Today I am at SVG Open in Cambridge, MA where we are announcing the HTML5 Version of Silicon Designer. It is hard to convince some of our clients that Flash has any place at all in an applications, yet we are still very happy that we mastered Flash as it makes our HTML5 efforts focused on WebKit rather than pretending that it magically makes IE8 into an RIA (Rich Internet Application) powerhouse.
Deploying the Flash player and Webkit with parallel forms of the same application lets us reach the entire browser base, from legacy PC browsers to the full spectrum of mobile devices, without degrading user experience. We write once, and don’t have to test everywhere. Our approach is: ‘Flash where Flash goes, HTML5 where Flash doesn’t go.’ And we don’t see Flash going away anytime soon in the online editing space; it still provides the richest experience in many contexts. Targeting the most powerful media available on each distinct client lets us ensure the optimal user experience across all devices.
That is my philosophy for Silicon Designer. Not for all web apps. But with Silicon Designer, here we have an extremely rich client experience using Flash, which currently has no parallel in the HTML5 world, quite, though Safari Webkit and Chrome Webkit are getting close, and the Adobe extensions to Webkit bring them closer.
At SVG Open we saw various approaches to legacy browsers, when apps start out in standards-based mode vs. in Flash:
These all can be fine, depending on user base, application characteristics, etc., but with an online editor for high quality print documents, none are currently ideal. Flash still has the ultimate power for robust vector graphics… Webkit and other implementations of HTML5/Canvas/SVG are just catching up. SVG Web is not an option for us, as our HTML5 version uses HTML, Canvas, and SVG, not pure SVG (I doubt there is currently an “SVG Web” equivalent for the full gamut of HTML5).
Deriving one format from another generally leads to poor quality in the format that gets derived. It is more powerful, if you can afford it, to have both forms of something derive from a model that is not tightly coupled with either one, using a higher level of abstraction.
In our case, as we already have a robust Flash app, and we specialize in defining the document model agnostic to rendition engine (as this model has to work in Flash, InDesign, and Scene7) it’s not the biggest deal to have two versions, one Flash and one HTML5. With the HTML5 version, do we really want to target IE9? Firefox? It would be nice, yet it is not critical.
Essential to us is hitting the iPad, especially, secondarily providing good mobile experience (as designer tends to be most relevant to larger screens, phones are not often used for high-end forms of design) and providing on each device/OS the best possible experience. Targeting just Flash and HTML5 that works with Webkit, we get all we need.
I am really enjoying our work on the CS Extension for Fotolia, which we announced at MAX and will be refining and re-announcing throughout the rest of the month, as we localize it for 14 languages and spread the word among users of Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.
I was not really aware of the “Microstock” industry until quite recently. A few months ago, I was brainstorming with my colleagues about possible uses of our Silicon Connector technology, which brings true HTTP links to Adobe InDesign. One developer suggested integration with Fotolia, which he said was a stock photo company with good APIs, and a good company to work with.
It worked out really well. I think we are in the right place at the right time, because we have managed to exploit state-of-the-art extensibility technology from Adobe to connect designer desktops to stock photos, enabling purchases without leaving the design app. This is not exactly an original idea, yet I don’t know of it being done recently in InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator. We also have many ideas how to take this further, and don’t see many technical limitations.
We have been extending Creative Suite applications for 10 years (since before they were considered a “suite”) and the current state of extensibility is absolutely great compared to what we used to have to go through to create something at all like this.
In the early days, one had to build plugins in C++ targeting specific CS Apps and Operating Systems: one program for Photoshop/Mac, one for Illustrator/Win, etc. Different applications provided more or less support for cross-platform starting points, but still each app was different, the platforms differed as well, and installation/testing was multiplied out by version/platform/app.
This was the context in which Adobe launched the ill-fated “Adobe Stock Photo” which they discontinued for mysterious reasons. While the engineering challenges were far greater back then, it would appear that Adobe would have even greater challenges on the front of alliance/partnership, as they could very easily alienate their users/partners with any direction chosen for the program.
To sell expensive stock photos might seem to make the high-end photographer/photoshop customer king, yet for each of the photographers enjoying high-end stock photo revenue at the time, there were many aspiring photographers itching to get into the game, and a growing “microstock” movement supporting them. Many of these had bought Photoshop. Whose side was Adobe on?
