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Adobe previews GPU acceleration support for Flash in Mac OS X

Adobe this week issued a preview release of an update to its Flash Player, code-named "Gala," which allows for H.264 video hardware decoding in Mac OS X 10.6.3, placing less emphasis on a computer's CPU.

The capability for Flash to use GPU hardware acceleration just became available with the Mac OS X 10.6.3 update for Apple's Snow Leopard operating system. A new technical note revealed a new framework that allows developers low-level access to H.264 decoding capabilities in Macs with compatible GPUs, including the GeForce 9400M, GeForce 320M and GeForce GT 330M.

Previously, hardware acceleration for Flash was only available through Windows PCs and X86-based notebooks. Gala marks the first time Mac users will be able to benefit from hardware decoding of Flash.

"The combination of NVIDIA GPUs (GeForce 9400M, GeForce 320M or GeForce GT 330M) with the Gala version of Flash Player enables supported Macs running the current version of OS X to deliver smooth, flicker-free HD video with substantially decreased power consumption," Adobe wrote on its website, where the software can be downloaded. "Users will be able to enjoy a much smoother viewing experience when accessing rich, H.264 video content built with the Flash Platform from popular sites like or YouTube."

The preview release of Gala is a sign of things to come, but does not yet provide consistent results. In a quick test, Engadget found that CPU use Apple's latest Core i7 MacBook Pros dropped a third to a half, but the Core i5 machine actually increased the CPU load by as much as 20 percent.

The Gala preview is intended for developers to test the new functionality and test compatibility. The feature is expected to find its way into the Flash Player after the release of version 10.1, expected to arrive in the first half of 2010. To test it, download the 7.4MB installer from Adobe.

The preview release notifies users when hardware decoding is in use by displaying a small white square in the upper left corner of a video. Adobe has sought input from developers on the preview release as it prepares a final product for the general public.

Gala is evidence of a rare positive between Apple and Adobe, two companies that have been engaged in a bitter rivalry of late. Most recently in their ongoing feud, Adobe abandoned development of Flash-to-iPhone porting software, after Apple's iPhone OS 4 developer agreement specifically prohibited the use of an intermediary tool, such as the one Adobe plans to release.

After Adobe employees criticized the iPhone for being a closed system, Apple fired back in a rare public comment, stating that Adobe "has it backwards," as Flash is "closed and proprietary." Apple has backed the open source standard HTML5 video streaming format while blocking the use of Flash on its portable devices, including the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

At a company meeting in January, the Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was rumored to have called Adobe "lazy," and said most Mac crashes are due to Flash. "The world is moving to HTML5," Jobs was quoted as saying.

Jobs also allegedly called Flash a "CPU hog" in a meeting with officials from The Wall Street Journal. The Apple co-founder was said to have called the Web format "full of security holes" and "old technology."

For more on why Apple is unlikely to ever allow Flash onto its iPhone OS-powered mobile devices, see AppleInsider's three-part Flash Wars series.