Archive for Flash

Despite the drop-off in the use of Flash for eLearning projects (due to the whole ‘mobile thing’), we still receive occasional inquiries as to why a Flash-based project isn’t “working” for some customers. In most cases, this occurs with folks for whom we’ve developed an initial set of course in either Captivate or Storyline and the customer is maintaining and updating those lessons in-house.

Often being somewhat new to the software, they’ll make their updates, publish, and review the piece ‘locally’ (on their workstation directly, not uploaded to a webserver or LMS). This immediately causes problems due to Adobe’s Flash Security model.

Here’s a quick piece on how to find the setting dialog and make some quick changes to allow local-reviews of your Flash content. Now, there are actually two settings managers – one that is web-based and one that is a traditional, local ‘control panel’.

The web-based one still works and its base page can be found here.

Per that initial page, “Beginning with Flash Player 10.3, the Local Settings Manager supersedes this Online Settings Manager for managing global settings on Windows, Mac, and Linux computers. The Local Settings Manager can be accessed in the Control Panel on Windows and in System Preferences on Mac.”

If you have any troubles with the local version, or like this web-version, or just want to double-down on your settings, click the ‘Global Security Settings panel’ option on the left of that page, which will take you here.

Select the ‘Edit locations’ drop-down, select the ‘Add location’ option, then browse to the folder from where you are attempting to run your published Flash lesson. Once that location appears in the ‘Always trust files…’ field, you piece is effectively unblocked.

Now, finding that web-based Setting Panel can be a pain sometimes unless you have it bookmarked.

An easier approach is to just fire up the control panel  and click to the ‘Advanced’ tab…then, and this is tricky…scroll down to the Developer Tools section and select the ‘Trusted Location Settings’ button. From there, enter or browse-to that same path where your published Flash-based (Captivate, Storyline, etc) content resides, close the control panel…and again, you’re good to go.

In these days of HTML-dominance, these settings may not come into play all that often. But as developers who still delivery Flash-based courseware along with our other eLearning and mLearning solutions, we still do encounter these types of issues on occasion. Of course, the easiest way to avoid these security issues is to simply upload your published content to either a webserver or an LMS. These security constraints are not invoked when the piece is running from a URL.

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Flash Player 11 Security Update

Friday, February 8th, 2013

“Adobe has released security updates for Adobe Flash Player…[that] address vulnerabilities that could cause a crash and potentially allow an attacker to take control of the affected system.”
-Adobe Security Bulletin

This security flaw is “being exploited in the wild in targeted attacks designed to trick the user into opening a Microsoft Word document delivered as an email attachment which contains malicious Flash (SWF) content.”

Affected software versions

  • Adobe Flash Player 11.5.502.146 and earlier versions for Windows and Macintosh
  • Adobe Flash Player and earlier versions for Linux
  • Adobe Flash Player and earlier versions for Android 4.x
  • Adobe Flash Player and earlier versions for Android 3.x and 2.x

To verify the version of Adobe Flash Player installed on your system, access the About Flash Player page, or right-click on content running in Flash Player and select “About Adobe (or Macromedia) Flash Player” from the menu. If you use multiple browsers, perform the check for each browser you have installed on your system.

To verify the version of Adobe Flash Player for Android, go to Settings > Applications > Manage Applications > Adobe Flash Player x.x.

Keep your software updated :)

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Adobe has confirmed the mobile Flash Player will be pulled from the Google Play store on August 15th. This means Android devices without the Flash Player will no longer have access to it. If you want Flash for your Android-based mobile device browsers, get it now!

In a press release, Adobe says,
“Devices that do not have Flash Player already installed are increasingly likely to be incompatible with Flash Player and will no longer be able to install it from the Google Play Store after August 15th.”

As Android ‘Jelly Bean’ (4.1) continues its rollout, the Flash web player is losing its compatibility. That doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work at all, but functionality will no longer be supported. Again from Adobe,
“If a device is upgraded from Android 4.0 to Android 4.1, the current version of Flash Player may exhibit unpredictable behavior, as it is not certified for use with Android 4.1.  Future updates to Flash Player will not work.  We recommend uninstalling Flash Player on devices which have been upgraded to Android 4.1.”

