Macromedia Flash Player

Adobe Flash Player

The Adobe Flash Player is a widely distributed proprietary multimedia and application player created by Macromedia and now developed and distributed by Adobe after its acquisition. Flash Player runs SWF files that can be created by the Adobe Flash authoring tool, by Adobe Flex or by a number of other Macromedia and third party tools.

Adobe Flash, or simply Flash, refers to both a multimedia authoring program and the Adobe Flash Player, written and distributed by Adobe, that uses vector and raster graphics, a native scripting language called ActionScript and bidirectional streaming of video and audio. Strictly speaking, Adobe Flash is the authoring environment and Flash Player is the virtual machine used to run the Flash files, but in colloquial language these have become mixed: "Flash" can mean either the authoring environment, the player, or the application files.

Flash Player has support for an embedded scripting language called ActionScript (AS), which is based on ECMAScript. Since its inception, ActionScript has matured from a script syntax without variables to one that supports object-oriented code, and may now be compared in capability to JavaScript (another ECMAScript-based scripting language).

The Flash Player was originally designed to display 2-dimensional vector animation, but has since become suitable for creating rich Internet applications and streaming video and audio. It uses vector graphics to minimize file size and create files that save bandwidth and loading time. Flash is a common format for games, animations, and GUIs embedded into web pages.

The Flash Player is built into some browsers and is available as a plugin for recent versions of other browsers (such as Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Safari and Internet Explorer) on selected platforms. Each version of the plugin is completely backwards-compatible.

Supported platforms

The latest version of Flash Player, Version 9, is available for Windows (98 and newer), Linux (x86-32 only), Solaris and Mac OS X. Version 7 is the most recent official version currently available for the Linux/ARM-based Nokia 770/N800 Internet Tablets, classic Mac OS, Pocket PC and Windows 95/NT. HP offers Version 6 of the player for HP-UX. Other versions of the player have been available at some point for OS/2, Symbian OS, Palm OS, BeOS and IRIX. The Kodak Easyshare One includes Flash Player. The Flash Player SDK was used to develop its on-screen menus, which are rendered and displayed using the included Flash Player. Among other devices, LeapFrog Enterprises provides Flash Player with their Leapster Multimedia Learning System and extended the Flash Player with touch-screen support. Sony has integrated Flash Player 6 into the Playstation Portable's web browser via firmware version 2.70. Nintendo has integrated Flash Player 7 in the Internet Channel on the Wii.

No x86-64 editions of the Flash player are currently available for any platform , due to the x86-32-specific garbage collector and just-in-time compilation engine Adobe engineers have stated that 64-bit editions for all supported platforms, including Linux, are in development They have been developing since 2005 a x64 edition of the Flash Player, but have yet to launch.

Although SWF has recently become an open format again, Adobe has not been willing to make complete source code available for free software development. The source code for the ActionScript Virtual Machine has been released as a project named Tamarin under the terms of an MPL/GPL/LGPL tri-license. It includes the specification for the ActionScript byte code format. This project is jointly managed by Mozilla and Adobe. The full specification of the SWF format is available without restriction by Adobe. The principal alternative free software player, gnash, is quite incomplete at this time, however since SWF is now an open format, it should have a much higher quality going forward as developers implement the official SWF specifications.

Internet Privacy/Persistent Identification Elements

Flash Player is an application that, while running on a computer that is connected to the internet, is designed to contemporaneously interact with websites containing Flash content that are being visited online. As such, under certain configurations the application has the potential to silently compromise its users' internet privacy, and do so without their knowledge. By default, Flash Player is configured to permit small, otherwise invisible "tracking" files, known as Persistent Identification Elements (PIEs) or Local Shared Object files, to be stored on the hard drive of a user's computer. Sent in the background over the internet from websites to which a user is connected, these files work much the way "[cookie|cookies]" do with internet browsers. When stored on a user's computer, PIE (.sol) files are capable of sending personally sensitive data back out over the internet without the user's knowledge to one or more third parties. In addition, Flash Player is also capable of accessing and retrieving audio and video data from any microphone and/or webcams that might be either built in or connected to a user's computer and transmitting it in realtime over the internet (also potentially without the user's knowledge) to one or more third parties.

