Just because Flash for the iPhone is officially dead does not mean that it has to suffer the same fate on the desktop. Adobe has released a preview version of their upcoming Flash player for OS X codenamed ‘Gala’, and it comes with a feature the OS X crowd had been completely lacking for years as compared to their PC-totting friends: hardware acceleration.
Read on to find out more.
For a long time, Adobe has claimed in its defence against Steve Jobs’ attacks on Flash that Apple has refused to open up the API that was needed to allow the low-level access the plugin needs to allow hardware acceleration, thus forcing Flash to revert to using CPU cycles, which, quite, naturally, results in some less-than-stellar results.
And now, it seems that Adobe might actually be proven correct in this round, espcially with the latest 10.6.3 update for OS X Snow Leopard.
According to what we have learnt, the 10.6.3 update contains a certain Video Decode Acceleration framework, which, according to Apple, provides “low-level access to the H.264 decoding capabilities of compatible GPUs such as the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M, GeForce 320M or GeForce GT 330M”, and is “intended for use by advanced developers who specifically need hardware accelerated decode of video frames”.
Which, in other words, is exactly what Adobe needed to get hardware acceleration working for Flash on OS X. And follow up on that they did: barely a week after the release of the framework, Adobe has announced a preview release of their ‘Gala’ Flash player, which claims to be able to take advantage of hardware acceleration.
And while we don’t have a Mac with us, we were fortunate enough to find out that Engadget had managed to perform a quick bench-test of both the older Flash 10 and ‘Gala; Flash on a Mac, and the results speak for themselves:
While the Core i7 Macbook Pro showed the greatest improvement in CPU loads when running Gala, the same cannot be said for its Core i5 variant, which, for some reason, actually recorded higher CPU loads on Gala when compared to Flash 10. However, it should be noted that Gala is still pre-release software, and there will certainly be many more bugs to work out before the quality of Flash for OS X can come close to that of its Windows counterpart.
Still, it does not change the fact that Adobe has managed to prove their point that all they needed was the API to work with to make significant performance improvements to the plugin. And remember, Steve Jobs called Flash a buggy piece of software which hogged CPU cycles. Is Flash still buggy, even after having access to OS X’s low-level API? Probably. But hogging CPU cycles? From the looks of the Gala prerelease, extremely unlikely.
*Gala is available for for download at Adobe Labs here. As it is still pre-release software, the usual caution applies: back up your data in case something goes wrong.