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Help! It's A Flash Killer!Microsoft's rumored 'Flash Killer' and why you shouldn't fret too much
It's dead, Jim
One piece of news to emerge recently (albeit quietly) is the death of what was, at one time, also referred to as a "Flash Killer." Adobe has announced that effective November 15, 2003 (which may have come and gone by the time you read this), it is discontinuing its LiveMotion product. Like many of you, I had heard reports from as far back as a year ago about the low morale of the LiveMotion team, that while even as LM2 was a pretty darned nice SWF authoring environment, it would never be able to catch up with Flash itself as long as Macromedia retained ultimate control over the latest and greatest SWF spec. I'm a little sad about this turn of events, as LM2 really showed some potential. But I'm not exactly shocked, either. Macromedia owns Flash, and if they want to keep the most recent SWF spec close to the vest, that's their call. But the big MM shouldn't take Adobe's capitulation in the SWF authoring space as a sign that they're doing everything right. Flash MX 2004 is a nice product and all, but it's getting its share of panning from the developer community, with a heavy share of criticism coming from designers who complain that Macromedia has focused so much on the RIA side of the coin that Flash is ripe for a beatdown in the design and animation space. It's valid criticism, in my opinion. Someone may just sneak up on Macromedia and provide a compelling new product that addresses these very design shortcomings, one that just might evoke as much jaw-dropping as Flash itself did when it burst on the scene lo those many years ago.
That "someone" might just have been Creature House, who were poised to strike with an animated version of their flagship Expression package, called LivingCels. Not familiar with either product? Here's the gist: Expression lets you draw vector-based artwork, but with a twist. You can apply decidedly non-vector effects to Expression's strokes, resulting in some really, REALLY nice stuff that's all done in vectors. I was an original Expression 1 user dating back to 1996, when Fractal Design first introduced it, and it's the real deal. LivingCels expands upon the Expression model, adding animation capabilities with the same distinct looks Expression is capable of. There are some downright beautiful examples of both on the Creature House site. Hmm...all the benefits of a vector format combined with artistic strokes? You can see where this might have been going.
Apparently, Microsoft also saw where this was going and snapped up Creature House in a not-entirely-recent maneuver that only recently was actually noticed. As of this writing, there is no way to purchase or even download Creature House products, so the "hows" and "whys" of this particular assimilation are very much to be determined. But one doesn't have to be Oliver Stone to put two and two together after another little tidbit of "news" burst on the rumor scene: the apparent inclusion of what's being called the next Flash killer into Microsoft's forthcoming Longhorn OS, presently known (officially or unofficially) as "Sparkle." In spite of the name, which, if official, tells you all you need to know about the current level of innovation at Redmond, Sparkle looks to be a Flash-like technology that is not only integrated into whatever incarnation of IE will ship with Longhorn, but is supposedly hooked into the OS at a much lower level, enabling Sparkle content to be present at the application level as well.
Details are, of course, sketchy at this point as to what "is" is when it comes to Sparkle, but if you take everything together, all signs point to Microsoft gunning for at least a piece of the Flash pie. Aside from the Creature House acquisition and the buzz about what Sparkle may or may not be, two other developments might figure into all this. One, if you recall about a year ago, the big rumor floating around was that Microsoft was in acquisition talks with Macromedia itself, talks that apparently didn't amount to anything. I'm not at all sure why that went south, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if there were some bad blood between the two sides, resulting in added incentive for Microsoft to try and take down a core piece of Macromedia's business. Two, there's a little thing of the Eolas patent verdict. Without going into too much detail, what the MS loss in that case ultimately means is that early next year, when Microsoft is scheduled to unleash a Eolas-happy update for IE, sites that contain Flash (or other technologies that require plugins, or, more accurately, ActiveX controls to function) are going to behave pretty funkily unless designers jump through a few seemingly odd code hoops to make their pages function normally again.
Related Keywords:Help! Its A Flash Killer!