I intended to write a post today about the PDF format and how it doesn't have a scripting language and so has never been affected by any kind of virus. Unfortunately facts got in the way. Just peachy.
And it doesn't stop there. I was also going to write some more about the possibility that after the Macromedia acquisition, it might be possible to embed Flash in PDF documents, and yet again the facts threaten to ruin my post.
You see, I've been thinking about how to create flash content that people can e-mail to each other and so can become viral. Most users have at least Flash 6 installed, but if they receive an .swf file in their inbox, they don't know what to do with it, because there's no association for that file type. IE could handle it if only the association was there, but it isn't and so the file doesn't go viral, it goes in the bin instead.
I tried embedding in a powerpoint document, and that's supposed to work, but doesn't and is just a whole world of pain. I tried embedding in an html document - doesn't work. Or an .mhtml archive - it gets stripped out. There's really no good way to e-mail flash content. So I was thinking, maybe someday I'll be able to embed flash in a pdf, and email that, so that it is instantly viewable.
 That's viral in the good sense where people are motivated to distribute the content.
The news this morning is that Adobe is merging with/buying Macromedia. It's a surprise to me, but I guess it shouldn't be. Adobe has spent a lot of time and money trying to compete with Macromedia and done pretty poorly - if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. They'll be joined at the hip soon and it could lead to some interesting developments - Flash embedded in PDF documents maybe? SVG Viewer's future is looking bleak, I can't see Adobe pushing SVG any longer.
But the most important thing to come out of this will be a more credible Flash platform. The company behind Flash won't be a small fish that can be subverted at a moment's notice by a company like Yahoo that intends to push it's own software onto the desktop. Adobe already has a significant presence on the desktop. The combined entity will have a market cap of something like $20 billion and that's serious money in anyone's budget.
I've been using Burak's Actionscript Viewer recently to correct problems with incorrectly formed flash files. Just opening them and saving them with a new file name automatically corrects most errors. I know Burak has spent a lot of time making sure that ASV can read anything that the Flash player can.
However, I've been working with some Macromedia Captivate files recently and ran into some parsing errors and while ASV handled them fine, I decided to look into the errors because these are files from the horse's mouth. It turned up some interesting discoveries. Interesting in a Slashdot kind of way, of course, rather than being anything that would be interesting to your Aunt Margaret.
First off, Capivate files have a four tag header, tags, 999,998,997,966. Actual documented tags only go up to about 66 and the Flash player probably ignores these extra ones. Turns out these tags contain some strings, potentially with identifying information, mine look like this
999 - "Robodemo5.0."
998 - "5."
997 - "C:\Documents And Settings\Name or User Name Here\My Documents\My Captivate Projects\test.swf."
996 - "C:\Documents And Settings\mnirell\My Documents\My Captivate Projects\Samples\Captivate Samples.cp."
So tag 997 clearly has the ability to identify the author - you'll want to think twice about using a Captivate presentation to anonymously blow the whistle about reckless corporate misgovernance.
More interesting to me though are the extra actionscript tags - a parse turns up undocumented actionscript tags, 108(0x6C), 109(0x6D), 110(0x6E), 111(0x6F) and 116(0x74). These are in the same area as one of the new AS codes that Macromedia added with Flash 7, namely Extends - 105(0x69).
They might just be internal hack, or codes that are shorthand for longer sequences of AS, or they might be entirely new functionality.
 The flash player is very forgiving which makes it a lot of work to handle all the different formats that it handles. Also, it would make it very difficult to write a new player. A new player might handle all the correctly formatted files, but would be laborious to try to handle all the incorrectly formatted files as well.
This summary of the different tools coming on stream to make Flash RIAs is a great resource. Aral Balkan emphasises a distinction here between 'tools' and 'platforms'. I'm not sure where some of these tools end and platforms begin. It is certainly in the interests of the companies making these technologies to cast them as platforms as industry wisdom says that you can't make money by selling tools, only platforms. However it's a catch-22, because in order to popularise and explain their platforms, they need to tie them into applications. But that carries the inevitable risk that the whole platform will be seen as a tool.
Accounts are the part of business I like the least, but today being April 6th, one day after the end of the tax year, I thought I'd sit down and make an effort to make my returns online.
The Inland Revenue is offering an £825 carrot over the next five years for small business who file their end of year return online. After five years, they'll offer a stick instead. I don't need a carrot or a stick, of course, I'd do it online regardless.
Well I'd try to do it online is what I mean to say. I tried to register this afternoon and the impression I got was their system is under considerable strain. When their servers aren't dishing out code 500 internal server errors right, left and center, the pages are painfully slow to load. I couldn't register in the end after three attempts and one support phone call. I'll try again in the evening when there are likely to be fewer people online. I imagine today is a pretty busy day for the IR servers, but I am still less than impressed that their servers cannot cope.
More and more Macromedia is defining the slimeball old school company that we all love to hate.I'm a bit worried today by Marc Canter's perspective on the company he founded (Macromind, later to become Macromedia). Frankly the Yahoo toolbar fiasco worried me a lot. Marc speaks ominously of Flash's 'hooks' that only Macromedia can use. I'm all too aware that if Macromedia abuse these hooks then they put the whole Flash platform at risk and with it many livliehoods that depend up on it.
Update: It seems fair to add that Marc Canter's perspective may be more coloured by his involvement with Laszlo, than as a founder. I don't know the details, but he appears to have a grievance about the way Flex competed with Laszlo.