Hi, my name is Timo Ernst and I am a web expert.

Posts Tagged ‘Flash’

Apple’s cheap trick on Macbook AIR battery runtime tests

Posted on: November 8th, 2010 by Timo

I am sure, you’ve all heard about Apple’s recent release of the new Macbook AIR which comes without Flash preinstalled as well as their claims of longer battery lifetime without Adobe’s RIA platform. The computer manufacturer even announced a maximum of 5-7 hours runtime based on some new series of tests they made by browsing the web without the Flash plugin installed.

In fact though, these tests are not objective. Without Flash, no animated ads are being displayed while you surf the web which probably cause most CPU load (besides video playback).

I actually agree with Adobe’s CTO Kevin Lynch who said in an interview (see below) that replacing all Flash-ads with HTML5 canvas content would not increase battery life.

Animation => CPU-load

It’s in the nature of animations to cause higher CPU-load than static content, no matter if it is being provided by Flash or HTML5 canvas.
Actually, HTML5 canvas animations require more CPU power than Flash animations do, no matter on which browser (even on fast Webkit-based ones).

If you don’t believe, I recommend to read my recent thesis about RIA performance analysis.
Section 2.3.2.5 proofs that HTML5 canvas animation is currently inferior to Flash-based animation performance which implies that more CPU power is required to reach an equal fps rate which again leads to higher energy drain.

Apple’s smart. Really smart.

If people would only take off their Apple-glasses they would realize that the daily experience with Flash-based animations (which often tend to cause high CPU load) probably influences their attitude towards Flash.

Whenever we see Flash-based content like ads or video, our computer’s CPU requires more energy. That shortens battery lifetime, often forces the fan to run faster. This experience makes us think: Flash=bad, but it isn’t. It’s not McDonald’s fault that people are getting fatter and fatter. Burgers and fries simply are fat but people still want them.

Apple’s trick to run their battery-test without Flash returns false results. It’s no wonder that battery lifetime goes up without Flash since animations usually cause most CPU load while surfing the web (besides video playback).
If they’d done the test correctly, they should’ve converted all Flash-content to HTML5 and then re-run the test.

I am not an Adobe/Flash fanboy.

I own and love many Apple products.
Actually, this blog entry was written on a Macbook Pro and I’d probably never trade it for a Windows- or Linux-based notebook. I even recommend Macs whenever I can to friends but as much as I like Apple’s products in general, I really dislike their recent behavior towards Flash.

In a nutshell

  • Animations (like Flash-ads) can cause a lot of CPU load while surfing the web. It’s in the nature of animations to do so. Replacing those ads with HTML5 canvas animations would make things only worse.
  • HTML5-based video playback seems to require much less CPU power than Flash-video. Since most ads rely on animations rather than video playback, this argument does not really apply.
  • Apple’s accusation of Flash being a battery-drainer is wrong. Animations drain power, not Flash. Thus, their test-series of battery lifetime on the new Macbook AIR is not objective.
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A scientific performance comparison: Flex/Flash vs. JavaFX vs. Silverlight vs. JavaScript

Posted on: September 15th, 2010 by Timo

I finally finished my diploma thesis I mentioned before about performance comparisons between Flex/Flash, JavaFX, Silverlight and various JavaScript engines.

Why this analysis?

During an internship at IBM Germany back in 2009, I had to develop a Visualizer based on Flex that heavily relied on its charting library API. Even on strong machines, it was not possible to create more than 20 charts on one screen at the same time. If tried, the application terminated with a timeout exception after 60 seconds because it simply took the rendering engine to long to draw all the charts at once. These experiences lead to thoughts about questions why the Flash Player sometimes performs so slowly and if other technologies like JavaFX or Silverlight could do any better. While looking for answers, I encountered two benchmarks. One is Alexey Gavrilov’s Bubblemark test which moves around bitmaps on the screen capturing the current fps. The other one is Sean Christmann’s GUIMark, which simulates a common website layout and lets it scale up and down. While Gavrilov’s attempt is rather simple, Christmann’s benchmark is a bit more complex including aspects like transparency and overlapping layers. Both tests include technologies like Flash/Flex, JavaFX, Silverlight and Javascript. All these attempts have one thing in common though: They represent only one big benchmark instead of cutting down the issue into multiple aspects. This leads to the problem that one cannot clearly see what the reason is why solution A is faster or slower than B.

