Archive for the ‘APPLICATIONS’ Category

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Silverlight launched in 2007 to compete with Flash as a rich media and internet app toolkit.  Microsoft had failed before with Liquid Motion competing with Flash back in late 90′s early 2000′s.  Now, over 10 years later, Silverlight might be dying as a technology that was another competitor to Flash, due to poor timing and lack of committment.

Now Microsoft has all but confirmed that Silverlight is losing steam.

I asked Bob Muglia, the Microsoft President in charge of the company’s server and tools business, that very question and got what I consider to be the clearest answer yet about how Microsoft is evolving its Silverlight strategy.

Silverlight is our development platform for Windows Phone,” he said. Silverlight also has some “sweet spots” in media and line-of-business applications, he said.

But when it comes to touting Silverlight as Microsoft’s vehicle for delivering a cross-platform runtime, “our strategy has shifted,” Muglia told me.

Silverlight will continue to be a cross-platform solution, working on a variety of operating system/browser platforms, going forward, he said. “But HTML is the only true cross platform solution for everything, including (Apple’s) iOS platform,” Muglia said.

Silverlight was launched as a competitor to the Flash Flex framework and competing with Flash video most of all.  This was before the H.264 battles, right when the mobile scene blew up and changed the game immensely.  It was actually nice when it launched because it pushed Adobe on Flash and Flex (Flex was even later merged into the Flash brand to help it be more consistent like Silverlight).  This was good for the whole interactive space.

Microsoft is now going with an HTML5 strategy. The odd thing is that the Windows Phone is entirely Silverlight driven, no html5 support. So is Microsoft going to leave their new mobile platfform high and dry due to this change in strategy? It just seems so short sighted and reactionary over at MSFT that everything is wavering.  Who’s developing just silverlight for just Windows Phone? The timing of them stating this couldn’t be worse for Windows Phone.

Microsoft’s html5 strategy is hardware accelerated, something that Silverlight only partially has like Flash (though Adobe is changing that).  It is apparent that mobile has changed even the rich internet applications game as well as gaming in that we are back to multiplatform, native apps and non browser plugins for web content (mobile devices support no web browser plugins at all let alone Flash or Silverlight).  Still for the next 2-3 years limitations in hardware on mobile devices prevents anything software rendered to be fast (including html5 canvas and svg if there is no hardware acceleration), and due to this slowness, not able to compare/compete to compiled native apps that do have hardware access.  This has forced Adobe and now Microsoft to change their strategies to get through it.  We may see a resurgence of Flash and Silverlight like plugins on mobile browsers but not for years.

The only real place we see Silverlight is over at Netflix (maybe they will go html5 video or Flash video) and on Microsoft shop client apps.  It appears with no support from Microsoft it will fall out of favor faster. Microsoft developers are usually forced to go with what Microsoft is recommending as much of it is sold through a business channel rather than developers now.  It is good html5 and standards will be more prevalent in that ecosystem as long as they don’t start marginalizing it to proprietary elements.  But if you step back and see the rumors a week ago that Microsoft might be interested in Adobe, the mobile surge and strategy shifts at Microsoft, it seems to send out a clarion call that Silverlight is over or the credits are about to roll.

The mobile surge, standards, native, hardware acceleration and cross platform aims of current market leaders, we have the new game, again. It doesn’t appear like Silverlight was, or will be, a success.

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Google is pushing Web Sockets into Chrome based on the Web Socket standards being developed at all major engineering standards groups.  Web Socket is an interesting direction but it is great to couple that with O3G or WebGL for some multiplayer 3d game development with just a browser.

Starting in the Google Chrome developer channel release 4.0.249.0, Web Sockets are available and enabled by default. Web Sockets are “TCP for the Web,” a next-generation bidirectional communication technology for web applications being standardized in part of Web Applications 1.0. We’ve implemented this feature as described in our design docs for WebKit and Chromium.

