Adobe Unveils Media Player, Web Apps

Adobe Systems will boost its strategy of helping developers and users create desktop and Web applications that share a similar user experience at its Adobe MAX user conference in Chicago this week.

Adobe plans to announce Monday the acquisition of Virtual Ubiquity, the maker of a Web-based, multiuser word processor called Buzzword.

Adobe also will spin out the beta of a new service called Share that allows users to share and work on documents together online, as well as publish them to wikis or Web pages, said Erik Larson, director of product management for Adobe.

Media Player Beta Posted

The multimedia software maker will also make the first beta of its upcoming Adobe Media Player available for public download at its Adobe Labs site, while announcing partnerships with a slew of content developers it hopes will drive demand for the free desktop product.

The final version of Adobe Media Player, originally scheduled for release by March 2008, is now scheduled to ship sometime before July next year, according to Jen Taylor, group product manager for Flash at Adobe.

The Media Player can play files in the Flash Video (FLV) format used by a fast-growing number of Web sites including YouTube. Those videos can be streamed to the player or saved on a computer for later offline viewing. It takes up less than 1MB, though users must also download the Adobe Integrated Runtime beta plug-in, which is a 9MB file for Windows, for it to run.

Companies that will offer content for Adobe Media Player include CBS, PBS, Yahoo, Blip.TV, Fora TV, Meredith, Motionbox, MyToons, and STIMTV.

Taylor expects most of the partners to release content supported via advertising, such as "pre-roll" and "post-roll" ads permanently embedded in videos themselves, or via banner ads on the player itself.

"We see a transition where consumers want more content that is free," she said, adding that digital rights management (DRM) technology in the Flash format will prevent users from removing the ads, even from downloaded videos.

The Media Player, which will be available for Windows and Mac OS X platforms, can also be set to receive RSS feeds and download videos according to user preferences for later offline viewing, said Deeje Cooley, an Adobe project manager.

Rounding Out Offerings

While Adobe has the Flash Player for video playback through Web browsers, the Adobe Media Player fills a hole in Adobe's rich Internet application (RIA) strategy, said Melissa Webster, an analyst with research firm IDC.

Microsoft, which already had Windows Media Player for the desktop, in September unveiled Silverlight, a Web media player that promises high-definition video playback.

Both Adobe and Microsoft offer design and developer tools for building RIAs and are building those tools to make the relationship between designers and developers more seamless. They are also trying to create tools that lead to a similar user experience both offline and online.

With its Media Player, Adobe is entering a crowded field: Windows Media Player is the most popular, according to Chris Swenson, an analyst with NPD Group, though Apple's QuickTime and the RealNetworks RealPlayer also boast tens of millions of users.

Adobe's advantage is that while other players can play Flash videos, they generally require that users download and install special codec files.

On the other hand, Adobe has no plans at this time to enable its player to view non-Flash videos, such as Windows Media Video (WMV) or QuickTime Movie (MOV) files, Taylor said. Moreover, Adobe has inked no formal alliances with YouTube or its parent, Google. Nor does it yet have any agreements yet to bundle the Media Player onto smartphone or cellphone handsets, Taylor said.

Swenson said that could hurt Adobe Media Player's uptake.

"Right now, it looks less like something that will take over the world right away, than a great proof-of-concept" for Adobe's rich Internet application toolset, Flex, he said.

Moreover, social features already previewed by Adobe such as tagging and rating of videos won't be in the player's first release, Taylor said.

Buzzword for Collaboration

Adobe is battling Microsoft on several fronts as it tries to move further into the market for worker collaboration tools, particularly for small to medium-sized businesses that don't have the budget or IT team to purchase and install complex collaboration software, Webster said.

Buzzword is a step forward in this strategy, joining tools like Adobe Acrobat Connect, a Web conferencing application. According to Rick Treitman, CEO of Virtual Ubiquity, the software offers "page-perfect rendering" of documents, which are editable by multiple users and are stored in the firm's databases but can be exported today to rich-text format (RTF) or Word documents.

Support for Portable Document Format (PDF) and OpenDocument Format (ODF) standards are also on the horizon.

Buzzword and Share will both "always be free," Larson said. They represent Adobe's plan to provide more software as a service (SAAS), IDC's Webster said. This is another area where Adobe plans to gear up against not only Microsoft but Google. "I don't think we've seen the full Adobe footprint here," Webster said. "I think we'll see a growing portfolio of different services and capabilities. ...Right now it's just the beginning."

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