," said Aubrey Edwards, director of marketing for Macromedia's embedded appliance platform group. For example, a cell phone that can display Flash content will need a different customized version of the software than will a set-top box that uses Flash to display content such as interactive program guides. Macromedia did not say how much companies could save by acquiring access to the technology through a Windows CE license.

Macromedia created Flash as a tool for Web developers to create animated graphics and dynamic Web content. It has gained industry backing mainly because Flash files are small and can be delivered across the Web quickly. Flash content can also be resized without losing image quality. Macromedia's Flash Player is a small plug-in that users need to view that content on a PC or other computing device.

On the desktop, Flash technology has become ubiquitous for building and viewing dynamic Web sites and digital animation. The Flash Player currently is installed on roughly 97 percent of all desktops PCs, according to Macromedia, and it has maintained much of that market dominance through industry partnerships to distribute the player.

Microsoft said early this month that it would bundle the Flash Player in its forthcoming Windows XP operating system. However, the technology hasn't taken off very well in markets other than the PC desktop, according to Macromedia. Its deal with Microsoft should help spur adoption, Goldie said. "It will take the ubiquity of the player beyond the desktop," he said.

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