Sample Code

if ("WebSocket" in window) {
  var ws = new WebSocket("ws://example.com/service");
  ws.onopen = function() {
    // Web Socket is connected. You can send data by send() method.
    ws.send("message to send"); ....
  };
  ws.onmessage = function (evt) { var received_msg = evt.data; ... };
  ws.onclose = function() { // websocket is closed. };
} else {
  // the browser doesn't support WebSocket.
}

Socket Advantage

Flash has long been the answer for sockets for web applications and once sockets were added to Flash it instantly became a better interactive and gaming platform for multi-user applications and multiplayer games. They started with XmlSocket then recently added Socket for raw binary data in as3.  Silverlight and Java also have this feature but having this in script is pretty significant because many applications could really use a browser supported bi-directional communication link.

What is Missing

The biggie missing from Flash, Silverlight, etc and Web Sockets is UDP and preferably RUDP or Reliable UDP which allows UDP datagrams to be sent back and forth either verified delivery or broadcast. Unity does support UDP.  The best socket layers are reliable UDP based because mixing TCP and UDP can lead to queuing and not all messages are critical so having just UDP isn’t enough, having TCP is too much.  Reliable UDP is the way to go but so far no web layers are doing it well except Unity on that one (you still have to make your own RUDP implementation – libraries like Raknet or enet in C/C++ give you this but you can’t use that in Unity client only on the server). (Edit: Flash does have RTMFP which is based on UDP and uses FMS for nat for p2p but it is still not a true low level UDP socket just yet as it supports more features. A low-level UDP socket would also be nice in flash.)

Web Communication Evolving

I am a big Flash fan and have been developing it since 1999 among other platforms, I have recently watched other technologies nearly match the features and some go beyond it.  The interesting thing about Web Sockets is that it does go after a core feature of flash; Canvas and WebGL or O3D also do. Flash still has the webcam, mic, sound mixers/tranform, and for now sockets which put it at an advantage in gaming and interactive. Flash used to  be the sole greatest video player but Silverlight is doing a pretty good job of that as well so that is still an advantage but others are entering including possibly browser support in html5. I still think it is the best video but they would need to keep innovating.

Another interesting point about this is XMLHttpRequest objects.  Originally “AJAX” was created by Microsoft for IE, pushing new features and innovating back when IE was a good browser and ahead in IE4. Mozilla and others adopted this feature (as well as editable text areas for html) because they were great features for web applications to evolve to.  now Google is pushing with Chrome and Web Sockets is the next step that should be in web browsers even if it is only TCP based for now.  This will add great capabilities and will probably be preferred over AJAX/XMLHttpRequest for really interactive and real-time tools/games should it take hold.  Ian Hickson is running the table on the standards with this effort and it is a good one to get behind.

Monday, October 5th, 2009

Well good news for Flash developers, Flash CS5 will finally compile to native iPhone and Touch Applications. This is great news for many developers out there who have stuck with the Flash platform.  I am sure there will still be limitations to what you can do with Flash on the iPhone and it will probably be mostly 2D games and apps but this is a great start to getting the Flash platform truly mobile and up to the rest of the industry.

Flash Professional CS5 will enable you to build applications for iPhone and iPod touch using ActionScript 3. These applications can be delivered to iPhone and iPod touch users through the Apple App Store.*

A public beta of Flash Professional CS5 with prerelease support for building applications for iPhone is planned for later this year. Sign up to be notified when the beta starts.

I have been questioning why they have not moved to this model before when others are doing so such as haXe, Unity3D and MonoTouch.  Getting Flash on the web browsers on a mobile is hard because Flash is pretty CPU intensive on embedded devices which is really where computers were in the late 90′s and close to 400-600 MHz processors.  Today these machines wouldn’t be able to run Flash very well and that is the same effect you get on a mobile phone.  But cross-compiling to native, similar to how Unity 3D does it or other solutions like MonoTouch and XNATouch, this is the best solution until mobile/embedded devices have 1GHz processors and more than 500MB of memory. Adobe is using LLVM, much like the Alchemy model, to achieve getting AS3 content onto an iPhone/Touch with AOT or Ahead of Time compilation rather than JIT compilation.