“Low end vs. high end?” was one decision, another was “specific companies to partner with?” – here was another minefield, as traditionally Adobe would want their software purchased by all; showing any bias towards a specific company might jeopardize the balanced, equal opportunity “partner story” they had strived to attain.
I remember when Adobe had the bright idea of adding a “Print at FedEx Kinkos” button to Acrobat. Within moments of the news, our phones began to ring with calls from irate printers (I don’t mind people thinking Silicon Publishing is Adobe, except at the times we are held accountable for mistakes like this). They had to take that button out quickly.
Adobe Stock Photo went away, but Adobe invested at the same time in fundamental technologies to support 3rd parties doing exactly the same sort of thing. At the time they discontinued the program, John Nack wrote:
“we’re working hard to make Photoshop, Bridge, and the other Creative Suite apps much more easily extensible so that they can support whatever services customers find useful–whether from Adobe or from third parties.”
It makes sense… something like a “print at Printer X” button or “get assets from Source Y” panel can make the Creative Suite applications much more powerful, yet Adobe may not want to be in the printing/stock photo business: it makes much more sense for third parties like us to provide points of integration. I am very glad they did what John Nack said they were planning to do.
Rather than limiting us to building plugins in C++, Adobe began prototyping ways to use Flash panels inside the creative suite applications that let us extend the applications with Adobe Flex. We were excited by “PatchPanel” – an early version of this put out on Adobe Labs, yet that prototype technology suffered from a disconnect between the events of the Flash application and the container application; it was just not ready for prime time.
With CS5, Adobe made the Creative Suite Flash panels much more robust and introduced a form of “CS Extensions” that really worked. This technology is now solid enough to compete quite favorably with C++ and scripting alternatives. You can find out more about CS Extension Builder on Adobe’s Developer Connection site. The main benefits:
Our one big complaint is that we have to use Flex 3 to build these, currently… we would like to leverage the greater power of Flex 4. At the Creative Developer Tour recently, Adobe indicated that future versions will support up-to-date Flex versions. Still, the power of the current form of CS Extensions is already a huge step forward.
You can find our free CS Extension at www.fotolia.com/adobeplugin
I only saw Steve Jobs twice, but he had a huge influence on my life at about 5 points that come to mind. I am very proud that such a person would come from Northern California, and Steve Jobs certainly represents the best you find in humanity. Really, the culture of Steve Jobs and the technologists somewhat like him (Charles Goldfarb, John Warnock, James Gosling, Larry Ellison, etc.) are to me one of the few positive spots when you look at global culture in this day and age: I’m sure there are plenty of common souls around the world, yet not nearly enough. Such people would stay up late envisioning new ways that humans would communicate, persist information, and render media, and their visions are keen enough that they become reality.
But it isn’t just the technological genius of Steve that is amazing, it is also his integrity as a human and his devotion to his work. If those things were present in more humans around the world, we would have no war or hunger.
I got into computers early in life, first doing a little bit of programming at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley in about 1974 when I was a kid. I even ran into home-built computers at the time: at summer camp there was a man there that taught us how to build a computer from a minimal set of chips. If this same guy wasn’t part of the Homebrew Computer Club (which is perfectly possible) that Jobs and Wozniak were part of later, he might as well have been, it was inspiring to be able to say “I built a computer” even though it was pretty useless. I wasn’t really interested in such things at the time, but the memory comes back when I read about early Apple history.
Looking back, any great invention will appear obvious, like it would have inevitably happened, but there are at least two dimensions to any major technological advance, the concept and the implementation. Steve Jobs had a very fundamental concept of the personal computer that might not have been original, yet he had such an ingenious vision of its implementation that for all practical purposes he is owner of the conceptual advance.
Once the conceptual battle is won with a new invention, the implementation and evolution provide a lifetime of potential work, and Steve took this on as few others in the history of science. So many scientists who push forth a new idea are blind to its repercussions and unable to produce further advancement, yet Steve was the opposite extreme, re-thinking technology even in the last years of his life, 35+ years since his fundamental breakthrough.
I first encountered the work of Steve Jobs when I saw the Apple II computer, which I learned to program in 1980. Concurrent with this I was working on a DEC-20 mainframe, and the difference between the two was night and day. The personal computer liberated one from the centralized system, from punch cards, from the ridiculous sharing of sparse resources such that you might wait 24 hours to see if your program had compiled or not. It is impossible to explain to young programmers of today just how bad it was pre-PC, but I had a glimpse of it and it definitely sucked.