Once you have that software, it might be worth making a backup of the .apk file, because if you need to restore your device after August 15th, Flash Player will be hard to find! If you retain the installer file and have a ‘Jelly Bean Device’, there are hackish solutions if you REALLY want Flash on these newer devices – check out these Flash sideload options (via Droiddog).

And that doesn’t necessarily mean supported Flash solutions for mobile are completely gone. OEMs do have the option of working directly with Adobe to have a device-specific, certified Flash player pre-installed for their particular device. In the past, Blackberry was reported to have been one such vendor…though with their recent troubles, who knows if that’s still a pursued strategy. Here’s a list of current ‘certified’ devices. It’ll be interesting to see if that list grows, or is even maintained.

Also, Adobe appears committed to AIR for mobile (see: Build a Mobile App in Five Minutes), which is essentially a ‘wrapping’ process for creating a mobile app. Instead of relying on the device to have the Flash web player installed, the mobile player can be bundled with the application itself. Adobe AIR projects can be built using Flash or Flex (now an open source framework), and HTML/JS code can be integrated within those projects as well.

And, of course, Adobe’s continued support of HTML5 authoring continues to grow (see Dreamweaver/PhoneGap, Captivate, Flash, Flex, Edge, etc).

So while Flash for mobile browsers will be cut-off soon, Flash remains a viable tool for authoring and delivering mobile content, including ‘mLearning’, via AIR. As the Tin Can extension to SCORM becomes more fully rounded and supported, there remains a lot of potential for Flash-based mLearning applications. Our Inquisiq R3 LMS will be integrating Tin Can support sometime by Q1 2013.

(edit: Adobe and NBC used AIR to create the iOS and Android apps for this years Olympics. Pretty cool!)

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Recent reports on the upcoming Windows 8 OS, now in an official ‘Release Preview’, reveal that the reports of no Flash support in the ‘Metro’ browser have been incorrect. Windows 8 will reportedly have two types of user-interface options; a more familiar Windows-like environment and the ‘Metro’ UI meant to emulate the currently-popular touch/tablet interface.

Whether attempting to blend both types of user-interface approaches into one OS release is a good idea, well, that remains to be seen. In the eLearning community, however, a more imperative concern was Flash support. While the classic Windows environment and IE web browser was confirmed to support the current Flash Player technology, the Metro environment specifically did not support any plugins to enhance the browser experience – relying moreso on the HTML5 specification and features.

While there have been plenty of discussions on whether HTML5 is a suitable replacement for Flash in delivering eLearning content, it’s still nice to have the option; being able to use the tool best suited for the content is an important option to have! It’s unfortunate when using the best tool for the job is disallowed due to the environment (consider trying to build a house without a nail gun due to some environmental restriction – sure, you can use a hammer, but it’ll surely drive up your time and costs).

As noted in several reports and blogs, Microsoft’s Metro browser will still not support general plugins, but they have integrated a version of the Flash player with the browser directly – perhaps similar to Google’s current Chrome/Flash integration – so, in general, Flash will be supported on both sides of Windows 8.

However, there’s some sort of ‘whitelist’ that the browser will check to determine if the requested Flash site will be displayed. So now the Big Question is, how is that list maintained? Is it user-controlled (i.e. ‘Allowed Sites’)? Is there a process to get a website or webpage added to it?
Or is this a very selective, MS-maintained whitelist…perhaps with the intention of allowing just the more popular Flash-enabled sites to continue to function until an expected HTML5 migration is complete?

It’s nice to see Flash support continue in one form or another, and Adobe Air support seems to continue to be strong (and eLearning options via Adobe Air will become even more flexible with the upcoming Tin Can specification). But just how useful Metro’s support of Flash will be to the general eLearning community, well, that remains to be seen.