So how do you build an application for the iPhone? It’s simple, really. The forthcoming beta of Adobe Flash Professional CS5 incorporates the ability to create an iPhone application. You have access to nearly all the AIR 2.0 and Flash Player 10.1 APIs. For example, you can use APIs such as RTMP, Remote Shared Objects, and AMF as well as AIR APIs like SQLite and filesystem access. For more information see the developer FAQ on Adobe Labs.

I am glad to see Adobe finally moving on mobile platforms beyond Flashlite.  Flashlite is a poor solution in most cases on embedded devices because they really need native apps to perform, again due to the hardware limitations and it is a whole new platform to learn. Adobe is doing the hard work to make it easy to get developers content on the new embedded devices that are storming the world such as the iPhone and Touch.

Friday, July 10th, 2009

Silverlight 3 has been released a day early.

Microsoft has released Silverlight 3 to the web a day earlier than expected. You can go ahead and grab Silverlight 3 RTW build 3.0.40624.0 (4.69MB) from Microsoft.com/Silverlight. Version 3 supports Windows Internet Explorer 6/7/8, Firefox 2/3, and Safari 3/4. In addition, the Silverlight 3 SDK (9.5MB) and the Silverlight 3 Tools (32.2MB) have been posted on the Microsoft Download Center. (arstechnica)

As Silverlight versions go it is quite impressive and pretty much a complete solution now including desktop save support and full set of tools for RIA development (early versions were only Javascript or had limited controls libraries).

Granted there are lots of years of gain that Flash has on Silverlight but the path that Silverlight it following leads right to Flash.  Hopefully this will lead to more innovation on both sides (they might need it with Google Wave pushing html5 <canvas>).

One very nice element of Silverlight since it has been released at verison 1.0 is the HD video support.  It has gotten better with each release.  This release has smooth streaming support that is pretty impressive for web video.

Interestingly they chose the open source Blender Foundation project Bug Buck Bunny to demonstrate the smooth streaming feature. Ryan Rea has a bit of analysis on how well the video plays across a quad core and memory compared to flash hd video.

More on the Silverlight 3 new features here and here.

Roy Schestowitz plays the flip side and calls this a ‘silver-lie’ released and has lots to say about the Silverlight 3 release and even using Big Buck Bunny to demo it. He states a true fact that up til now lots of companies have abandoned Silverlight in favor of Flash (mlb, nyt etc).  It is still used at Netflix but that has an XBOX deal to play Netflixon xbox360.

Flash didn’t really get good until version 4.  Typically software is a real version at version 3, that is when most software has the goals and ambitions of 1.0 fully complete and integrated.  We shall see how things play out but I still think Silverlight has a long way to go in winning over developers, myself included, but competition is never a bad thing when you are wanting to see innovation.

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

AIR is very popular for creating twitter clients, Sönke Rohde just made it much easier to make AIR apps for twitter with an AS3 library for Twitter. This library is built on top of core oauth as3 library by iotashin.  Core OAuth as3 library is a standard OAuth library this can be used for your own OAuth backends or connecting to other OAuth services as well.

A very nice feature of this library, in addition to being coded cleanly and as3 style, is the ability to have the Twitter OAuth page render inside of Flash.

Instead of opening the Twitter authorization page in the browser the library also contains OAuthLoader which is a wrapper around HTMLLoader which enables to directly show the authorization page within an AIR window:

// use this in the requestTokenHandler instead of navigateToURL
var loader:OAuthLoader = new OAuthLoader();
loader.load(request);
loader.percentWidth = 100;
loader.percentHeight = 100;
var w:Window = new Window();
w.width = 800;
w.height = 400;
w.title = req.url;
w.addChild(loader);
w.open();
Sunday, June 21st, 2009

This is a very cool project called V8-GL.  It is an OpenGL engine with 80% of the API converted to run on the V8 Javascript engine, the same engine that runs Google Chrome.