While I was in awe at the fundamental chasm between PC and mainframe, I didn’t appreciate the design of the Apple II in relation to its competition until I looked back, as I later saw Apple’s computer design evolve through the variants of the Macintosh over the years. Yet with hindsight I can see that the Apple II already expressed the phenomenal design ambition/insight of Steve Jobs.
At the time I used the Apple II, it was simply one of the few options available, and given that I was using it for digital audio at a time when processor speed and availability were so anemic, it still felt more something like the time I had played with a home built computer; certainly there were some use cases for which this was already a practical device, yet it had extreme constraints compared to what would come next.
The second time I was impacted by Steve’s work was when I started using and programming the Macintosh, back when it was that single box with a keyboard and mouse circa 1984. It is amazing to look at this compared to the Apple II and compared to today’s Macs… at the same time it looks advanced and ancient. That is how far we have come with personal computers, and shows the incredible speed at which Steve’s innovation went. The early Mac was also interesting not just in terms of design, always Steve’s obsession, but also in terms of the early adoption and focus as a tool of expression as opposed to a business device. Once there was the IBM PC to compete with it, the vision of Apple could be seen clearly, and here was the expression of Steve’s great mind. The Mac was what one used for art or music, right from the start. And here we saw digital audio (my obsession back then), which had been completely painful with the Apple II and IIe, find a home. Ever since the first Mac, the personal computer as a tool of artistic expression has been owned by Steve Jobs.
There was a whole evolution of the Mac from the mid 1980s to the late 1980s, where it seemed to get more powerful, yet while the continuous incremental improvement in terms of things like processor speed and monitor/video card power, coupled with the evolution of the software on top of it suggested evolution, the form of visionary transformation that had happened between the Apple IIe and the Mac left Apple, along with Steve Jobs.
I never actually used a NeXt box, but I dreamed about one and read about it for 2 years. I was at that point starting to realize how incredibly important a visionary like Jobs can be. It was no accident that stunning advances in technology were now happening over here instead of at Apple. NeXt was quite innovative in so many ways, and it was of interest to me through my interest in computer music (that was my only interest in computing the first 15 years or so).
NeXT was in some sense vaporware: academic departments across the US (around the world?) made plans around it, based on promises of free/cheap NeXT machines for academia and a significant amount of testing/input from academics. Computer Music Journal would present the NeXT audio capabilities as second to none, right above the digital audio and multimedia that at the time was starting to fully work in the Macintosh, with all the newer more expensive models that iterated throughout Steve Jobs’ absence.
Many have spoken of Steve Jobs’ “failures” and some would cite NeXT as such. The complaint is similar to complaints about Larry Ellison, that he has a loose concept of “we’ve done that” equal to his ability to think through how one might do something. But technology is fragile, in many senses the concept *is* the advance, as long as you have the integrity as Jobs and Ellison do to fulfill the implementation of the concept.
The Mac kind of left my life when Steve Jobs left Apple… I dreamed of a NeXT box but it never materialized as such. Eventually, everything in NeXT showed up in Apple products.
I saw Steve Jobs in person the first time at the JavaOne conference in 2000, when he showed a preview of OS X. It was quite stunning, and the Unix underpinnings, NeXT features, and built-in Java ended up being quite compelling for developers, who really hadn’t been enamored of the Mac other than in specific cases (those developing multimedia software, for example). At subsequent JavaOne conferences mac laptops became increasingly prevalent. This and some of my work requirements led me to start buying Macs again in the early 2000s.
I saw Steve Jobs for the 2nd and last time a the Apple WWDC in 2006. I had been using Macs more often, yet was not impressed with the performance of pre-Intel Macs, even with OS X. When my company worked on benchmarks for Adobe of InDesign Server across Windows and Mac servers, the results were unreportable because the Mac performed so badly compared to Windows boxes and nobody at Adobe wanted to make this public (they still had hopes for the Mac/fear of Microsoft at that time). The G5 chip was nothing to write home about, and Apple noticed and moved to Intel.
