Adobe Systems has released a public beta of Flash Player 10, the next release of the company's Flash Player rich Internet technology, code-named Astro.
San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe announced the Adobe Flash Player 10 beta on May 15, and the technology is available on Adobe Labs, said Tom Barclay, senior product marketing manager in Adobe's platform business unit.
Barclay said Flash Player 10 has expressive features for interactive designers and developers to build richer and more immersive Web experiences. Barclay also said the new release builds on the legacy of Flash as the world's most pervasive application runtime with new support for custom filters and effects, native 3-D transformation and animation, extensible rich text layout and GPU hardware acceleration-helping to enable a new level of cinematic experiences across multiple browsers and operating systems.
Indeed, Barclay said that for the first time Adobe is enabling the creation of custom filters and effects that extend and can be combined with native effects in Adobe Flash Player for control of rich content to more fully engage users. "These are low-level APIs to allow the community to build on top of," Barclay said. "This allows the community to easily extend the Flash Player like never before.
Custom filters and effects are created with the Adobe Pixel Bender tool kit, which also is available for no charge on Adobe Labs. Adobe Pixel Bender is the same technology behind many filters and special effects in Adobe After Effects CS3 software, the industry standard for creating motion graphics and visual effects for film and broadcast, Barclay said.
"People want to create their own effects and provide more cinematic experiences like they see in movies," Barclay said. Developers targeting Adobe Flash Player 10 beta can now create their own filters, blend modes and fills with Adobe Pixel Bender by writing small pixel-shading functions that can be parameterized to create animated effects or change the effect on rich media content at runtime.
"I'm having a lot of fun playing with the Pixel Bender capabilities, which lets us build custom filter effects and blend modes, as well as providing a more efficient way to manipulate bitmap data," said Grant Skinner, chief architect and CEO of gskinner.com, a Flash development company in Edmonton, Alberta. "I'm just starting to get to grips with the full potential of this feature, but it will definitely provide us with the ability to create effects that are more cinematic or artistic, which allows us to further differentiate the online branding of our customers."
Barclay said Microsoft's WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) will provide similar pixel manipulation features for Windows Vista, "but what's different here is that we're bringing this capability to all the major operating platforms."
Meanwhile, building on more than 25 years of Adobe expertise with text, the company delivers a new text engine in Adobe Flash Player 10 beta that provides interactive designers and developers creative control over device font attributes, such as anti-alias, rotation and style, as well as support for ligatures, said Justin Everett-Church, senior product manager in Adobe's platform business unit.
"I'm personally very excited about the new text engine in Astro, both because of the new layout capabilities it will give us-such as multicolumn text, or text on a path-and because it should make localizing our projects a lot easier," Skinner told eWEEK in an interview. "One of the guys in our office is really into typography, and he's head over heels in love with this feature and the control it gives him over type."
The new text engine provides more text layout options, such as vertical, bidirectional and right-to-left, will support the creation of RIAs (rich Internet applications) in more languages, and can provide more interactive e-books and online publications that rely on Adobe Flash Player technology, Everett-Church said.
Meanwhile, Flash Player 10 provides new variable bit-rate streaming for video between the Adobe Flash Player 10 beta and intended future releases of Adobe Flash Media Server. The bit-rate streaming will automatically adjust video quality as bandwidth availability fluctuates to provide constant video playback without pausing to buffer, Barclay said.
In addition, the Adobe Flash Player 10 beta also introduces native support for 3-D effects to easily position, rotate and animate 2-D objects while retaining interactivity.
"The 3-D features in Astro are intriguing," Skinner said. "They won't be as powerful as a library like PaperVision3D (an open-source 3-D library for Flash Player 9), but they are easier to work with, should provide a nice framework for simple 3-D interface effects, and hopefully also help make the more robust libraries even more powerful."
Meanwhile, features in the beta release of Adobe Flash Player 10 will be incorporated into a future release of Adobe AIR and will contribute to future work on the Open Screen Project, which is dedicated to delivering a consistent runtime environment across personal computers, mobile devices and consumer electronics, Adobe officials said.
Everett-Church said Adobe Flash Player 10 gives users the ability to select a file from the desktop and load it into the runtime, then save the image back to the desktop
Moreover, Barclay said Adobe is extending its ecosystem by setting up an exchange for developers to share their components and Pixel Bender filters and effects.
Barclay said Adobe Flash Player content reaches more than 98 percent of Internet-enabled desktops. In addition, adoption of the previous update to Adobe Flash Player 9, which supports H.264-enabled HD content, set all-time records by achieving 62 percent market penetration in less than three months, he said. And more than 75 percent of broadcasters who stream video on the Web use Flash technology, he added.
Overall, "the beta is looking great," Skinner said. "It's still got its fair share of beta bugs, particularly at the intersection of new features, but that's to be expected at this point in its development. The feature set is really exciting for me and my team, providing more rich interface and motion graphics features-what Adobe calls 'Expressiveness'-while reducing the CPU load associated with them."
In addition, Skinner said, "while it isn't a really sexy feature, the support for rendering content on the GPU [graphics card] instead of the CPU is awesome, because it will free up processor cycles that we can use to make even cooler things, or that we can devote to some of the other Flash Player 10 features like Pixel Bender or 3-D."
The pre-release version of Adobe Flash Player 10 beta is available immediately as a free download from Adobe Labs at www.adobe.com/go/astro.