Adobe has announced that it was making available its first beta of Flash Player 11, and whereas with new updates being released almost as an afterthought, Linux users were amazed to discover that for this release, Adobe has provided a Linux binary at the same time that it has released the Windows and Mac OS X installers.
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This release shows that Adobe is taking a different tack. New features include native 64-bit support for Linux 64-bit operating systems using 64-bit web browsers; Linux Vector Printing, a feature that has already been available to Windows and Mac users, but that will provide cleaner and crisper image quality to Linux users; improved media support; and support for JSON within ActionScript.
Adobe attempted to release 64-bit support for Linux with a beta version of Flash Player 10, but it was eventually withdrawn. I tried it out when they first released it, but it seemed pretty buggy and I eventually went back to running the 32-bit version. Mostly, I found that when playing fullscreen video, Flash often wouldn’t co-operate.
When Adobe finally withdrew the 64-bit plugin, I assumed that Linux users would have a long wait before they would see Adobe return to it. Recently, Adobe announced that it was going to drop Linux support for its Air platform, leaving it to OEM partners to pick up any futher development. So, things were looking a little bit bleak on the Adobe front if you were a Linux user. But with the Flash Player 11 Beta announcement, comes a much needed breath of fresh air.
As a regular Linux user, I immediately shot over to Adobe’s download link and installed the new plugin to see what it had to offer.
While it runs beautifully on my 64-bit Ubuntu, there was no obviously tangible benefit that I could discern. That’s probably because most of the work in Flash Player 11 is looking to the future of development on the Flash platform.
The key focus for the Flash development team has been directed at providing a powerful realtime 3D rendering model called Stage3D (or “Molehill” by its code name). Stage3D provides an API that will allow developers to take advantage of GPU hardware acceleration to deliver high performance 2D and 3D rendering on the fly. It exposes access to features like cube textures, z-buffering and fragment and vertex shaders. That’s a geeky way of saying that Adobe is looking toward providing a better platform for developers to create some pretty awesome 3D games. With this in mind, I wanted to put Flash Player 11 through its paces.
If you just want to get a feel for the 3D graphics, install the plugin and check out Zombie Tycoon. Its a simple 3D animation clip of about 10 seconds, but it will rock your socks. It really does show off some of the potential of the Molehill API.
The first game that I had any success with was Treasure Dungeon at Acemobe.com. Certainly the graphics chipset on my laptop doesn’t have a GPU to write home about, so I wasn’t expecting anything too fantastic. But Treasure Dungeon surprised me because it certainly looked like flash was capable of doing everything that it claims on the box.
The Adobe team have also claimed that the new Flash Player has complete code rewrites that provide a whole new set of classes to offer better support for human interface devices.
Certainly, a lot of work has gone into their Enhanced Mic class, that now supports a wider range of features including full echo cancellation. But a quick look at the HID class constants suggests that Adobe is looking to move its platform forward to interact with a huge range of devices. There seems to be work going on for Flash to interact with everything from bar-code scanners through to TV. Most telling is the list of gaming gadgets with some support, including Gamepad’s, Joysticks, 3D Game Controllers and Gun devices. It seems clear to me, that Adobe is pushing hard to start edging its way in on the gaming market.
So why is Linux suddenly getting a little bit of attention?
A quick glance over to some of the mobile device platforms like Android and Meego might give some indication that there is a growing market for Linux platforms and player support is critical if Adobe wants its platform to sell. While some might shrug at Meego, Toyota recently announced that it was adopting the operating system to use for all of its In-Vehicle-Infotainment and communications systems. That’s a big market just waiting to happen.
When Apple decided to keep Flash off of iOS devices, it was a small blow to Adobe. Now, with more Android devices around, Adobe is working hard to keep its users happy and to make sure that it doesn’t miss out on a platform that is increasingly being used behind many of the big entertainment systems.