Flash, King of the Impossible

Flash - king of the impossibleIf you have been using a web browser to surf the Internet at any point in time since 1996 (thank you, Tim Berners-Lee), you’ve probably encountered Adobe Flash in one way or another. In short, you have. Be it a CPU hogging banner on your favorite news site or a special CPU hogging movie at your favorite web 2.0 porn site (you know it, I know it, the neighbour who steals your DSL knows it. Livejasmin.com is roughly #30 in Alexa’s ranking and PornHub’s at #55. Knowledge is power), the Flash Player is an integral part of the Internet as we know it. It has come a long way since FutureSplash Animator and it’s been a success story, to say the least. Flash Player 9 boasts a penetration rate [insert joke] of roughly 98%. With the latest iteration, version 10.1,initially announced on October 5th, 2009, now in beta 3 and a part of the Open Screen Project, Adobe has taken the step to expand the full Flash experience to more platforms, i.e. mobile platforms, instead resorting to of half-breeds such as Flash Lite. One of the several vantage points of 10.1 is, or rather will be, the usage of GPU for accelerated video and graphics, which is said to create an 87% improvement in software rendering speeds and a mobile phone memory consumption reduction of 55%. Also, there is talk of native support for multi touch, gestures, accelerometer, screen orientation, to name a few features. Do i have your attention? Good, because there are some video demos of how it works in several devices such as the NVIDIA Tegra-powered tabletHTC HD2, Dell Mini 5 tabletPalm PreMotorola DroidGoogle Nexus One and HP TouchSmart, and you can watch them all right about here. Off you go.

Another interesting aspect is that as of 10.1, private browsing, or “porn mode” for the rest of us, is available as a feature. That is, the Flash plugin respects the web browser if it is in porn mode and does the same. or as Jimson Xu and Tom Nguyen at Adobe put it;

Starting with Flash Player 10.1, Flash Player actively supports the browser’s private browsing mode, managing data in local storage so that it is consistent with private browsing. So when a private browsing session ends, Flash Player will automatically clear any corresponding data in local storage.

Additionally, Flash Player separates the local storage used in normal browsing from the local storage used during private browsing. So when you enter private browsing mode, sites that you previously visited will not be able to see information they saved on your computer during normal browsing. For example, if you saved your login and password in a web application powered by Flash during normal browsing, the site won’t remember that information when you visit the site under private browsing, keeping your identity private.

All in all, good times. One caveat – apparently it doesn’t work with Safari. Time to go Chrome?

As I haven’t had the opportunity to play around with the new features of 10.1 myself, I am forced to scour the Internet for clues, tips and ideas on how to use them. Personally, I’m very keen on the multi touch thingy. Luckily, I found this, written by none other than Lee Brimelow, Platform Evangelist at Adobe. This gem of an article tells me, among other things, that the Flash Player can respond to an infinite amount of touch points, only limited to the device’s touch points of course. You can even create your own gestures and capture the raw data. Sweet. Queue Japanese multi touch sex game.

Now, all isn’t cherry pies, golden showers and leprechaun smiles. Devices such as the iPhone and the iPad do not, and will probably never, natively support Flash. I’m deliberately skipping stuff such as Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro, or the Packager for iPhone, no matter how cool they seem. The latter actually allows you to package Flash applications as native iPhone apps and plublish them on the App Store. The same is the case with the iPad and Flash based applications. But I digress. Another big wtf is the exclusion of support for Windows Mobile 6.5. Adobe’s Antonio R Flores has stated that

[w]e have made the tough decision to defer support for that platform until WinMo7. This is due to the fact that WinMo6.5 does not support some of the critical APIs that we need

Yeah. Wow. Thankfully, WinMo has a limited user base *cough*. At least Android users are safe, right?

The HTC Hero will not be supported b/c it does not have the correct Anroid OS version and it’s chipset is not powerful enough.  We require a device with an ARM v7 (Cortex) processor.  Examples include the Qualcomm Snapdragon chipsets and TI OMAP3 series.