The move to Intel proved to be brilliant, for at least two reasons: performance surpassed windows, and running virtualized windows proved good enough that I could stop lugging around 2 computers. I was impressed that as an Apple developer, they shipped Intel-based hardware to me prior to the official announcement of the move. From the time of the Intel chip and Mac OSX, Mac has once again been my primary operating system and all my laptops since 2006 have been macs: Windows is still there when needed on the VM, but I have needed Windows less and less.
Of course the impact of iTunes, iPods, the iPhone, and the iPad has been another aspect of Steve’s incredible vision influencing the world. My family has become an Apple ad, with iPhones, MacBooks, etc.: my one-year-old knows how to swipe the iPhone, open apps and use them. I am not completely fond of Steve’s vision of tablets (I’m still expecting more freedom and computer-like features, not just a large phone), yet I have to acknowledge he got it right enough to finally reach the public with such a device footprint, and Google is too dumb and fat (they are clearly as arrogant and inept as Microsoft) in trying to compete. On first glance his staunch opposition to Flash looked somewhat tainted by a monopolistic tendency, no doubt gained in his ongoing rivalry with Bill Gates (certainly he took on a few traits of the enemy along the way) yet I think he ultimately had a positive impact on Adobe by challenging their overconfidence in the Flash “platform” and at least partially supporting standards.
If I had to pick the greatest technologist born in the 20th century it would either be Steve Jobs or Charles Goldfarb: I am very thankful to have been able to live in their general neighborhood (Northern California) and enjoy the technologies they have brought us. I am glad Steve died now rather than two years ago, as only in the past two years did he truly “win” in the Jobs/Gates war by every last objective metric.
I loved the dialog from Pirates of Silicon Valley:
Steve Jobs: “We’re better than you are, we’ve got better stuff”
Bill Gates: “That doesn’t matter”
I am glad that Steve hung in there despite his health battles to show once and for all that right can triumph over might, and the best can prevail. He will always be a great inspiration for us all.
It does matter.
Today we announced the new CS Extension that we built with Fotolia. This has been a very fun project and we are really happy with the results.
With this CS Extension, users can access Fotolia stock images from within three Creative Suite applications: Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop. It is a single code base and a single install, which is very easy with the CS Extension features that came with CS5 and CS Extension Builder 1.5. Out of all of Adobe, the extensibility group led by Ken Toole is one of the strongest… they don’t seem to suffer from the confusion and re-direction of some of the product silos, and they continually improve the extensibility features and interoperability of Adobe technologies. CS Extensions are fantastic, compared to earlier forms of extensibility.
A few years ago you would have had to build 3 different C++ plug-ins, compiling them in two languages each, to accomplish anything like this, and chances are that the connectivity with remote assets would have been a huge challenge. In this case we were able to quickly build an app (using Flash Builder and the CS Extension Builder SDK) that works cross product, cross platform, and across versions (well, CS5 and CS5.5). This and the Drive 3 technology from the same group are great examples of Adobe technology doing what is most valuable for end users: making things easy to extend and making interoperability a reality.
You can download the free extension from http://www.fotolia.com/adobeplugin
My report about this Adobe MAX is delayed and mainly based on post-conference analysis, as in the conference I was busy announcing, explaining, showing, promoting and helping develop our Fotolia CS Extension. This year we had a booth for Silicon Publishing, which meant I attended keynotes and sneaks but no sessions, yet it also meant I was able to talk quite a bit with people who did have the luxury of attending sessions. Thanks to our recent success as a company, I think the majority of the people I spoke with were the ones leading sessions, and I am thankful to have the honor first of working with the Silicon Publishing programmers who today are of such strong quality, and by being associated with them getting to meet other geniuses of publishing today such as Chris Converse, David Blatner, and James Boag.
Overall, the news is postive, very positive… Adobe has many HTML5 initiatives, the Creative Suite is going to move to do what it should have done all along, allow InDesign to be a control center for multi-channel publishing, and Adobe does have some sensible understandings of a low-end market after all for its Digital Publishing Suite. The “Creative Cloud” was set forth as the main message, in that Adobe seeks to put Creative Suite sorts of capability, relevant to the new mobile/tablet/HTML5 reality, into SaaS- or PaaS-model offerings.
