Category Archives: flash

Flash developers fret as Adobe doubles down on PhoneGap


Adobe has announced Experience Manager Apps for Marketers and Developers. This comes in two flavours: Experience Manager Apps is for marketers, and PhoneGap Enterprise is for developers. The announcements are unfortunately sketchy when it comes to details, though Andre Charland’s post has a little more:

  • Better collaboration – With our new PhoneGap Enterprise app, developer team members and business colleagues can view the latest version of apps in production, development and staging

  • App editing capabilities – Non-developer colleagues can edit and improve the app experience using a simple drag-and-drop interface from the new Adobe Experience Manager apps; this way developers can focus on building new features, not on making updates.

  • Analytics & optimization – Teams can immediately start measuring app performance with Adobe Analytics; we’re also planning to incorporate functionality so teams can start A/B testing their way to higher app engagement and monetization using Adobe Target.

  • Push notifications – Engage your customers on-the-go with push notifications from Adobe Campaign

  • Support and training – PhoneGap Enterprise comes with SLA and support so customers can be rest assured that Adobe PhoneGap has their back.

Head over to the PhoneGap Enterprise site and you get nothing more than a “Get in touch” button.


Announcement-ware then. Still, enough to rile Flash and AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) developers who feel that Adobe is abandoning a better technology for app development. Despite the absence of the Flash runtime on Apple iOS, you can still build mobile apps by compiling the code with a native wrapper.

Adobe… this whole thread should make you realize what an awesome platform and die hard fans you have in AIR. Even after all that crap you pulled with screwing over Flex developers, mitigating Flash to just games, retreating it from the web, killing AS4 and god knows what else you’ve done to try to kill the community’s spirit. WE STILL WANT AIR!

says one frustrated developer.

Gary Paluk has also posted on the subject:

I have invested 13 years of my own development career in Adobe products and evangelized the technology over that time. Your users can see that there is a perfectly good technology that does more than the new HTML5 offerings and they are evidently frustrated that you are not supporting developers that do not understand why they are being forced to retrain to use inferior technologies.

Has Adobe in fact abandoned Flash and AIR? Not quite; but as this detailed roadmap shows, plans for a next-generation Flash player have been abandoned and Adobe is now focused on “web-based virtual machines,” meaning I guess JavaScript and other browser technologies:

Adobe will focus its future Flash Player development on top of the existing Flash Player architecture and virtual machine, and not on a completely new virtual machine and architecture (Flash Player "Next") as was previously planned. At the same time, Adobe plans to continue its next-generation virtual machine and language work as part of the larger web community doing such work on web-based virtual machines.

From my perspective, Adobe seemed to mostly lose interest in the developer community after its November 2011 shift to digital marketing, other than in an “apps for marketing” context. Its design tools on the other hand go from strength to strength, and the transition to subscription in the form of Creative Cloud has been brilliantly executed.

Adobe results: 200,000 Creative Cloud subscribers and an impressive transition

Adobe has released its quarterly figures for its third financial quarter 2012. The figures show the success of Creative Cloud, Adobe’s subscription-based model for purchasing the Creative Suite applications, including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat and Flash. Total revenue is fractionally up on the same period in 2011, from $1013.2M to $1080.6M.

Adobe reports over 200,000 paid subscribers and 8,000 new subscriptions per week, compared to its projections of only 5,000 per week.

The Creative Cloud model has several advantages for Adobe. First, it gives assurance of a steady continuing income rather than the pain of driving a 2 year upgrade cycle. Second, it forms a platform from which to sell other products and services.

Adobe also says that its publishing platform, the Digital Publishing Suite, now has 1,100 customers distributing on average 125,000 publications daily, mainly to the iPad, with over 40 million delivered to date. This is good business for Adobe since it generally charges a fee per download.

The slight downside for Adobe is that the launch of Creative Suite 6 delivered lower initial revenue than is usual for a new launch, because customers are transitioning to the subscription model. That is not really a downside, but rather a sign that the strategy is working.

What impresses me about Adobe is how well the company has survived the decline of Flash and the relative failure of its efforts in enterprise applications (the digital enterprise segment is now subsumed in the figures into “Digital Marketing”). The segment breakdown for the third quarter looks like this:


  • Digital Media (Creative Cloud) 769.1 (71%)
  • Digital Marketing (analytics etc) 257.1 (24%)
  • Print and Publishing 54.4 (5%)

Think back a couple of years. Adobe was dependent on sales of shrink-wrap software and had a range of products which pivoted around Flash as the universal runtime and rendering engine. Now it has some claim to being a cloud company – though of course the primary benefit of Creative Cloud is in desktop software applications that you download – and in place of Flash it it betting on HTML5, together with its ability to compile Flash-based content into native applications.

The transition is not so easy for developers who invested in the Flash platform, coding applications in Flex and ActionScript. Adobe has stopped developing Flash for mobile, even on Android and other mobile platforms where it is not blocked. Still, if that has pushed developers into targeting HTML5 earlier than they would otherwise have considered, it may not be a bad thing.

