Adobe releases media player beta, boosts business tools

Vendor expanding software-as-a-service offerings via acquisition, new online app

At its Adobe MAX 2007 North America conference in Chicago this week, Adobe Systems Inc. will expand on its strategy of helping developers create desktop and Web applications that provide similar user experiences.

For example, Adobe today announced the acquisition of Virtual Ubiquity Inc., the developer of a Web-based, multiuser word processor called Buzzword.

In addition, Adobe is releasing the beta of a new online service called Share that lets users work on documents together and post them on Web pages or in wikis, said Erik Larson, the multimedia software vendor's director of product management.

Adobe is also making the first beta of its upcoming Adobe Media Player software available for public download at its Adobe Labs site, while announcing partnerships with a slew of content providers that it hopes will help drive demand for the free desktop product.

However, the media player is running several months behind schedule. A finished version, originally scheduled for release by next March, is now scheduled to ship sometime before July 2008, according to Jen Taylor, group product manager for Adobe's Flash technology.

Adobe Media Player can play files in the Flash Video format used by Web sites including that of YouTube Inc. The videos can be streamed to the player or saved on a computer for later viewing offline. The beta software takes up less than 1MB of disk space, although end users must also download the beta of an integrated runtime plug-in that is a 9MB file for Windows.

Under the partnerships announced today, businesses that will offer content for the media player include CBS Broadcasting Inc., the Public Broadcasting Service, Yahoo Inc., Meredith Corp. and Web sites such as MyToons and Motionbox. Taylor said she expects most of the partners to release content that is supported via advertising -- via the use of banner ads on the player, or preroll and postroll ads permanently embedded in videos.

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

Adobe Media Player, which will be available for Windows and Mac OS X systems, can also be set to receive Real Simple Syndication feeds and download videos according to user preferences, said Deeje Cooley, an Adobe project manager.

Although Adobe already offers its Flash Player for video playback through Web browsers, the media player will fill a hole in the company's so-called rich Internet application (RIA) strategy, said Melissa Webster, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

It also will further increase the level of competition between Adobe and Microsoft Corp. Microsoft, which already offers a regular media player within Windows, stepped onto Flash's turf early last month when it released Silverlight, a Web media player that is designed to support high-definition video playback.

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