Adobe has updated their Flash Roadmap whitepaper to include this additional support. It’s a technical read, but a good reference for those who are curious about Adobe’s commitment to Flash. For us eLearning developers, it’s nice to know that Flash is still a viable development and delivery option for more complex courseware, at least until HTML5 (the spec and the tools) is up to taking over the task.

As a side-note, we wonder how this will impact Microsoft’s Silverlight project. Will Silverlight support be integrated into the Metro browser as well? Is there still internal support for Silverlight at all? On the other hand, having yet to actually deliver any eLearning courseware via Silverlight, it’s not a question we ponder…

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Flash Stage 3D/Molehill in Action

Monday, May 14th, 2012

While it may be focusing on alternative tools for mobile delivery, Adobe continues to demonstrate its commitment to the Flash platform – most recently with the continued refinement Flash ‘Stage 3D’API (which we’vediscussedbefore). Also as we’ve discussed, it is possible to develop with Flash and publish to an AIR-based ‘App’ which will work on both iOS and Android devices…and this remains true with the Stage 3D feature.

Now, how well a Flash-based Stage 3D app will run on a mobile device, which tend to be less-powerful (CPU/RAM) than desktops and laptops, well, that’s on our R&D list to determine.

On the way there, however, we’ve developed a fun ‘proof of concept’ piece demonstrating how to work a forklift in a virtual warehouse. Check out this pretty cool, Flash 3D-based, demonstration!

While it’ll work with older, lower-end machines, you must at least have a recent version of Flash Player 11 installed with your preferred browser. And to really get the full 3D effect, you should have a relatively recent video card (the demo will alert you if your video card is not supported). But even with an older machine, you can still play the game and get a good sense of where eLearning can go.

Plans are to take this a bit further, making it perhaps more of a game with various goals, scores, rewards, and perhaps a bit of humor and gore…But for now, it’s a pretty fun piece to demonstration how new technologies are making immersive training applications possible with a reduced cost and timeline.

Check out that 3D training demo and let us know what you think. Did it work well for you on your desktop? We’re working on a conversion to a mobile app…

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Thoughts on Flash, HTML5, and video

Friday, February 10th, 2012

The HTML5 engine continues to gather steam!

However, Flash remains a completely viable option for a variety of rich-media experiences – the level of HTML5 support and features across the variety of platforms and devices is simply not far enough along or consistent enough to go with an HTML5 solution for RIA’s or video at this time.

For example, see the charts and their related direct links below as reference:

So plainly the ‘browser wars’ are dragging on, which is a good thing! Competition brings about innovation and prevents any given browser from stagnating. The race for HTML5 support certainly serves to hasten that competition as well. But, of course, as with any new technology or standard, there’s lots of work to be done! For example, here’s an interesting chart showing the breakdown between a variety of browsers and HTML5 features:

If you’re curious about the browser you happen to be using now, check out the HTML5 Test site.

So all that said, HTML5 support still has a long way to go for general support and even further to completely supplant Flash, and especially where video is concerned. Sure, HTML5 is coming along fairly well in general video support – for example, this in-depth article is already a bit outdated – but there are still significant issues to address between codec agreements and DRM. Let’s take a quick look at the codec support issue. Here’s a great chart by Longtail Video:

In fact, LongTail Video has an excellent article on ‘The State of HTML5 Video’ which is definitely worth a read for anyone interested in digging into the complexities of current HTML5 video support and delivery (market share, codecs, video tags, accessibility, etc.).

Of course, there are lots of ways coming about to handle HTML5 video, from open solutions to proprietary players. If nothing else, the push to HTML5 is sure opening up a new services market! Take a look at this chart showing a range of HTML video players:

(that image only shows about half of what is available!)

For a bit more pain and pleasure reading, check out Robert Reinhardt’s ‘The World of Pain that is HTML5 Video’ which really helps bring the whole picture into focus…at least, as much focus as can be found in the current HTML5 growth-spurt. The complexities involved with simply handling graceful delivery of just video via HTML5 and the variety of platforms and browsers is a just a subset of all the other components to be considered… Just wait until we get further into Canvas support! Designers may be pining for the days of good old Flash and the cross-platform/browser consistency.

