Adobe is set to announce a batch of online services at its Adobe MAX user conference later this week.
The company will spin out the beta of a new service called Share that allows users to collaborate on documents and publish them to wikis or other web pages, said Erik Larson, director of product management for Adobe.
In a similar vein, Adobe plans to reveal it has also acquired Virtual Ubiquity, the maker of a web-based, multi-user word processor called Buzzword.
The company will also make the first beta of its upcoming Adobe Media Player available for public download at its Adobe Labs site, while announcing partnerships with a slew of content developers it hopes will drive demand for the free desktop product.
The final version of Adobe Media Player, originally scheduled for release by March of 2008, has been pushed back to before July, according to Jen Taylor, group product manager for Flash at Adobe.
The Media Player can play files in the Flash Video (FLV) format used by a fast-growing number of websites including YouTube. Those videos can be streamed to the player or saved on a computer for offline viewing. It takes up less than 1MB, though users must also download the Adobe Integrated Runtime beta plug-in, which is a 9MB file for Windows, for it to run.
Companies that will offer content for Adobe Media Player include CBS, PBS, Yahoo, Blip.TV, Fora TV, Meredith, Motionbox, MyToons and STIMTV.
Taylor expects most of the partners to release content supported with advertising, such as "pre-roll" and "post-roll" ads permanently embedded in videos, or via banner ads on the player itself.
"We see a transition where consumers want more content that is free," she said, adding that digital rights management (DRM) technology in Flash will prevent users from removing the ads, even from downloaded videos.
The Media Player, which will be available for Windows and Mac OS X platforms, can also be set to receive RSS feeds and download videos according to user preferences for offline viewing, said Deeje Cooley, an Adobe project manager.
While Adobe has the Flash Player for video playback through web browsers, the Adobe Media Player fills a hole in Adobe's “rich Internet application” strategy, said Melissa Webster, an analyst with research firm, IDC.
Microsoft, which already had Windows Media Player for the desktop, in September unveiled Silverlight, a web media player that promises high-definition video playback.
With its Media Player, Adobe is entering a crowded field: Windows Media Player is the most popular, according to Chris Swenson, an analyst with NPD Group, though Apple's QuickTime and RealNetworks's RealPlayer also boast tens of millions of users.
Adobe's advantage is that while other players can play Flash videos, they generally require that users download and install special codecs.
On the other hand, Adobe has no plans to enable its player to view non-Flash videos, such as Windows Media Video (WMV) or QuickTime Movie (MOV) files, Taylor said. Moreover, Adobe has inked no formal alliances with YouTube or its parent, Google. Nor does it yet have any agreements yet to bundle the Media Player onto smart-phone or cellphone handsets, Taylor said.
Swenson said that could hurt Adobe Media Player's uptake.
"Right now, it looks less like something that will take over the world right away, than a great proof-of-concept" for Adobe's rich Internet application toolset, Flex, he said.
Moreover, social features already previewed by Adobe such as tagging and rating of videos won't be in the player's first release, Taylor said.
Adobe is battling Microsoft on several fronts as it tries to move further into the market for worker collaboration tools, particularly for small to medium-sized businesses that don't have the budget or IT team to purchase and install complex collaboration software, Webster said.
Buzzword is a step forward in this strategy, joining tools like Adobe Acrobat Connect, a web conferencing application. According to Rick Treitman, CEO of Virtual Ubiquity, the software offers "page-perfect rendering" of documents, which are editable by multiple users and are stored in the firm's databases but can be exported today to rich-text format (RTF) or Word documents.
Support for Portable Document Format (PDF) and OpenDocument Format (ODF) standards are also on the horizon.
Buzzword and Share will both "always be free," Larson said. They represent Adobe's plan to provide more software as a service, IDC's Webster said. This is another area where Adobe plans to gear up against not only Microsoft but Google. "I don't think we've seen the full Adobe footprint here," Webster said. "I think we'll see a growing portfolio of different services and capabilities. ... Right now it's just the beginning."