I am still trying to look deep enough to find evidence that this is being done in anything but a Google “spray and pray” way (i.e., putting out 100 apps and keeping the surviving 13), and if there were a down side to the current apparent trajectory, that would be it. Given the disruption of the initial introduction of Adobe to Macromedia to the creative suite (for a moment InDesign looked “legacy” while Flash looked like a “platform”), and the concurrent “anything for the street” mentality of a company that spent $3.5 Billion and needs to get it back somehow, I am thankful for the Google approach, it is at least trying the 100 things along the lines of their core competence as a business, unlike random non-sequitur unrelated ventures such as Business Catalyst. After that one, I was waiting for the Adobe announcement that they sold toilet paper on a subscription basis. But I digress.
Before diving into the present, let’s look at the past 6 years a bit.
Ever since Adobe bought Macromedia, I have been attending the MAX conference. The first “Adobe MAX” in 2006 was interesting to me… I spoke there about DITA and eLearning, and was able to discuss technologies that had roots in both Adobe and Macromedia, with assistance from experts from both companies. The SCORM expertise of those who had put SCORM support in Macromedia Flash, the DITA and print rendition expertise of FrameMaker and InDesign technologists. In a pure technology sense, it was exciting to consider the merger. As usual, I considered it in relation to standards… as far as DITA and SCORM, I had little to complain about, as expectation/hope had hardly been raised: these tangents to rendition technology were obviously better off thanks to the merger. SVG? Good thing I wasn’t presenting on that topic.
Politically, it was strange. Hanging out with speakers waiting to present, I noticed a surprising degree of fear and suspicion between the former Macromedia people and their new colleagues. The impression was that Macromedia people were in fear of their jobs, and resentful of the acquiring company. Presentations around Macromedia products (and at this point non-Macromedia products were just barely mentioned at MAX) would often include bashing of Adobe equivalents… “you’ll notice our software loads quickly: we hope to teach the Photoshop team a thing or two…” Such jabs really didn’t fit what Adobe had been before, but were probably natural side-effects of fear and uncertainty.
Where was HTML5 at this time? There are two perspectives:
Adobe had actually led the SVG effort in 1999 and 2000, but had not invested in it in a broad way, and by 2006 many were proclaiming the death of SVG. To the great credit of Open Source software, Mozilla and some others didn’t see it has dead, yet they were quietly working away at SVG support.
As far as HTML5, it was right around the time of MAX 2006 that Tim Berners Lee and others embraced the HTML5 effort.
Adobe at the time had swallowed the Macromedia egg and started to delete SVG support from its applications, starting with discontinuing the Adobe SVG Viewer
Within a year, the nervousness of Macromedia speakers at MAX 2006 proved completely unfounded. The tables had completely turned… By MAX 2007, it was clear that the Adobe acquisition was balanced to a fault: the joke by then was that Adobe “acquired” Macromedia but Macromedia took over Adobe. Former Macromedia people were enjoying great political clout, Dreamweaver had replaced GoLive, and the Flash Platform was starting to look like invincible technology. By MAX 2007 there were some very cool examples of collaboration between the amazing engineering talents of the two companies.
In my case, I was fascinated by the Dandelion project that was demonstrated in Chicago: my company eventually had the honor of inheriting this prototype application (Adobe didn’t wish to support it after it was officially abandoned), which represented a high-level combination of technologies. I had hoped for a more low-level reconciliation of the extremes, but while the acquisition was ambitious, it was extremely pragmatic. There were very early indications at MAX that Flash 10 would have much better text, but the Flash 9/InDesign integration that Dandelion represented had to hit the InDesign Server for high quality text rendition.
Adobe MAX 2007 also included the first demo of “Thermo” which later became Flash Catalyst. It looked quite stunning, a rich internet application now could be instantly created by a Photoshop designer, apparently. Ever since that first one, Catalyst demos have showed a much less rosy picture. We didn’t as of MAX 2007 have much insight into FXG or the Spark component model, which would be the underpinnings not just of Catalyst but also influential across numerous Adobe application, and would have direct relevance to the “Flash vs. HTML5″ question.
I am the gullible, naive optimist that can imagine a company like Adobe having the guts not only to spend $3.5 Billion on Macromedia, but also to think of technology first when assimilating such a company. Hadn’t Adobe supported SVG, the standard for vector graphics? At least one person did, as he wrote the spec. Yet I have gradually gained some insight over 15 years of having my hopes for standards constantly disappointed: even by 2007 I realized that if anyone at Adobe supported SVG, it wasn’t the person with the $3.5 Billion. No, that person supported the goals of the public company, like any good corporate shepherd.
