By: Robert Reinhardt
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With Flash Player 8 right around the corner, Flash content creators are once again finding themselves in the position of determining how quickly they can start producing content for the new player. In this article, you learn about the history of Flash Player penetration, and how to assess the viability of pushing Flash Player 8 content as soon as it's publicly available.
Note: At the time of this writing, Flash Player 8 was available as a public beta. Flash Player 8 should be in its first non-beta release mid to late September 2005.
Typical Penetration Trends
Macromedia frequently measures the pace at which Flash Player versions have been installed around the world. You can view the most current results from the Flash Player support page on Macromedia's site. What you won't find on this page, however, are the actual release dates of each Flash Player. After a little scouring on the Internet, I determined the following release dates:
Flash Player 5: July 2000
Flash Player 6: June 2002
Flash Player 7: September 2003
So, based on the current penetration statistics, we can make the following observations:
- Flash Player 5 has had well over five years to reach its 96% or higher adoption rate. Indeed, even most Flash banner ads produced over the last two years have been Flash Player 5 compatible movies.
- Flash Player 6 has had just over three years to 93% or higher adoption rate. You have noticed that over the last year (or more) that more Flash banner ads have featured embedded video, as Flash Player 6 was the first version of the Flash Player to support any type of video playback.
- Flash Player 7 has reached an 85% or higher adoption rate in just two years of release. It's rare to find Flash Player 7 compatible movies in general content on the Web. If you use Flash banner ads as a litmus test, not many Flash ads have been built in the Flash Player 7 format.
So what threshold does a given Flash Player need to reach in order to give most Flash content producers the confidence to deploy content in a specific player version? Of course, the answer isn't simple. Some interactive agencies only feel comfortable deploying Flash Player-specific content when the version reaches a 90% adoption rate across the board. However, if you need a specific feature for your Flash content that's only available in a newer player, then you might accept a lower adoption rate and hope that visitors who don't have that version of the plug-in will be motivated to get the new player.
Flash Player 7, Auto-Update, and Express Install
Macromedia has high hopes for a much faster adoption rate for Flash Player 8. Why? Flash Player 7 was deployed with a built-in auto-update feature, which enables the Flash Player to check Macromedia's web site every 30 days for a new version. The user can change this setting in the Flash Player Settings Manager on Macromedia's site, but chances are that most people aren't savvy enough (or don't mind) the default settings to go change them. So, if all goes according to Macromedia's plans, within 30 days of the official release of Flash Player 8, most people who have Flash Player 7 installed will automatically be upgraded to Flash Player 8.
More importantly, Macromedia's new Flash Player Detection Kit includes a new feature named Express Install. This feature enables anyone with Flash Player 6 r65 or higher to upgrade to Flash Player 8 within the same window as your Flash 8 content! This capability is truly remarkable, because the plug-in (or ActiveX control) updating is virtually painless for the end user. In other words, most of your visitors don't need to download any Flash Player installer or worry about ActiveX control warning dialog boxes.
Note: If you've ever used Macromedia Central or Macromedia Breeze, you may have already seen the mechanisms behind Express Install at work. Both of those applications can install additional plug-ins for Flash playback without requiring you to download a separate installer file.
Considering Flash Player 8's New Features
Regardless of adoption rates or easy-to-use update features of the Flash Player, the requirements of your Flash content may very well dictate the need to push your site visitors to install the newest Flash Player. With Flash Player 8, consider the following features that may appeal to your business clients:
- Improved video codec: Flash Player 8 features a new video codec, On2 VP6. This codec offers superior compression and image quality over the Sorenson Spark codec offered in Flash Player 6 and 7. (Note that Sorenson Spark is still available in Flash Player 8.)
- Improved small text rendering: Flash Player 8 has a new text rendering engine called FlashType. With this engine, small point sizes with text are greatly improved. If you have a lot of body copy with a particular project and want to use a small font size, you may very likely want to use Flash Player 8 right away.
- Amazing filter and blend effects: Flash Player 8 can now render real-time effects with your content, from blurs to drop-shadows to glow effects. You can also use blend modes with overlapping content, enabling you to create layered effects that you may have used in other bitmap tools such as Adobe Photoshop or Macromedia Fireworks.
- File upload: With Flash Player 8, you can now enable users to browse their local file system to select one or more files to upload to your server for dynamic processing. With earlier release of the Flash Player, you would need to link to external HTML form pages to enable such functionality.
- Runtime bitmap loading and rendering: Flash Player 8 can now load more than just JPEG images. PNG, GIF, and progressive JPEG image formats are now supported with the MovieClip.loadMovie() or MovieClipLoader.load() methods. In addition to runtime loading support, bitmap images are rendered better in Flash Player 8, especially when you scale the bitmap content.
There are more features to Flash Player 8, but this list can give you the starting point (or justification!) to unleash a flurry of Flash Player 8 content on the Web.
Technology Evangelist or Follower?
Another aspect of Flash Player 8 content planning exists on a more ideological level. You can call it a "take the bull by the horns" and "bleeding edge" type of thinking. Many of your business clients (or you!) may want to use Flash Player 8 simply because it's the latest and greatest tool. Who wants to advertise that they're using two year old Internet technology for "new" content on their Web site? From personal experience, I often need to carefully consider my own zealous interests with Flash Player technology versus the realized benefits of using newer technology. Meaning, if you don't really need to use the newest player, why push it? Many business clients have the attitude that, if something can be built for an earlier version of the player, why build in a new version? Consider the following points whenever you're up against a Luddite who's angling to use older Flash Player technology:
- Cost: Plain and simple, building content to work with earlier players can just take up more time in the project plan. More time means more money, and higher costs for your business client.
- Reliability: Generally speaking, newer versions of the Flash Player are less buggy, especially for ActionScript APIs that have had a couple of versions to be worked out by the Macromedia engineering team. Performance for most Flash movies is better in newer players as well.
You may also want to consider something else: if everyone decided to wait for someone else to push Flash Player 8 content, then we'd all be waiting for a long time for the adoption rates to climb. Most people who use the Internet for research, entertainment, shopping, and so on are not Web content producers. In other words, they won't be heading to Macromedia's site on their own to download the latest player. You have to compel people to update their players. Do you want to be the one to push them? Or do you want to wait for someone else to?
How long you wait to deploy Flash Player 8 content can depend on a variety of factors, from project (or content) requirements to customer expectations to personal conviction.
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