29 апр. 2009 г.

Adobe in Push to Spread Web Video to TV Sets

The denizens of Hollywood and Silicon Valley have, by and large, vastly different value systems, role models, even tastes in cars, food and clothing.

But they increasingly agree on one thing: a standard for online video called Adobe Flash.

Flash was once known primarily as the technology behind those niggling Web ads in the 1990s that gyrated and flickered on the screen. Today, it is a ubiquitous but behind-the-scenes Web format used to display Facebook applications, interactive ads and, most notably, the video on sites like YouTube and Hulu.com.

Now Adobe Systems, which owns the technology and sells the tools to create and distribute it, wants to extend Flash’s reach even further. On Monday, Adobe’s chief executive, Shantanu Narayen, will announce at the annual National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas that Adobe is extending Flash to the television screen. He expects TVs and set-top boxes that support the Flash format to start selling later this year.

For consumers, what sounds like a bit of inconsequential Internet plumbing actually means that a long overhyped notion is a step closer to reality: viewing a video clip or Internet application on a TV or mobile phone.

For Hollywood studios and other content creators, a single format for Web video is even more enticing. It means they can create their entertainment once in Flash — as the animated documentary “Waltz With Bashir,” from Sony Pictures Classics, was made — and distribute it cheaply throughout the expanding ecosystem of digital devices.

“Coming generations of consumers clearly expect to get their content wherever they want on it, on any device, when they want it,” said Bud Albers, the chief technology officer of the Disney Interactive Media Group, who will join Adobe executives at the convention to voice Disney’s support for the Flash format. “This gets us where we want to go.”

Adobe, based in San Jose, Calif., is among the oldest Internet powers but perhaps one of the least visible to users. Founded in 1983, the company first developed a common language for laser printers called PostScript and later built or bought popular desktop publishing tools like Illustrator and Photoshop.

In 2005, Adobe acquired Macromedia, the originator of Flash, and expanded from making software to create and share digital documents, like Adobe Acrobat and the PDF file format, to dominating the budding market of tools to create online graphics and video. Last year the company reported net income of $871.8 million on revenue of $3.6 billion.

According to Adobe, Flash is now on 98 percent of all computers, and about 80 percent of Web videos are viewed using it.

Adobe says Flash was installed on 40 percent of cellphones shipped last year, and it recently announced efforts to increase that penetration by abolishing the licensing fees it was charging handset makers, much as it offers the Flash player free to consumers and video sites like YouTube.

Adobe makes money on Flash by selling software to help companies create and deliver Flash content to the Web.

Some major players in the phone market do not support Flash. Most notably, Apple, maker of the iPhone, says Flash uses too much processing and battery power. Mr. Narayen says handset makers will ultimately not be able to resist, since it will make viewing the Web on a phone no different from surfing on a PC.

“Anyone who wishes to deliver Web browsing on smartphone devices, supporting Flash will be an integral part of the experience,” he said.

Despite its problems wooing Apple, Adobe considers the television screen the last great frontier for Flash. To support the new effort to bring Flash to the TV, it has signed partners including Intel, Comcast, Netflix and Broadcom, the company that makes many of the components that go into cable and satellite set-top boxes. (The New York Times Company has also agreed to support this initiative to bring Flash to the TV set.)

While television makers like Sony and Samsung are not involved yet, analysts say integrating Flash — or at least some kind of Internet video — into the living room television is inevitable.

“It’s hard to differentiate TVs these days. They’ve gotten about as big and thin as you can get them,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Interpret LLC. “This idea of being able to standardize on Flash-based content across devices and platforms will be something TV vendors can get excited about because it will distinguish their products.”

One company standing in Adobe’s way is Microsoft. Its rival to Flash, called Silverlight, is used by Netflix and the BBC, among others, and was used by CBS to stream the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament and by NBC last year to stream the Olympics.

Microsoft says the second version of Silverlight has been installed on 300 million PCs since it became available six months ago. It also claims that Silverlight better supports live, high-definition video in what is called 1080p resolution, which is paramount to bringing Internet content to large HDTVs.

“I can’t imagine what could be more important on a television than high video quality,” said Brad Becker, director of rich client platforms at Microsoft — and a former Adobe executive. Adobe executives say the new Flash for televisions will support such high-definition video.

Some analysts are not counting out Microsoft just yet. They say the company has a significant presence in the living room with devices like the Xbox 360 game consoles that can stream movies to a TV. Microsoft, with annual revenue that is 17 times that of Adobe’s, also has the resources to finance an escalating competition.

Do you want Flash on your TV? Adobe thinks so. (by Sean Portnoy)

Try as it might, Adobe can’t get its Flash streaming video format on the iPhone, but you may be seeing it on your TV soon. This week the media software company announced its push into the living room, citing partners like Comcast and Intel that are slated to introduce compatible hardware in the second half of this year.

The Adobe Flash Platform for the Digital Home is designed to deliver HD-quality videos to set-top boxes and widgetized HDTVs, though it’s unclear that the quality of the viral YouTube videos everybody loves will look any better on a 42-inch screen. The platform will work outside a dedicated Web browser, while still offering, according to Adobe, “rich, interactive viewing experiences and amazing new ways to engage with HD content on televisions.” I’m not really sure what would qualify as an “amazing” new way to engage with my TV content, so if you have any great ideas, feel free to leave them in our TalkBack section.

