Media Technology: Adobe and Apple Reach a Flash Point

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This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I’m Bob Doughty.

And I’m Faith Lapidus. This week, we will tell about two very different subjects. First, we will describe some recent developments in media technology. Later, we will tell why animals once thought to have disappeared have been returning to the wild.

Mobile communications devices could be the testing ground for the next generation of media technology for the World Wide Web. If you ever looked at pictures or video on the Web, you already know Adobe Flash Player. It is a program for playing videos and media that operates on many different Web browsers.

Right now, Adobe Flash Player is probably the most common way to watch media on the Internet. But new mobile devices are testing Flash’s market position. The research company IDC says fifty-five million smartphones were sold worldwide in the first three months of this year. The handheld devices serve as a telephone and as an e-mail and Web connection.

But there is something few of them can do: use Adobe Flash Player. Instead, if you attempt to open a Flash page, you get what has become known as "the blue Lego of death." The little blue sign means that your device cannot open Flash.

Smartphones and netbooks have different browsers from those found on personal computers. And, at least for now, few of them can play Flash.

Adobe makes Flash and other popular products like Photoshop and Acrobat. The software company has developed Flash Lite, a version of Flash for mobile phones and some other home electronic devices. Adobe is also developing Flash 10.1. It is meant to work with personal computers, smartphones and other devices using different operating systems.

But Flash will not work with Apple’s mobile devices. Recently, Apple chief Steve Jobs criticized Adobe. He said his company’s products like the iPhone and iPod Touch will not use Flash in the future. That also means the hugely popular iPad will not use Flash either. Apple says it sold one million iPads in April, the first month it offered the product.

Apple says it is going in a different direction when it comes to playing Web video and multimedia. In April, the company changed its licensing agreement with producers of applications for Apple mobile devices. An application is a software program that lets users do a task -- like listen to music or find directions. Now, software companies must make their applications work only with Apple mobile devices.

Apple says new multimedia players should be based on a new, more open system. Apple wants a new language for Web page design, called HTML 5. That could mean trouble for media players like Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight.

Ian Jacobs is head of communications for W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium. The organization works to establish technology guidelines for the Web. The idea is to create commonly agreed on definitions of Web technologies. That way, new technologies can be developed and will work with existing ones. This supports the goal of having one Web that is open to everybody.

Mr. Jacobs says HTML 5 will be able to do many things. He says it will have open rules or standards. And he says the goal is to create licensing agreements that will let people use those standards without cost.

Still, there is no guarantee this will happen. HTML 5 is being designed to use video without the need for extra software, like Flash. It will also make other applications easier to build in to Web pages. But, while versions of the new language are being used, standards have not been agreed upon. And it is unclear when the job will be done.

Recently, Apple and Adobe’s dispute over Flash made news. Adobe placed advertisements criticizing Apple’s move against Flash. The ads appeared in major newspapers and on the Web. But the Web community continues to move toward standards for HTML 5. Adobe is already releasing products that can use this system. And both Apple and Adobe will have their say in the final result: both are members of W3C.

Conservation biologists today are discovering secrets about rare wild animals. The researchers study the genetic and physical qualities of the animals. They hope that new knowledge can show ways to help keep the creatures from disappearing.

Investigations of clouded leopards are a good example. Scientists studied clouded leopards on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, and in mainland Southeast Asia. They learned that the wild cats might be of two species instead of just one.

The clouded leopard is also a subject of research in Front Royal, Virginia, in America’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute studies and cares for thirty-three kinds of animals there. Like the clouded leopard, all are considered endangered.

Research in a small space is necessary for the clouded leopard. In the wild, the animal usually does not let itself be seen. Its colors make the cat seem to disappear into the forest. Its name comes from the design of darker shapes on its hair. The shapes look like clouds.

Listen now to sounds from a clouded leopard.

The clouded leopard sounds much like a common housecat. But housecats are much smaller by comparison. The male clouded leopard weighs about twenty to twenty-seven kilograms. The female is much smaller.

Institute director Steven Monfort has a reason why the clouded leopard may be rare. He says the adult males attack the females. This behavior clearly decreases reproduction. But the researchers have learned to raise males and females together while they are young. Under those conditions, the cats do not fight. Instead, they later produce baby leopards.

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute was launched in January of two thousand ten. The Institute opened on the grounds of what was formerly the National Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center.

For more than thirty years, the center has had many successes, including the Przewalski’s Horse. Experts say the Przewalski’s is the last kind of wild horse left alive. The animal once lived in groups in Europe and Asia.

The horse gets its name from N. M. Przewalski, the Russian explorer who first described it in scientific terms. The animal looks powerful, although it is shorter than other horses. It measures about twelve to fourteen hands tall at the shoulders. The horse weighs about two hundred to three hundred forty kilograms. The body is light to reddish brown, but lighter on its underside. A thick mane grows from the top of the head and down the back of the neck.

Until two years ago, the Red List of Threatened Species of the World Conservation Union said Przewalski’s horses were extinct in the wild. Experts blamed the disappearance on hunting and reproduction with other horses. Other reasons included a severe climate, and loss of living space and water to farm animals.

But a number of Przewalski’s horses now live in captivity in zoos and research centers. Doctor Monfort noted the increased population at the Institute in Front Royal.

STEVE MONFORT: “We have twenty seven individuals here, the largest managed population in the United States. That species was down to twelve purebred individuals after World War Two.”

Today, almost four hundred Przewalski’s horses have been returned to their ancestral homelands. The horses now live wild in Kazakhstan and along the border of Mongolia and China.

In addition to the study and care of rare wildlife, the institute has another purpose. It also trains biologists and others to carry on its work. Doctor Monfort says many people are needed in the future to keep endangered animals on Earth.

STEVE MONFORT: “We need an army of people who are equipped to know how to work at all levels and all scales, from protecting animals in the wild to providing shelter to them in zoological parks if necessary.”

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute operates in places other than its headquarters in Front Royal, Virginia. The center carries out its work at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. And it works at research areas and education centers throughout the world.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Mario Ritter and Jerilyn Watson, with reporting by Susan Logue. Our producer was Brianna Blake. I’m Bob Doughty.

And I’m Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

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