While these capabilities can all be affirmatively blocked and/or disabled by the user, the Flash Player application does not provide an internally accessible "preferences" panel to accomplish this. Instead access to the various settings panels necessary to manage the application's "Privacy," "Storage," "Security," and "Notifications" settings can be achieved through a web-based "Settings Manager" page located on the "support" section of the Adobe.com website, or by third party tools (see Local Shared Object). Each of the functions can be enabled/disabled either "globally" to cover all websites, or set differently for individual websites depending on how the user desires Flash Player to be able to interact with each one.

Although Flash Control Panel Settings in theory allow users to protect their privacy it should be remembered that suitably crafted Visual Basic Script or similar code can overwrite any user defined settings before the Flash Player Plug-in is called by a webpage.

In addition to [cookie|cookies], many banks and other financial institutions also routinely install Persistent Identification Elements using Flash Player on users' hard drives when they establish and access their accounts, as do other interactive sites such as "YouTube".

History

  • Macromedia Flash Player 2 (1997)
    • First version under Macromedia brand
    • Mostly vectors and motion, some bitmaps, limited audio
    • Support of stereo sound, enhanced bitmap integration, buttons, the Library, and the capability to tween color changes.
  • Macromedia Flash Player 3 (1998)
    • Added alpha transparency, licensed MP3 compression
    • Brought improvements to animation, playback, and publishing, as well as the introduction of simple script commands for interactivity.
    • As of 1998, Macromedia has shipped 100,000 Flash products.
  • Macromedia Flash Player 4 (May 1999)
    • Achieved 100 million installations of the Flash Player, thanks in part to its inclusion with Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.
    • Saw the introduction of streaming MP3s and the Motion Tween. Initially, the Flash Player plug-in was not bundled with popular web browsers and users had to visit Macromedia website to download it; As of 2000, however, the Flash Player was already being distributed with all AOL, Netscape and Internet Explorer browsers. Two years later it shipped with all releases of Windows XP. The install-base of the Flash Player reached 92 percent of all Internet users.
  • Macromedia Flash Player 5 (August 2000)
    • A major leap forward in capability, with the evolution of Flash's scripting capabilities as released as ActionScript.
    • Saw the ability to customize the authoring environment's interface.
    • Macromedia Generator was the first initiative from Macromedia to separate design from content in Flash files. Generator 2.0 was released in April 2001 and featured real-time server-side generation of Flash content in its Enterprise Edition. Generator was discontinued in 2002 in favor of new technologies such as Flash Remoting, which allows for seamless transmission of data between the server and the client, and ColdFusion Server.
    • In October 2000, usability guru Jakob Nielsen wrote a polemic article regarding usability of Flash content entitled " Flash 99% Bad". (Macromedia later hired Nielsen to help them improve Flash usability.)
    • In September 2001, a survey made for Macromedia by Media Metrix showed that out of the 10 biggest websites in the United States, seven were making use of Flash content.
  • Macromedia Flash Player 6 (version 6.0.21.0, codenamed Exorcist) (March 2002)
    • Support for the consuming Flash Remoting (AMF) and Web Service (SOAP)
    • supports ondemand/live audio and video streaming (RTMP)
    • Support for screenreaders via Microsoft Active Accessibility
    • Added Sorenson Spark video codec for Flash Video
    • Support for video, application components, shared libraries, and accessibility.
    • Macromedia Flash Communication Server MX, also released in 2002, allowed video to be streamed to Flash Player 6 (otherwise the video could be embedded into the Flash movie).
  • Macromedia Flash Player 7 (version 7.0.14.0, codenamed Mojo) (September 2003)
    • Supports progressive audio and video streaming ([])