Adobe could have had the guts to kill Flash right then and there. They actually could have killed it in 2002 or 2003 if they had been more ambitious and less fragmented with SVG, in my optimistic opinion. But as a public company they have to be so prudent, the SVG “silo” had to be incubated and analyzed to see what chance it had to bear fruit… and oops, it is not just a technology, it is a standard. The sensitive issue of when/if to support what form of “standard” is a balancing act for corporations, there is rarely an actual person leading these companies, capable of true support for standards: instead, committees define the proper balance between cheering on the standard (when politically convenient) and copying it into proprietary formats.
But no, in 2007 SVG was off Adobe’s radar and they were full steam ahead with Flash. Flash in Adobe’s hands made huge steps forward. They dramatically improved performance, they made stunning text improvements (“Vellum”), and Flex took shape as a serious development environment.
Adobe MAX 2008 showed the fruits of the first low-level integration work between the two companies that made a difference from the perspective of our company. We saw the Flash 10 Text Layout Engine, and thought for a moment… maybe standards just aren’t so important. For the first time, on the web, we can do things with text that should be basic to human communications. This is through proprietary technology, but it isn’t so bad…
Adobe MAX 2008 was the point at which the glimmer of Flash as a ubiquitous “platform” shone brightest. The fact that it didn’t run on mobile at all didn’t bother us then, because there were still graphs and charts implying it *would* run everywhere, naturally, of course. As of 2008 they weren’t spinning or faking these graphs and charts. It was already apparent that iPhones weren’t supporting Flash, it was becoming increasingly noticeable and some were already proclaiming it would never happen, but as of MAX 2008, many still believed that Adobe was working out the engineering and there would be an announcement any day.
Where was HTML5? The spec was moving rapidly, WebKit was advancing quickly, and Mobile Safari was starting to support SVG.
By Adobe MAX 2009, the Adobe/Macromedia rivalry was a completely internal affair… the public didn’t care/know about anything going on there, by this time it was Apple vs. Adobe, pure and simple.
Johnny and Kevin pretended all was fine in terms of Macromedia/Adobe, and that a VM approach to iOS apps would cure everything. Yet (a) Macromedia technologists had been given responsibility beyond their capability, and (b) Apple was hell bent on attacking any such VM approaches, thanks to the rare case where a human being actually ran a huge company. It appears that Steve Jobs personally made sure that Adobe would not casually virtualize iOS development.
By 2009 HTML5 was moving rapidly, there were cool demos on Apple.com, and demos based on nightly builds of WebKit were getting quite stunning.
This made for interesting shakeups prior to Adobe MAX 2010… by MAX 2010, Apple had relaxed its restrictions on virtualized iOS apps, and Adobe had gone further with Flash to HTML5 export. The 2010 keynotes had more dumb messaging and less content than any MAX I had seen, including puppets representing Flash and HTML5 learning to “live together.” In a rare moment of meaningful content, Kevin Lynch spoke of the work of Adobe to contribute to WebKit with an implementations of CSS Regions and CSS Exclusions.
Since MAX 2010 these minor efforts have born fruit… Adobe contributions are in the main WebKit and early Chromium builds, and have been implemented in IE 10 preview. Kevin Lynch recently summarized his perspective on the state of HTML5/Flash just prior to MAX 2011. Yet there are probably much deeper repercussions of the growth of HTML5 on Adobe’s technology path. Certainly the Flash “platform” is not aiming where it once aimed, and FXG is either deprecated or relegated to maintenance mode; there are still advances with Flash that keep it ahead of HTML5 in some respects, but there is also a rush to embrace HTML5 with new tools like Edge and Muse, as well as new features of Dreamweaver and other CS apps. Adobe is covering both bases, probably putting more emphasis on the HTML5 side.
Packaging Flex for Mobile devices has improved over the past year, and AIR support on the iPad 2 offers a better option than previous “build in Flash, run on iOS” attempts. Using Flash or other Adobe tools to create iOS native apps (as targeted by the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite) seem better handled and more of a priority to Adobe than reconciling Flash with HTML5. Flash Media Server can now serve up HTML5 video, Scene7 has some HTML5 features. Many small moves in the HTML5 direction, nothing fundamental.
