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Flash Player 10 feature: New text engine

Flash Player 10 feature: New text engine

Few things in Flash have caused me more grief than the poor text support in former versions of the Flash Player. Flash Player 10 promise to change this forever. This is another fruit of the merger - the Flash team have gotten access to the typography knowledge inside Adobe.

I've had several stabs at building a proper WYSIWYG editor using Flash and the only successful attempt I've seen is Buzzword (now acquired by Adobe). They got around the limitations by building their own text handling from scratch. I don't envy them that job, but the result is stellar so it was certainly worth it.

"The new player offers low level APIs so that developers can create their own text controls and text layout components" Tom says, "If they want to do something sophisticated like create text on a path, they'd be able to do that using the new APIs of the text engine. It also allows you to treat Device Fonts as first class citizens now. Just like embedded fonts, you can stylize them, antialias and apply effects." The new API will also allow Adobe to build text layout components that will be provided later this year, that Flash and Flex developers can use to create things such as multi-column scrollable text that flows around inline images. "We'll have text orientation, vertical text layouts, bidirectional text layouts for Chinese / Hebrew / Arabic [languages] and support for complex script and ligatures". Tom says and Justin adds "on top of that we have the ability to add tables, inline images and that sort of things, so you'll get a lot more control than you were previously able to do using the textfield." Click here to see this demo (video).



Live editing chinese text, complete with text flow between columns

When asked if this means that we'll get full HTML support, Justin answers in a slightly defensive style saying "That is something we're exploring. I don't know what the final version we'll release will support, [but] it is a markup format that will be compatible with Flash authoring and Flex and there are some issues around that with HTML that we are looking at". Our gut reaction to this is that if the API is as low level as we hope, we could probably roll our own HTML display component supporting the features we need."

We've heard that the new text engine will support text flowing around objects. Can this be any Object? How is this solved?
"We actually discussed inline image support of Flash Player 10 beta and how it’s much better than the current way Flash Player handles it this in text fields. Flowing text around an object will be a forthcoming feature."

This feature is also a kind of proof that Adobe listens to their users. One every single conference we have attended a Q&A session with Adobe, we have made sure somebody asked about the poor text features. At Flash on the Beach in 2006, Mike Downey even replied to our question with "Wow, we almost got through a Town Hall meeting without somebody mentioning Text", indicating that we've not been the only ones nagging them about this important feature. Poor text support was the primary reason Flashmagazine quit publishing in the SWF format back in July 2002. After 5 years as a HTML publication, it's not very likely we'll change it back to SWF, but who knows?


Click here to visit Adobe Labs to download and play with the new Player. This article is part of an interview with Justin Everett-Church (Flash Player product manager) and Tom Barclay (senior product marketing manager) from the Adobe Platform
Business Unit.


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