verisign, peer-to-peer and the flash player?

While Robert Scoble’s headline for this post follows the tired old “technology x is a technology y killer” formula you have to hand it to him for putting a finger on the significance of last Monday’s CES announcement from Adobe and Verisign.

There are two things that I think we can take away from the press release. Scoble skipped the first one, (probably because it’s pretty ho-hum), which is that Verisign will be using Flash Media Server to stream video on it’s CDN. No big news there – Verisign is trying to put together a network to deliver high-quality, full-length movies over the web and struck a deal to do so with the hottest web video player going. Makes sense.

What the press release is pretty vague about however, (aside: is it just me or was that a CES and Macworld trend this year?), is the possibility of integrating Verisign’s peer-to-peer technology in the Flash Player. This is an interesting play on Adobe’s part and has the potential to be a pretty serious move. As Scoble mentioned there are a few P2P video networks spinning up right now and they all face a couple of similar challenges – one of which is getting software onto user’s machines.

As we all know, with the Flash Player Adobe holds an ace card when it comes to distributing software. It is widely installed and Adobe have a proven capacity to get updates distributed in fairly short periods of time. Even if the penetration stats published by Adobe are optimistic I’m willing to bet the vast majority of pcs without the latest Flash Player are within enterprises – not machines you’d need to worry much about when trying to set up a movie distribution network. The question Adobe have to be asking themselves is whether to play that ace in the brewing web video gold rush.

Adobe, and Macromedia before them, have made serious efforts to transform Flash into an application platform and right now that has alot of momentum. The plan is that Apollo will build on the momentum and become the platform for building a new breed of web connected desktop applications. A big part of what made that effort as successful as it is today has been Adobe’s concentration on building the platform upon which applications are built. As the legend goes the “tin can” project was a plan to add a small video codec to the Flash Player. It was the YouTubes and Brightcoves who drove the Flash video revolution by taking that platform functionality and building upon it. By adding a piece of peer-to-peer type technology on which content delivery networks could be built Adobe may feel they can cement the Flash Platform as the technology for delivering high quality feature length films over the web.

Of course there are risks in such a move. Peer-to-peer technology still has a bit of a nefarious reputation. I’m not sure how receptive enterprise IT managers will be to allowing a Flash Player with P2P capabilities to be installed on their networks. As it stands now IT policies in many corporations keep the Flash Player a version or more behind Adobe’s releases. The risk for Adobe would be in undoing alot of the work they’ve done to make Flash a viable platform for enterprise software applications.

The other problem for peer-to-peer in general is with ISPs and bandwidth caps for their customers. If the perception among users becomes that a Flash Player with P2P capabilities is causing them extra bandwidth bills it could lead to a backlash. As Flash developers will tell you, the ancient perception of Flash as a bandwidth hog and being slow to load is a bit of a sore spot. After years spent battling against that argument we can be a little sensitive to anything that could rekindle that debate.

Reading through the comments on Scoble’s “Netflix is dead” post alot of people are reacting by arguing against any imminent demise of movie rental stores. What’s interesting however is that most are qualifying that with “downloading movies is the future” flavoured statements. Ironically, the real story here is that Adobe and Verisign appear to be making plans to build the foundation for that future. That was Scoble’s real point; unfortunately he distracted from it with a sensational headline.

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public beta, public bug database

When Adobe released the long awaited Flash Player 9 for Linux as a public beta on labs.adobe.com I took it as a nudge to (again) try running a Linux desktop on my home computer. The Linux experiment is going fairly well this time, and the Flash Player seems to be coming together rather well too.

Of course, the Linux Flash Player is beta software (beta 2 was released earlier this week) and that means the odd bug will pop up that hasn’t yet been discovered or fixed. As both a Flash platform developer and user it is in my best interest to report these snags as I come across them. And you’d think that it would be in Adobe’s best interest to make that bug reporting process as efficient and useful as possible. Why then is the only public facing issue tracking a simple web form?

Maybe I’m overlooking some important fact but I really can’t imagine how having the feedback information flow in only one direction is an advantage to anyone. As someone who’s reported a bug or two in my time, (don’t worry – I’ve created more than my fair share too), I’d much rather start the time consuming, and sometimes painful, process of properly reporting an issue by searching a database to see if someone else has already done the leg work for me. From there I can simply tack on any information I feel may be useful and get back to say, fumbling around a “foreign” operating system.

I’d also be curious to know how the quality of the feedback Adobe receives through the web form compares to reports in public bug databases such as Mozilla’s Bugzilla or the Connect system Microsoft used for the IE7 pre-release.

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plugging the flash elearning list

Mark Tomlinson of AuthorwareXtras fame has filled a void by launching the Flash eLearning List, “A [mailing] list to discuss creating eLearning using Flash”.

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past glories

Among the numerous Flash anniversary posts of the past few days I especially enjoyed reading John Dowdell’s reminiscence on the first 10 years of Flash.

One of the anecdotes he shares described Flex as the fulfillment of a quest for an authoring environment that uses XML to natively describe multimedia “experiences” and once again reminded me of what I’m starting to think of as “Authorware’s past glories”. When Authorware 7 was released in 2003 it included functionality that allows one to export (and import) an XML description of Authorware files. (Sadly, it remains just too incomplete to fulfill it’s true potential). Nevertheless, while JD does a good job of connecting the XML dots to Flex it bears noting that Authorware was also a dot on that path.

Authorware, a dot in so many ways.

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apollo hubris

This Cnet article titled “Flash to jump beyond the browser” has been getting some links today. It’s an interesting piece and the information it contains comes from Adobe’s Kevin Lynch so I think it’s fair to say it’s a solid piece factually as well. I’m a little concerned though that the Apollo hype is treading a little too close to just that – hype.

While I’m all for the advantages that come from developing projects in public (Adobe labs is a good example of that done right), I think Adobe have to be careful with over hyping Apollo before having something tangible to deliver. It can be a slippery slope to the kind of predatory preannouncements that companies like Microsoft have been accused of in the past. I guess the true litmus test lies in the spirit of the announcements – when used genuinely the goal is to solicit user feedback and create a sense of community while at the same time fostering critical developer relations (if developers don’t believe in a product it won’t fly, no matter how good it is). When the competition begins to heat up however, (I’ll bet the sun was shining in both San Jose and San Francisco when the latest delay to Vista went public), it can become an easy tactic used to stifle competion.

Don’t confuse these comments with pessimism for what Apollo will be. I really believe Macromedia, (and now Adobe), have done their homework and it is because I truly want to see this project succeed that I’m making these comments. It has enormous potential to make my life (as both a developer and a user) a heck of alot easier.

So, while I’m not the only one with observations of Apollo hubris, I would really like to see the buzz be due to the tech itself and not some ‘next big thing’ feeding frenzy.

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