There are several excellent resources out on the web to help determine what features may be ‘worthwhile’ in an HTML5 environment, best practices, and which may be better left aside (or help determine whether an HTML5 solution is feasible for your project at all). These sites include HTML5 Please and Can I Use, both providing recommendations and tables on maturity level across browsers, HTML5 Boilerplate, providing a handy ‘getting started’ template, and CSS3 Please, allowing real-time CSS template edits and results within the visiting browser.

Also note that Adobe recently released Adobe Edge Preview 4. This tool shows some good promise to put a nice UI on top of the complexities of HTML5…in tradition similar to tools like Dreamweaver. It’s only available for Vista or Windows 7 for now, however, so XP users…that’s one more reason to upgrade.

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Android ICS and Flash

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

As hinted in Adobe’s announcement that it would stop developing the Flash Player for mobile devices, the next official version of Android will be supported, but that’ll pretty much be it.

In ‘Android Update Keeps Flash Advantage’, Forbe’s reports, “Google‘s Android Ice Cream Sandwich OS will receive Flash support, sustaining one of the platform’s biggest advantages over iOS for a bit longer.” And Pocket-Lint seems to have had an official line from Adobe with a bit more detail.

Additionally, as also hinted in Adobe’s previous releases, there remains the option for OEMs to continue Flash development for their own specific platforms. RIM is currently pursuing this path for their playbook, according to The Register, “RIM has negotiated a deal with Adobe to continue developing embedded Flash for its QNX-based BBX platform…

So overall, this means that – as we mentioned in previous posts – Flash is not dead…at least not for a few years…and it is still a viable delivery approach for Android devices. This is a Good Thing, of course, because HTML5 development tools, browser support, and the specification itself are not yet ready for prime time. It’s critical that some method of a true interactive, multimedia experience by continued while HTML5 issues are hammered out.

We here at ICS have been playing with developing apps for mobile devices and have a few ‘proof of concepts’ in the workshop. We know we can deliver a solid eLearning experience and are currently evaluating internal initiatives for developing such courseware. If you are interested in having a mobile eLearning project developed, give us a call!

(by the way, pretty cool that Android’s next version is named after our company, no?! 😉

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The web has been alight with rumors and both joyful and angry proclamations after last week’s announcement by Adobe that they will be discontinuing development of the Flash Player for mobile devices, as well as contributing the Flex SDK to an open source foundation. This has ranged from targeted responses to wild chants of ‘Flash is Dead!’

Apple’s decision not to support Flash and the popularity of their mobile devices has indeed forced Adobe’s hand…and with good reason as HTML5 moves ahead aggressively; so why not commit to that platform and allow developers to deliver a true ‘author once, deliver anywhere’ product? After all, Adobe is a company that creates tools and is not just all about Flash.

After letting the discussion continue and some insights from Adobe and the Community Experts deeply involved with the application, let’s clarify some things…

