Adobe refreshes Flash Player

Facing stiff competition in RIA space, company gains an edge, observers say

Facing serious challenges to its dominance in the RIA (rich Internet application) space, Adobe Systems will refresh its bread-and-butter Flash Player technology Thursday with capabilities that could provide an edge on the RIA battleground.

Adobe officials argued that improvements in its new Flash Player 10 such as custom filters and effects are merely in response to customer demands. But the company nonetheless has seen its market niche -- rich graphical presentations via a browser plugin -- become more crowded lately. Microsoft's highly touted Silverlight technology is drawing attention from companies such as NBC while Sun plans to leverage the prevalence of its Java technology to promote its budding JavaFX RIA platform.

Analysts see Flash Player 10 as an answer to what else is going on in the marketplace.

"Everything in this space is a response," to keep up with the competition, said Jeffrey Hammond, senior analyst at Forrester. Flash, though, remains a leader with capabilities in drawing surface and canvas, he said.

"I think that Adobe continues to basically build on the Flash franchise and try to defend it," said Gartner analyst Ray Valdes. "It's a competitive response in some ways."

The beta release of Flash Player 10, codenamed "Astro," is available Thursday at Adobe Labs, with the general-release product scheduled to ship later this year.

"Flash Player is the most ubiquitous runtime," allowing for "stunning" user experiences, said Tom Barclay, Adobe senior product marketing manager for Flash Player. Repeating Adobe's mantra about the Flash Player's broad adoption, Barclay said Flash Player works on major OSes and is installed on more than 98 per cent of Internet-enabled desktops.

Customer filters and effects capabilities in version 10 enable users to create fills, blend modes, and effects using the new Adobe Pixel Bender language and toolkit that is accompanying the beta release of Flash Player 10. Pixel Builder had been codenamed "Hydra" and provides pixel-shading.

"[Users] want to be able to create any kind of special effect they want," Barclay said.

Pixel Bender can complement Adobe's Flex development platform for building applications to run in the Flash Player. "It just expands the palette of available functions," for the Flex developer, said Barclay.

Also enabled in Flash Player 10 are capabilities to transition from one part of an application to another and apply effects to images. Effects can be parameterized and animated at runtime.

3D functionality is highlighted in Flash Player 10. 2D objects that developers are used to working with in Flash Player, such as a 2D image, drawing, or video, can be transformed into 3D. 2D objects can be rotated onscreen. This capability is exposed via ActionScript APIs. 3D capabilities, Valdes said, are the main differentiator over Silverlight.

GPU compositing in Flash Player 10 accelerates compositing calculations of raster images, such bitmaps and video overlays faster than if performed in software on the CPU.

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