This is exciting as more productive languages like Javascript get speed boosts from engines like V8 and are capable of manipulating more complex systems like OpenGL.  Google is also pursing this in the browser with O3D with javascript manipulation of hardware rendering.  Also, a Google funded project called Unladen Swallow is converting Python to the LLVM virtual machine, so that it can have increasing speeds to compete with gcc speeds.

Making things easier to produce and control with more simplified and minimal languages like Javascript, Python and Actionscript etc that control more complex systems, that typically you would need to invest more time in such as a platform on C++ is the goal. V8-GL has this goal in mind.

V8-GL from the author states:

V8-GL intends to provide a high-level JavaScript API for creating 2D/3D hardware accelerated desktop graphics.

In other words, you can hack some JavaScript code that opens a desktop window and renders some 3D hardware accelerated graphics. Bindings are made using the V8 JavaScript engine.

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Flash 10 will be ready for mainstream hopefully by the end of this year, or early ’10 when the penetration numbers will be up in or around the 90% range via zeh fernando based on previous trajectories.  

With that, Flash 10 has many great new things such as the Vector structure that allows a collection of a certain type, which results in a faster collection because of the known type.  So anywhere where Arrays are used, that is a possible candidate for a performance increase within some code because you are asking the virtual machine to do less work on each loop (not having to dynamically find out the type).

ByteArray (Thibault Imbert) has demonstrated that for the JPEG encoding in corelib it is up to 2.5 times faster using Vectors than Arrays.  Your mileage may vary heavily but it is almost a guaranteed speed boost due to less work.  This obviously has great possibilities for speeding up code that uses lots of arrays.  

Due to the performance boost the Vector does have some constraints in the typical give and take of coder flexibility with compiler and virtual machine overhead.  Vectors are more explicit and strongly typed which is why they are fast, but this is also limiting.

In addition to the data type restriction, the Vector class has other restrictions that distinguish it from the Array class:

  • A Vector is a dense array. Unlike an Array, which may have values in indices 0 and 7 even if there are no values in positions 1 through 6, a Vector must have a value (or null) in each index.
  • A Vector can optionally be fixed-length, meaning the number of elements it contains can’t change.
  • Access to a Vector’s elements is bounds-checked. You can never read a value from an index greater than the final element (length - 1). You can never set a value with an index more than one beyond the current final index (in other words, you can only set a value at an existing index or at index [length]).

 [ Vector docs  ]

ByteArray not only used Vectors heavily but did other optimizations that are always good to do, even though optimization is evil when you are working with precious client side resources ensuring an optimized base starting point can be a good thing.

So what did I do ?

  • I used bitwise operators as much as possible.
  • I replaced all Arrays with fixed length Vectors.
  • I used pre-incrementation rather than post-incrementation (thanks Joa for this one ;)).
  • I casted to int all my Vector indices access.
  • Other minor stuff you always do to optimize your code 

Other sources as well for even more optimization or shall I say efficient AS3:

Monday, May 18th, 2009

pyamf is pretty sweet for Flash remoting with Pythonic server side, but now we have two nicely done and integrated remoting kits for python on the server side.

amfast is a new remoting library  that looks to be as sweet as pyamf (where sweet == fast and useful).  I am checking out amfast now but the speed boost alone might be worth it.  For instance, working with real-time games, when you need static content you need to grab that quickly sometimes via a content service.  The faster that link the better. It also has Twisted integration which is great for networking and SQLAlchemy integration which is in my opinion the best ORM for python (pyamf has twisted, django, pylons, sqlalchemy as well)

amfast is well documented and has some great examples.  If you have the Python addiction, check it.

Description

  • AmFast is a Flash remoting framework for Python.
  • AmFast can use AMF to communicate between Python and Flash, Flex, and any other system that supports AMF.
  • AMF is a binary object serialization protocol used by Actionscript based applications.

