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3/8/2011
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Adobe 'Wallaby' Turns Flash Into HTML5

Experimental software from Adobe will turn Flash assets into non-proprietary Web content, but it remains a work in progress.

Last year, Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch criticized Apple's refusal to allow Flash on iOS devices as anti-competitive behavior and vowed that his company would design software to author content in HTML5, the emerging Web development specification that Apple advised Adobe to embrace.

Though Apple, under pressure from regulators and developers, subsequently reversed its proposed restrictions, even going so far as to allow apps translated from Flash to iOS using Adobe's Flash Packager, Adobe has nonetheless has continued adding HTML5 support to its products.

The latest addition arrived on Tuesday under the name "Wallaby." The software, made available as experimental or beta software through Adobe Labs, is a Flash-to-HTML5 conversion tool. It will turn Flash Professional files into HTML5 code, which can then be edited using any text editor or authoring tool like Dreamweaver.

Trying to distance his company from the emotional conflict with Apple, which has become intertwined with the debate between supporters of free, open tools and paid, proprietary ones, Adobe principal product manager John Nack says that Adobe's job is to help customers solve problems rather than debate platform politics.

"Millions of people have honed their Web animation skills in Flash, and now their customers want content that can run anywhere, including on non-Flash-enabled devices," he wrote in a blog post.

"Wallaby" has some limitations, however. A number of Flash functions like dynamic masks, 3D transforms, filters and blend modes are not supported, mainly because there's no agreed on HTML5 equivalent at the moment. ActionScript code is dropped and not translated into JavaScript, meaning that programming logic will have to re-created. Animations are translated using CSS rather than JavaScript or a similar cross-browser framework, which works in Chrome or Safari but not Internet Explorer. And graphics are translated into SVG vectors or JPEG bitmaps, but not into Canvas, an alternative to SVG that Google and Mozilla have been promoting for HTML5 games.

Some of Adobe's critics see the decision to support SVG but not Canvas as part of an effort to slow the HTML5 standards process and HTML5 adoption in order to protect the market for the company's products. Adobe says it went with SVG because Canvas was slower on portable devices and because Canvas lowers the readability of HTML -- the output becomes a program rather than markup, thereby making it harder to repurpose content.

The gaps in "Wallaby" mean that only relatively simply Flash projects -- ads and animations -- are likely to translate well. As it happens, it's the advertising and professional content industry that Adobe is really courting. Despite widespread interest in HTML5 authoring tools and content, HTML5 isn't likely to replace Flash development among media professionals in the next year or two. Not only is there a lot of legacy Flash content that needs to be managed and perhaps converted to HTML5, but Adobe's tools simplify the integration of server-side analytics and allow for variable bit-rate video, among other things. Not for nothing did Adobe buy analytics provider Omniture in 2009.

But move a few years out and there will be fewer and fewer use cases where HTML5 isn't a viable alternative to Flash.

HTML5 authoring tools are already starting to emerge. Apple began offering its own HTML5 authoring software, iAd Producer, last December. While some people have speculated that Apple released iAd Producer to challenge Adobe in the content authoring tool market, the license for iAd Producer makes it clear the software can be used only for creating ads that will run on Apple's network. At least in its current form, iAd Producer appears to have emerged as a way to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy. Apple couldn't very well condemn Flash while accepting Flash content for its ad network.

Google, which threw Adobe a lifeline when it pushed Flash for Android phones, also recently began offering HTML5 support in its ad creation tool, DoubleClick Studio.

Adobe is certainly keeping an eye on these developments and it isn't likely to sit still while Flash alternatives become more robust and capable.

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