    • Supports ActionScript 2.0, an Object-Oriented Programming Language for developers
    • Ability to create charts, graphs and additional text effects with the new support for extensions (sold separately), high fidelity import of PDF and Adobe Illustrator 10 files, mobile and device development and a forms-based development environment. ActionScript 2.0 was also introduced, giving developers a formal Object-Oriented approach to ActionScript. V2 Components replaced Flash MX's components, being rewritten from the ground up to take advantage of ActionScript 2.0 and Object-Oriented principles.
    • In 2004, the "Flash Platform" was introduced. This expanded Flash to more than the Flash authoring tool. Flex 1.0 and Breeze 1.0 were released, both of which utilized the Flash Player as a delivery method but relied on tools other than the Flash authoring program to create Flash applications and presentations. Flash Lite 1.1 was also released, enabling mobile phones to play Flash content.
  • Macromedia Flash Player 8 (version 8.0.22.0, codenamed Maelstrom) (August 2005)
    • support of GIF and PNG bitmapped images
    • new video codec (On2 VP6)
    • improved runtime performance
    • live filters such as blur and drop shadow
    • file upload and download capabilities
    • crisp pixel-perfect text rendering
    • new security features to prevent unsafe code from running
    • Most significant upgrade to Flash since Flash 5, new features included filter effects and blending modes, bitmap caching, an enhanced type rendering engine called FlashType, an emulator for mobile devices, and several enhancements to the ActionScript 2.0 spec, such as the BitmapData class, several geometric classes, and the ConvolutionFilter and DisplacmentMapFilter classes.
    • On December 3 2005, Adobe Systems acquired Macromedia and its product portfolio (including Flash).
  • Macromedia Flash Lite 1.0 and 1.1
    • Based on Flash Player 4
  • Macromedia Flash Lite 2.0 (December 2005)
    • Released in 2005, which brought its capabilities in line with Flash Player 7.
  • Adobe Flash Player 9 (version 9.0.15.0, codenamed Zaphod) (June 2006) previously named Flash Player 8.5
    • New ECMAScript scripting engine, ActionScript Virtual Machine AVM2. AVM retained for compatibility.
    • Actionscript 3 via AVM2.
    • E4X, which is a new approach to parsing XML.
    • Support for binary sockets.
    • Support for Regular Expressions and namespaces.
    • ECMAScript 4 virtual machine donated to Mozilla Foundation and named Tamarin.
    • Flash Player had an opportunity to become widely installed before the release of the equivalent Flash program.
  • Adobe Flash Player 9 Update 1 (version 9.0.28.0, codenamed Marvin) (November 2006)
    • Support for full-screen mode.
  • Adobe Flash Lite 2.1 (December 2006)
    • Running on the BREW platform
  • Adobe Flash Lite 3 (Announced on February 2007)
    • Support for FLV transcoding
  • Adobe Flash Player 9 Update 2 (version Mac/Windows 9.0.47.0 and Linux 9.0.48.0, codenamed Hotblack) (July 2007)
    • Security Update
  • Adobe Flash Player 9 Update 3 (version 9.0.115.0, codenamed Moviestar or Frogstar) (December 2007)
  • Adobe Flash Player 9 (version 9.0.124.0) (April 2008)
    • Critical security update
    • Causes videos to stop playing at 2 seconds and occasionally lose sound on Mozilla and Opera. No solution has yet been released (other than downgrading to a lower version of Adobe), and Adobe appears not to acknowledge the problem.
  • Adobe Flash Player 10 Beta (version 10.0.1.218, codenamed Astro) (15th May 2008)
    • Notably introduces support for hardware GPU accelerated features like 3D graphics and programmable pixel shaders. The Adobe Labs website also notes that this version will integrate Adobe Pixel Bender technology, which currently ships with Adobe's After Effects software and will be editable even during the runtime of Flash animations.
  • Adobe Flash Player 10 RC 2 (version 10.0.12.10, codenamed Astro) (Sept 2008)
    • 3D effects
    • Custom filters and effects
    • Advanced text layout
    • Enhanced drawing API
    • Visual performance improvements
    • Rich media

See also

References and notes

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