For example: Moving around bitmaps, as shown in Gavrilov’s Bubblemark benchmark, may sound simple but heavily relies on multiple aspects of a RIA runtime: First, to display images, a graphic-buffer needs to be filled with the bitmap data. Then it needs to be drawn to a canvas-like component and finally shown on the screen. To move around the images, mathematical calculations are required to let the balls bounce from the walls. Furthermore, some kind of data structure like (dynamic) lists or arrays must be used in order store each ball-object in. While running the test, one never knows what was the cause for performance decreases. Was it the »physics engine«, the image processing calls, the array/list operations or something else?

This lead to the idea of developing a series of tests to drill down to the core of performance issues, which leads to two benefits: One is that developers who already know their requirements for their applications can choose the RIA technology that fits best for their needs, based on the result of these test series. The other one is that RIA manufacturers can optimize their virtual machines and browser plug-ins based on the conclusions of this thesis.

The tests

Run the tests, download the source and view the results here.

Feel free to download everything and play around with it. Most of the sources are released under the MIT license. Some others use GPL or BSD so make sure to check the license agreement in the header sections of each project/file but in general you don’t really have to worry about them since they’re all open source licenses. Just watch out for the copyleft agreement in GPL.

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SmokeScreen.us: Flash2HTML5 converter

Posted on: June 5th, 2010 by Timo

Here we have an interesting Flash2HTML5 converter which seems to work up to (parts of) Flash8. Check out smokescreen.us for demos and more info (Thanks to Antonio for the link).
Seems like it works pretty decently regarding movies and animations but I wonder if “real” applications would work with it, like for example such which were built using the Flex framework.

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OpenLaszlo: A new old rival for Adobe Flex

Posted on: May 22nd, 2010 by Timo

Around two years ago, I wrote a little article about OpenLaszlo, a promising RIA framework, for richability.com in which I compared it to Adobe’s Flex platform.
Since a lot of time has passed and many things changed since then, I think it’s time for an updated sight on this technology.

Back in the days when I wrote that article, my main arguments were (summarized):

  1. Flex can only target the Flash Player while Laszlo offers both, a Flash compiler as well as a DHTML version.
  2. Flex is much more popular than OL (OpenLaszlo).
  3. Costs for OL development are lower since Adobe’s Flash Builder (formerly known as “Flex Builder”) is quite expensive while OL does not require a dedicated IDE.

While arguments 1 and 2 still apply, I need to correct my statements about #3:

Both, Flex as well as OpenLaszlo, are frameworks, which include a compiler and a component library. While Flex utilizes a combination of MXML and ActionScript3, Laszlo requires LZX and JavaScript knowledge. There is no much difference regarding the basic concept between these two but the developer must be aware that it’s the compilers job to transform these languages into plain ActionScript3 code. The reason for this is that the Flash Player, which runs these applications, cannot understand MXML, LZX or JavaScript. The only language it can process is ActionScript, which is the reason why a compiler is required.
Now, regarding argument #3 from above, it must be said that actually no money is required in order to develop Flex or OpenLaszlo applications, since both compilers can be invoked from command-line, similar to the “javac” command in Java. In order to create the source code, a random editor of choice can be used. In my arcticle on richability.com, I must admit that it looked like if OpenLaszlo development was completely free of charge while Flex always requires money. This was not correct. It is possible to create both, Flex and Laszlo applications, without paying a single cent.

Now, regarding coding comfort, it must be said that a special IDE for Flex/OL development would be nice. This is actually where things change: While Adobe offers the so called “Flash Builder”, a pretty expensive (but in the same time awesome) Eclipse-based tool for creating Flex applications (which is also available as a plugin-version), the OpenLaszlo founders do not offer a comparable IDE. There is a free 3rd-party alternative available though called IDE4Laszlo.

To sum it up: Flex development does not have to be more expensive than Laszlo, but it probably will be since serious application developed cannot be done without a good IDE these days.

