Adobe Adds 3-D Dev Tools to Flash

Adobe released the 10th version of its Flash Player Wednesday. Flash Player 10 includes new features and enhancements that give Web developers greater creative control when designing their interactive content and video.

“This is going to be a particularly fun release for the Flash community, just because it enables such expressive capabilities that are going to really bring a lot of the ‘flash’ back into Flash,” said Tom Barclay, senior product manager of the platform business unit at Adobe.

Adobe has alternated with previous releases between adding features and functionality.

“With Flash Player 8 we introduced some expressive capabilities and text improvements and enhanced video. In Flash Player 9, it was a little bit more of an enterprise and performance focus. We added the new virtual machine, full action script 3, and really improved performance by an order of magnitude,” Barclay told TechNewsWorld.

Flash Player 10, according to Barclay, brings together both of those worlds, adding a lot of new expressive features, with 3-D and text support normally found only in print publications. Adobe has also added the ability for designers to create their own custom filters and effects.

“We’re combining that with more performance improvement, but more focused on visual performance to give you a better whole application experience,” he added.

A Flashy Play

The new release builds on the capabilities of previous versions with new support for custom filters and effects, native 3-D transformation and animation, advanced audio processing and GPU hardware acceleration.

“Native 3-D support makes it easier for designers and developers used to working in two dimensions to easily transform those two-dimensional objects into 3-D. [They can do that] either through our very straightforward APIs or through the new tooling that’s available in Flash CS4 Professional,” Barclay explained.

The support for native 3-D animations and transforms are a big advance, said Jeffrey Hammond, a Forrester Research analyst.

“A few of the more advanced design agencies I’ve talked to have approximated this — e.g. EffectiveUI with the Discover Earth application — but now it should be a lot easier and faster to achieve results that previously would have required devs to drop out of the browser to rich client APIs,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Another top new feature are the Flash Players improved drawing API — the mechanism developers use to create sophisticated drawings and 3-D worlds.

“There are a lot of great 3-D libraries that are available on the Web today built in ActionScript that provide the ability to do really immersive 3-D worlds. Those libraries perform better now with Flash Player 10. They’re faster, the quality is better, and we do better texture mapping. It just provides a better real-world experience,” Barclay noted.

The Printed Page

More important than the 3-D support, according to Hammond, is the new text engine and the effects developers can create with it that approximate the printed page.

“Related to this are the advanced layout features and BIDI (bi-directional text) support. This will prove particularly popular with those folks that want the build on a platform that will allow them to localize their apps in countries that don’t use roman characters and left-to-right layout,” he explained.

With those two new features, Adobe is pushing the envelope for RIAs (rich Internet applications) that much further and improving the value proposition for application developers relative to rich client applications, explained Hammond.

“Apps that look like printed pages, apps that are in their native languages, apps that have sophisticated drawing features are all real possibilities,” he continued.

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