Adobe MAX 2011
So here we are at MAX… based on what Adobe had put forth recently, as well as the sessions scheduled for MAX, my guess was that we would see a two-track approach: Flash will get better, staying ahead of HTML5 in some respects, yet there will be more HTML5 tooling, more HTML5 features, more forms of conversion. My main question was whether there would be anything fundamental and core tech that takes shape. When “Apollo” (AIR) came out, there was the big question of how to reconcile all the formats… the FXG effort was a possible move towards reconciliation. Flash Catalyst did not live up to expectations, the Flash “Platform” didn’t live up to expectations. In terms of HTML5 they have scrambled to rush out patches and prototypes that do a few things, but is there a fundamental core tech direction that has taken shape yet?
From MAX 2011 it seems my suspicions were correct that Adobe went after both the HTML5 and Flash tracks to advance a pluralistic approach, trying to catch up quickly in the HTML5 space and keep pushing Flash where it enjoys success. But my hopes of a core tech approach have not yet been fulfilled. It appears that everything is so new, and so much growth is by acquisition, that the core tech ambitions have evolved towards a more pluralistic, less integrated vision than was put forth a few years earlier as FXG seemed to bridge the creative suite apps with Flash and Flex. Or maybe I just missed some key session that was obscure… if anyone knows of such a thing, please clue me in.
The MAX conference coincided with the release of version 11 of the Flash Player and AIR 3, which push forward progress in Flash and AIR that has been moving steadily for years. The “Molehill” technology (hardware-accelerated high-performance 2D and 3D graphics), presented at the last MAX, finally came out with Flash 11 as “Stage 3D.” The Flex capability to create applications for mobile and tablet was touted, with the same vision as last year but much more tangible results. There was not a revolutionary advance on the Flash side of things, but the amazing performance of the player moved forward enough to show that Flash is likely to retain viability in the areas it still shows relevance, and can still light the way for HTML5 in being the first technology to make certain things possible on the web.
While the things that Adobe did show about Flash were cool, it was at the same time telling what they did not show… mainly, the killer demo of the past 4 MAX conferences, Thermo/Flash Catalyst, was nowhere to be found in the keynotes, though it did enjoy a session or two – it appears they may have gotten round trip to work, sort of. But the momentum of this product appears to be gone, between the more limited use cases envisioned for Flash now and the slow momentum of the technology itself. I would not be surprised to see Catalyst go away… it appears now more like a utility than an application.
What had been the promise of Flash Catalyst? That designers could create Rich Internet Applications. It now appears that Adobe doesn’t really think of Flash as the primary form of such applications… as is evidenced by comments in the latest Adobe earnings call, Adobe is aware that HTML5 is a more compelling output for an application like Flash Catalyst.
A number of already-announced initiatives for HTML5 were presented at MAX:
Muse seems to have usurped Flash Catalyst as the shiny button for magically generating code without coding. As the output format is so new, it will probably follow a path much like Flash Catalyst, enjoying a honeymoon period when nobody expects things to round trip, eventually reaching a role more as a utility than a true authoring application when the realities of real web publishing and the technical challenges of round trip become apparent.
Beyond the pre-existing HTML5 technologies, the following new initiatives announced/previewed:
I was most impressed with the HTML5 features of the next InDesign, which Kiyo showed in the Sneaks. These are discussed and shown on InDesign Secrets. This makes so much sense… designers are already in InDesign, which is an extremely well-built layout tool – there is already a very common requirement to “repurpose” print content from InDesign to web and tablet. Yet InDesign has had starts and stops in direction regarding output… SVG export came and went, HTML export has taken on several different forms, the Digital Publishing effort started as a clumsy crude hack but did at least start from an InDesign-based workflow.
The hope is that now Adobe has learned from their experiences that InDesign is not some sort of “legacy print app” ready to be put out to pasture, but a powerful design tool for multiple media. We have already been using it as such for many years, but simply by leveraging its wonderful exposure to automation, with CS5.5 and the new planned features, there look to be some directly usable multi-channel capabilities that will require far less work. It would appear that when Flash Catalyst appeared on the scene a few MAX conferences back, the InDesign multi-channel concept went on hold, and has been dusted off now that Flash and Flash Catalyst are looking far less omnipotent.