ARM V7 you say. Well, gosh darnit, cousin dad, don’t you actually require something like, I don’t know, Cortex A8? Soon enough they’ll require a Core 2 Duo – for that truly mobile experience. On a lighter note, 10.1 beta 3 actually has support for Intel’s GMA500 graphics chip, which means that at least four, maybe five, users in the world are more than thrilled about this piece of news.

Although Adobe is such a prominent player, there has been much talk of HTML5, CSS3 and other emerging technologies. In combination with JavaScript, either as raw, sexy code or with libraries such as jQuery, MooTools and Dojo Toolkit, you can accomplish much of the functionality that Flash applications can offer. Or as Steve Jobs put it (as published by Mashable);

Apple does not support Flash because it is so buggy. Whenever a Mac crashes more often than not it’s because of Flash. No one will be using Flash. The world is moving to HTML5.

In related news, you should check out the video of Ben Parr interviewing Aaron Filner, the group product manager for the Flash Platform. They discuss, inter alia, HTML5, Apple, the hover effect problem on touch screens (you know, with a mouse pointer, you can easily check for mouse events such as if the pointer is hovering a given link. With a touch screen you generally don’t have that option) and much more. Mashable recently polled their readers on which technology is better – HTML5 or Flash. In this epic web faceoff, HTML5 won by a broad margin; a massive 61% out of 6331 votes. Mr Steven Richter has published some valid thoughts on the matter.

Personally, I welcome HTML5+CSS3+JavaScript+Canvas+whatever and related technologies. Whole heartedly. See, I really don’t think that Flash and HTML5 (i’m using HTML5 as a common name for, well, a lot of things. Sorry.) need to compete. At all. If anything, the competition is healthy. It’ll hopefully lead to Flash being more open (one can dream) and focus on efficiency (especially on the Mac. I mean wtf? Also, focus on security *coug again*) while HTML5 needs some time and attention in order for smarter people than myself to build more impressive applications, extensions and features around it. Flash and HTML5 serve different purposes in many ways and let’s face it – you can just as well watch your favorite cat-doing-something-cute-or-stupid-clip on YouTube with HTML5. In fact, it’d probably not tax your CPU as much. For simpler websites, relatively speaking, HTML5 will suffice and still give the user a more than adequate experience with all the bells and whistles of many Flash sites. Not using Flash also has the benefit of more precise bookmarking and using the browser’s history in a less hacky way than with Flash’s deep linking. On the other hand, Flash has the ability to provide developers with features that are simply not possible with HTML5, such as 3D (like Swift 3D, Papervision 3D and Away 3D – compared to examples using Canvas such as this. To be fair, you need to check out WebGL. Looks really sweet so far), advanced audio controls and much more. I can’t wait to do a project with HTML5. And I can’t wait for my next Flash project – if the Flash IDE didn’t suck so much.

I’d like to leave you with pictures of a man who spent two years building a replica of Minas Tirith out of matchsticks, once again proving that a) there are more important things in life than bickering over stuff like I just have, b) there are people out there that are more awesome than you, and finally c) that there are more people other than me that need to get laid.

Oh, and I hope you got my Queen reference.

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    [...] some perverse reason, I kinda like articles that compare Flash with HTMl5 *cough* like this one – sort of *cough*. Jan Ozer did a really good job comparing watching video with Flash [...]

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  • What is this?

    My name is William and I'm a 30 year old developer/designer from Stockholm, Sweden. I have a love/hate relationship with PHP, I'm slightly aroused by jQuery and if I had the Adobe Flash IDE as a friend on Facebook, I'd label it as "it's complicated". This is my twelfth year as a freelance monkey. I prefer the term mercenary, but someone said it had a negative ring to it. Whatever. Oh, and I'm a Mac guy who loves his BacBook Pro in a somewhat unhealthy way.

    The font used for headings is Geometry Soft Pro as found on dafont.com.