April 13, 1998 6:50 PM PDT

Macromedia to open Flash

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Not to be outdone by a competitor, Macromedia is opening its popular Flash file format for the delivery of vector graphics and animation on the Web.

Macromedia's announcement tomorrow will come on the heels of another today by Adobe. The company said it proposed that the W3C make an open graphics and animation delivery protocol called Precision Graphics Markup Language (PGML) a standard.

Macromedia executives said the Adobe announcement did not pose a threat to its technology.

"I believe the two standards will coexist," said Kevin Lynch, vice president and general manager of Macromedia's Internet and multimedia tools division. "Ours is a binary format, and the Adobe standard is text. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, and people will use them according to what they're trying to accomplish."

A text format, such as HTML, is human-readable and therefore more easily manipulated. Binary formats are not human-readable, but their smaller size makes them more easily transferred over the Web.


CNET Radio has more with Macromedia's Norm Meyerowitz
 
Vector graphics are more flexible than the common bitmaps that form most of the graphics on the Web today. In contrast to bitmaps, which are shipped fully rendered, vector graphics are composed of mathematical descriptions of curves and forms. This composition results in a more compact file, the ability to render the image to fit television or monitor screens with varying resolutions, and greater ease in animating the image.

Macromedia's decision to publish its file format (known as .swf) will let other developers create tools using the technology. Although those developers will compete with Macromedia, the open standard also will stimulate the market for that technology, according to the company.

Flash has amassed a sizable user base, with an installed base of 20 million players and 150,000 downloaded per day, according to Macromedia. The company's decision to open the format received the support of Microsoft, RealNetworks, @Home, WebTV, and IBM, among other companies.

Adobe's partners in its proposed standard are Netscape Communications, Sun Microsystems, and IBM.

In related news, Macromedia tomorrow will announce the availability of its latest Flash upgrade and a new server-based product for the next generation of graphics and animation.

Flash 3 improves on its predecessor with three upgrades in imaging. Vector and bitmap transparency lets users create transparent vector overlays, such as credits over an image. A second lets users create animated buttons, pop-up menus, and puzzle games. A third automates an animation process known as "morphing" by interpolating incremental changes between two images.

Flash 3 also adds bandwidth profiling, which lets developers see how their creations look at various throughput speeds. The upgrade also offers standalone projectors, which let users send a movie and player in a single file.

Pricing for Flash 3 is $299 or $99 from any previous version. A free beta version is currently posted.

Macromedia's new product, Flash Generator, lets users automatically update content in a template. Pricing will be announced next month.

Macromedia chairman Bud Colligan is a board member of CNET: The Computer Network, which publishes NEWS.COM.

 

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