Server Features

  • Support for NetConnection and RemoteObject RPC.
  • Support for Producer/Consumer ‘push’ messaging with HTTP polling, HTTP long-polling, and real-time HTTP streaming channels.
  • Support for authentication with NetConnection and RemoteObject.
  • Flexible Target mapping system to map message destinations to invokable Target objects.
  • Support for ChannelSets with multiple Channels to expose resources in different ways.
  • Built in Channels for CherryPy, Twisted Web, and plain WSGI.
  • Support for configurable Endpoints. Use AmFast’s built-in AMF encoder/decoder C-extension, or use an external AMF encoder/decoder, such as PyAmf for a pure-Python implementation.

AMF Encoder/Decoder Features

  • AMF0/AMF3 encoder/decoder written in C as a Python extension for speed.
  • More than 10x faster than the PyAmf encoder/decoder (even when using PyAmf’s optional C-extension).
  • Map custom classes with ClassDef objects for complete control over serialization/de-serialization.
  • Full support for IExternalizable objects.
  • Data persistence with SqlAlchemy including remotely-loadable lazy-loaded attributes.
  • Actionscript code generation from ClassDef objects.
Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Yogurt3D flash based 3d engine appeared recently and is another flash based 3d engine which is based on OpenGL called SwiftGL and is stated as open source.

The site mentions that OpenGL source can be converted to run in the engine.  You can do this now with Alchemy although it is in very early stages.  It is not clear if it is an automatic conversion or if it simply means it is similar in syntax and method signatures, objects etc.

I definitely will be watching and see how it progresses, there isn’t much other than a single post about the engine so far and no info on the api or sample code.  Looking forward to seeing more, the z-sorting is quite nice.  Doesn’t appear like collisions are there yet but it has a nice look.

Sometimes excellent toolkits come out of the blue like this such as Ffilmation (isometric flash engine) or Alternativa (flash 3d engine flash 10 focused) so you never know.

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Google has a few things going for 3d in the browser, not just 3d but hardware rendering in the browser.  They previously had native client which allows you to run code via a plugin proxy with a sample running Quake.  They also had Lively which was a virtual world plugin that was shut down a few month after it started.

Now they are also making and releasing an O3D plugin that looks to be another way to do web 3d scenes and games although it is a very early stage. They appear to want to have an open discussion about how best to add hardware rendering to the web.  Their approach uses a javascript api to control the browser plugin and the O3D control is essentially just a renderer.

This won’t change anything now as Unity3D, Flash 3D pseudo engines, even Director 3D still are the top choices for games, apps, and interactives that need effects and possibly hardware rendering. But it is interesting that Google is essentially re-entering this debate after ditching on Lively and they must see some benefit to having a discussion about 3d on the web and 3d standards in general.  I know they have lots of models and tools with SketchUp and Google 3D warehouse so who knows maybe they will take it over by being standards, open and information based.

What is O3D?

O3D is an open-source web API for creating rich, interactive 3D applications in the browser. This API is shared at an early stage as part of a conversation with the broader developer community about establishing an open web standard for 3D graphics.

Get involved

One thing is for sure, 3d development is still old school proprietary lock in in most cases.  Working with 3d and tools like Maya, 3dsmax and others they have always been very non standard.  From file formats to interfaces to even basic movements, all different.  The general maths of 3d are the same and so should 3d pipelines.  Formats like COLLADA are nice because they are starting to open up 3d pipelines and content creation but COLLADA still has many porting issues.  FBX file format is another that is really useful and common making pipelines in Unity 3D, for instance, very nice. But it is owned and run by Autodesk who owns all the 3d apps (Maya, 3dsmax, SGI) and I am a bit leary of that method.  But in the end 3d pipelines and rendering will be somewhat standardized and maybe the web will be hardware rendered one day.  In most cases it is not needed, but for gaming, immersion, demos and other entertainment it could benefit heavily from a more standardized 3d pipeline and methods.