Flash has felt a little heat from Microsoft’s Silverlight, an alternative streaming video format that has gained some traction, though nowhere near the market penetration that Adobe’s product possesses. The company is trying to capitalize on its near ubiquity on PCs to fight Silverlight off in the home theater. What’s not certain is how quickly TV viewers will adapt to watching HD content from the Internet, when so much is being made of still getting HD content (often TV programming) onto the Internet. Will there be enough Flash video that people will have to watch on their sets instead of their computers that they couldn’t get from watching their channel lineup or the increasing amount of content available on demand? Of course, eventually computer and TV functions will more seamlessly merge, so Adobe and its partners have to start somewhere. It will be interesting to see how quickly consumers will push that marriage along—not charging a huge premium for the functionality and adding network connectivity that’s Wi-Fi based would be a good start.

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10 апр. 2009 г.

Adobe announces Flash Catalyst, Facebook connection

New program speeds up Web development

At the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, Adobe Chief Technology Officer Kevin Lynch demos a beta version of Flash Catalyst, a Web development program that allows developers to import pictures and make each shape into a Web element. Flash Catalyst also creates Flex code of these elements, letting developers add to and manipulate the code directly, and giving them the ability to connect to Facebook's API.

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8 апр. 2009 г.

Google is just an amoral menace

The ever-growing empire produces nothing but seems determined to control everything

If indeed a new era of global responsibility has come into being with measures that actually restrain banks and isolate tax havens, it may be time for the planet's dominant economic powers to focus on the destructive, anti-civic forces of the internet. Exactly 20 years after Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote the blueprint for the world wide web, the internet has become the host to a small number of dangerous WWMs - worldwide monopolies that sweep all before them with exuberant contempt for people's rights, their property and the past.

Google is the most prominent WWM, but let's start with an American site that is making a name for itself in straightforward misappropriation. Scribd.com offers free downloads of every kind of book, magazine, brochure, guide, research paper and pamphlet to 55 million readers every month. Many have been uploaded illegally. Last week the publishers of JK Rowling, Ken Follett and Aravind Adiga took action to remove books that had been illegally published on the site.

Scribd.com complied, but what is interesting is the company's institutional lack of guilt when the piracy was exposed. Instead of admitting it and apologising, it issued a statement claiming Scribd possessed "industry-leading copyright management system which goes above and beyond requirements of Digital Millennium Copyright Act".

That's like a drunk driver protesting innocence because he's covered by the best insurance company. What matters is the crime, the theft of someone else's content, which has taken care, labour, money and expertise to publish.

The point is that even if Scribd removes books, it still allows individuals to advertise services for delivering pirated books by email, which must make it the enemy of every writer and publisher in the world. In effect it has turned copyright law on its head: instead of asking publishers for permission, it requires them to object if and when they become aware of a breach.

Google presents a far greater threat to the livelihood of individuals and the future of commercial institutions important to the community. One case emerged last week when a letter from Billy Bragg, Robin Gibb and other songwriters was published in the Times explaining that Google was playing very rough with those who appeared on its subsidiary, YouTube. When the Performing Rights Society demanded more money for music videos streamed from the website, Google reacted by refusing to pay the requested 0.22p per play and took down the videos of the artists concerned.

It does this with impunity because it is dominant worldwide and knows the songwriters have nowhere else to go. Google is the portal to a massive audience: you comply with its terms or feel the weight of its boot on your windpipe.

Despite the aura of heroic young enterprise that still miraculously attaches to the web, what we are seeing is a much older and toxic capitalist model - the classic monopoly that destroys industries and individual enterprise in its bid for ever greater profits. Despite its diversification, Google is in the final analysis a parasite that creates nothing, merely offering little aggregation, lists and the ordering of information generated by people who have invested their capital, skill and time. On the back of the labour of others it makes vast advertising revenues - in the final quarter of last year its revenues were $5.7bn, and it currently sits on a cash pile of $8.6bn. Its monopolistic tendencies took an extra twist this weekend with rumours that it may buy the micro-blogging site Twitter and its plans - contested by academics - to scan a vast library of books that are out of print but still in copyright.

One of the chief casualties of the web revolution is the newspaper business, which now finds itself laden with debt (not Google's fault) and having to give its content free to the search engine in order to survive. Newspapers can of course remove their content but then their own advertising revenues and profiles decline. In effect they are being held captive and tormented by their executioner, who has the gall to insist that the relationship is mutually beneficial. Were newspapers to combine to take on Google they would be almost certainly in breach of competition law.

In 1787 Thomas Jefferson wrote: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter." A moment's thought must tell us that he is still right: newspapers are the only means of holding local hospitals, schools, councils and the police to account, and on a national level they are absolutely essential for the good functioning of democracy.

If, at a time of profound challenges, newspapers fall out with Google, it could be pretty serious for British society, which is why I referred earlier to anti-civic forces. Of course the company founded by Sergey Brin and Larry Page in 1998 - now reckoned to be the world's most powerful brand - does not offer any substitute for the originators of content nor does it allow this to touch its corporate conscience. That is probably because one detects in Google something that is delinquent and sociopathic, perhaps the character of a nightmarish 11-year-old.

This particular 11-year-old has known nothing but success and does not understand the risks, skill and failure involved in the creation of original content, nor the delicate relationships that exist outside its own desires and experience. There is a brattish, clever amorality about Google that allows it to censor the pages on its Chinese service without the slightest self doubt, store vast quantities of unnecessary information about every Google search, and menace the delicate instruments of democratic scrutiny. And, naturally, it did not exercise Google executives that Street View not only invaded the privacy of millions and made the job of burglars easier but somehow laid claim to Britain's civic spaces. How gratifying to hear of the villagers of Broughton, Bucks, who prevented the Google van from taking pictures of their homes.

We could do worse than follow their example for this brat needs to be stopped in its tracks and taught about the responsibilities it owes to content providers and copyright holders.

Autor: Henry Porter
Article Source: Giardian

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