  1. Flash is not dead
    Adobe has put forth considerable resources into Flash, it remains the most widely-available player on the market, and there remains a significant advantage to the mature platform. But perhaps, from a business sense, pushing forth on mobile solutions simply isn’t financially sound. While better to use some of the Flash resources to push ahead tools and solutions for HTML5 development. On the other hand, Flash for desktop and laptop delivery will remain strong for years, and that’s the breath Flash will continue to draw.
  3. Flash is alive for mobile
    While killing off the player for mobile web, Adobe is reinvigorating their support for Adobe AIR – which is a way of packaging Flash applications as ‘Apps’. Mobile devices are all about Apps…and Adobe’s fully on that bandwagon too. There are already mobile Apps created with Flash for both Android and Apple devices. Expect to see that number increase dramatically. Additionally:
    • The current Flash Player may never work for iOS devices, but it works pretty great on the Android devices we’ve tested so far, and that player will remain available for future devices.
    • Partner companies who DO want to continue the Flash web player will be able to do so. RIM, for instance, may well take on further Flash web player development for their BBX platform.
  4. Flash is alive for desktop
    As many Adobe sources have stated (see above links), they remain committed to the Flash platform. The multitudes of tools that deliver to SWF are not suddenly ineffective. There are computers and users out there still running Windows 2000 and IE6! The Flash desktop player will be around for years. While a transition to HTML5 may be inevitable, it’s not coming anytime soon…browsers and the specification itself need time and Flash will continue to work well, if not even better, during the time HTML5 needs to ‘grow up’.
  6. HTML5 development tools are coming
    Adobe has a rough development tool called Edge, but it’s still very much beta, and still very much limited in what it can do. Nice initial effort though! Other third parties are working on such tools too. Now, how long before those tools will support SCORM export, well, that’s yet another ‘to be determined’ factor. Regardless, much like the early days of HTML, hand-coding HTML5 sites won’t be necessary for much longer. Dreamweaver already has an HTML component and Captivate recently released an HTML5 ‘converter’ (though also very much ‘beta).

In sum, Adobe handled the announcement poorly without any reassurance to the developer and user community that it remains fully invested in Flash as a viable and supported technology. However, times change and software is eventually deprecated in favor of new and better ways to develop projects (see Authorware). These may be the sunset years of Flash, but those are numerous years. Flash remains one of the most rapid and capable methods of delivering everything from full ‘rich internet applications’ (RIAs) to elearning courseware – and we remain excited about the new 3D possibilities in enhancing our training products.

HTML5 has a long way to go in standards, specification, features, and browser support. General predictions see HTML5 advancing to the capabilities of Flash 2 within FIVE years. Entire libraries of eLearning courseware will be developed and themselves outdated by the time HTML5 becomes a pre-teen in terms of Flash capabilities.

Here at ICS Learning Group, we will continue to move with the tides. While we too have significant investment in the Flash platform, our developers and culture are flexible. Many of our web applications already incorporate aspects of HTML (i.e. advanced JS functionality) and as browsers support HTML5 features to make the user experience more of a guarantee, we’ll incorporate those features as required by the project.

Overall, these remain interesting times and we will continue to master those technologies that help us deliver quality and effective products to our customers.

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As we continue to work with the latest Flash Player (11.x) and it’s new “Stage3D” features, moving toward even more interactive eLearning content, a couple things we’ve found we want to share:

  1. Despite some suggestions that Flash Player 11 only works with DirectX 10 and above, and thus may not work on XP systems, FP11 does indeed work just fine under Windows XP and the last supported version of Dx for that OS (“9.0c”, or v.9.29.1974).
  2. However, in order to allow Flash Player 11 to access your GPU, you must have fairly recent video card drivers that support DirectX 9c, at minimum. Some machines we’ve tested on here had such drivers, but they were a couple years old and FP11 indicated software rendering. Updating those drivers to the latest versions enabled hardware rendering.
  3. Playback of rather intensive Flash content on our older Intel G4 tower, running Panther, showed remarkable improvement!

Additionally, while it makes general web browsing a bit…odd, using the ‘debug’ version of the Flash Player provides a great way to really gauge performance between sites/Flash components and various computer configurations. See this Adobe Flash Download page for links to the debug versions. Unfortunately, you have to choose between one or the other; on some machines, we’ve installed the ‘standard’ version for one browser (i.e. Firefox) and the debug version for the other (i.e. IE!).

Found any other helpful hints or insights related to working with the latest Flash Player? We’d love to hear from you!

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Flash Player 11 available

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Just FYI, Flash Player 11 was released yesterday.
We’re working through the updates on our machines here at ICS…not waiting for the auto-upgrade notifications! A bit eager…

Here’s a page describing the latest release and another post on one of the many Adobe blogs going into more detail..(and, of course, refer to our previous blog post).

Welcome to October!

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