Flex benefits

As already mentioned, application logic in OpenLaszlo is being written using JavaScript, which is a waay inferior programming language compared to ActionScript3. I know, JS is object-oriented and all but it lacks some very important features, like:

  • Static type-safety
    In ActionScript3, we have static types (except for arrays, but vectors are a good replacement), which means that a compiler can give warning/error messages regarding type incompatibilities before runtime. In JavaScript, this is not possible.
  • Interfaces
    In huge projects, the concept of interfaces is often important. ActionScript3 supports these. JavaScript does not.

I really wished, OpenLaszlo would support a better programming language, like for example Java or C#.

Update: Thanks to P T Withington for the note below:

“OpenLaszlo as of version 4.2 (currently at 4.7) supports extensions to Javascript modelled on Actionscript3. You can create classes and declare interfaces and types just as in as3. When compiling to DHTML, the type declarations are not (currently) enforced, but they are if you compile to Flash.”

OpenLaszlo benefits

Some days ago, a guy called Femery Arnaud from France sent me an email asking why the Flash-compiled versions of Flex are so much bigger than the ones from OpenLaszlo. According to a test made by him, a sample project consisting of a DataGrid, a tree component and an image required 2.5MB on Flex and only 250KB in OL.
To be honest, I didn’t really have a quick and smart answer since I never had a closer look into file-size related issues between both technologies. My guess was that this has something to do with the efficiency of the framework-compilers as well as the complexity and size of the UI component libraries but I couldn’t say for sure.
However, it seems like OpenLaszlo applications require much less space then their Flex-pendants if they are compiled into Flash. This fact should not be disregarded since there are still many users out there with small bandwidth internet connections.

The rise of the underdog

Due to the hype about HTML5, recent debates around Flash have probably made some developers feel uncomfortable about their future and rised some questions like for example: “Will Flash still exists in 4 or more years and is there still going to be a demand on Flex developers as there is today or is it better to switch to HTML5/JavaScript development now?

To be honest, I have similar thoughts going around my head and I don’t have a real answer to this, but there are some facts which we are already aware of today:

  • HTML5 definitely has the capability to be a replacement for many use-cases which made Flash required on the web.
  • HTML5 is still in its baby-shoes. Neither is its specification finished, nor are the implementations in today’s browsers perfect.
  • There are still some users out there surfing the web with HTML5-incompatible browsers.
  • Flash requires a plugin which implies the fact that some users, who do not have it installed, are being prevented to access Flash content.
  • Many people do not like Flash due to instability reasons. I know, this is not a hard fact, but I hear this complaint pretty often.
  • HTML5 has no support for binary sockets and web-cams.

Keeping these informations in mind, I wouldn’t say that Flash gets completely “killed” by HTML5 but I think it’s reasonable to say that it will probably reduce the demand of Flash (and their developers) in the future. It is just a matter of time.

Now, here comes the bridge to OpenLaszlo since its one huge advantage compared to Flex is its compiler feature of giving the developer the opportunity to choose between Flash and DHTML output. According to rumors, even Silverlight and SVG output is being planned.
So, what does this mean to the developers? – Actually quite simple. Learning OpenLaszlo gives one the ability to target different platforms with one code base. Your customer does not want Flash? Flip the DHTML switch and you’re done. This feature makes the requirement of learning multiple additional technologies like GWT or Silverlight redundant and could give Laszlo a big boost regarding popularity among RIA developers.

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Who said that we’re limited to Adobe’s Flash Player?

Posted on: May 19th, 2010 by Timo

A very exciting and promising project called Lightspark has reached beta-stadium.

Lightspark is a 3rd-party implementation of Adobe’s Flash Player, written by Alessandro Pignotti and entirely created from scratch using the open specification of the Flash-format SWF. No reverse-engineering was done.

It is being said, that even hardware-acceleration is supported using OpenGL. Lightspark is claimed to be compatible to ActionScript3 and Flash Player version 9.

Its goal is to provide a faster, stable and more open version of Adobe’s Flash Player.

Sounds really exciting to me so far!

Who said that Flash technology is not open?
If it is wasn’t, Lightspark wouldn’t be possible.

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