Adobe Flash in Windows 8 Metro, but not technically a plug-in

Today’s Windows 8 rumour is that Adobe Flash will be baked into Internet Explorer 10 in Windows 8, not only in the desktop edition but also in Metro.

Until this is confirmed by Microsoft, it is only a rumour. However, it seems likely to me. The way this rumour mill works is:

  • Some journalists and book authors working closely with Microsoft already have information on Windows 8 that is under non-disclosure.
  • Some enthusiast sites obtain leaked builds of Windows 8 and poke around in them. Unlike new Mac OS X releases, Windows builds are near-impossible to keep secure because Microsoft needs to share them with hardware partners, and mysteriously copies turn up on on the Internet.
  • When an interesting fact is leaked, this allows those journalists and book authors who already have the information to write about it, since most non-disclosure agreements allow reporting on what is already known from other sources.

That is my understanding, anyway. So when you read on that Flash is in IE10 you may be sceptical; but when Paul Thurrott and Rafael Rivera report the same story in more detail, you can probably believe it.

Back to the main story: presuming this is accurate, Microsoft has received Flash source code from Adobe and integrated it into IE10, in a similar manner to what Google has done with Flash in Chrome. This means that Flash in IE10 is not quite a plug-in. However, on the Metro side the inclusion of Flash is apparently a compatibility feature:

So, Microsoft has extended the Internet Explorer Compatibility View list to include rules for popular Flash-based web sites that are known to meet certain criteria. That is, Flash is supported for only those popular but legacy web sites that need it. This feature is not broadly available for all sites.

say Thurrott and Rivera, though I presume this only applies to the Metro IE10 rather than the desktop version.

Does this make sense? Not altogether. Oddly, while I have heard plenty of criticism of Windows 8 Consumer Preview, I have not heard many objections to the lack of Flash in Metro IE. Since Apple does not support Flash on iOS, many sites already provide Flash-free content for tablet users. Further, on the x86 version of Windows 8 there is an easy route to Flash compatibility: just open the site in the desktop browser.

That said, there is still plenty of Flash content out there and being able to view it in Windows 8 is welcome, especially if you can make your own edits to the compatibility list to get Flash content on less well-known sites. My guess is that Microsoft wants to support Flash for the same reason Android devices embraced it: a tick-box feature versus Apple iOS.

One further thought: this is a sad moment for Silverlight, if Microsoft is supporting Flash but not Silverlight on the Metro side of Windows 8.

Adobe’s Flex roadmap: another go at positioning Flex and Flash versus HTML5

Adobe has published a Flex Roadmap which I guess is one of those “Let’s end the speculation” pieces which nevertheless still leaves you with questions.

Flex is the XML-based language for coding applications for the Flash player or runtime. Doubts about Adobe’s long-term strategy for Flex appeared last November when Adobe announced a shift in its business strategy towards digital media and marketing as opposed to enterprise solutions. In addition, Adobe stated that:

In the long-term, we believe HTML5 will be the best technology for enterprise application development. We also know that, currently, Flex has clear benefits for large-scale client projects typically associated with desktop application profiles

I imagine that this has made it difficult for Adobe’s partners to market Flex-based solutions, a problem that this new roadmap tries to address. It begins in forthright style, almost contradicting the earlier statement:

Adobe believes that Flex is the best solution for enterprise and data-centric application development today, and that moving Flex into a community-driven open source project ensures the continued development and success of Flex for years to come.

The paper goes on to iterate the benefits of Flex development, including what is perhaps the most important:

Flex offers complete feature-level consistency across multiple platforms, browsers, and devices

Before you say it, this can include Apple iOS thanks to the packager for iOS which wraps the Flash runtime with your app as a single native app. Mobile support for AIR (but not the Flash player) will continue on “current and future devices and OS updates including iOS 5, iPhone 5, iPad 3, and Android 4.” AIR is the runtime packager which lets you run Flash applications as if they were native apps. As for BlackBerry, Adobe says that RIM plans to continue supporting it, making it sound as if Adobe is not taking responsibility for it.

It gets worse though. What are the implications of Adobe handing over Flex to the Apache Foundation? Fewer Adobe engineers is one:

While under this new model Adobe will provide fewer engineering resources than in the past, we are working with the Flex developer community to increase the total number of active contributors and resources

That said, there will be a team of full-time Flex SDK engineers from Adobe working on the Apache Flex project. Adobe will also contribute BlazeDS (fast messaging and server-side remoting between Flex clients and Java application servers), as well as the forthcoming Falcon 1 compiler and the experimental Falcon JS which compiles ActionScript to JavaScript. Adobe will not contribute LiveCycle Data Services or LiveCycle Collaboration Services, nor will AIR for Linux be revived.

The further down the document you get, the more complications appear. Adobe promises continued support for the current Flex 4.6 SDK in future Flash players for five years, but support for Apache Flex SDKs is not Adobe’s responsibility:

While Adobe will ensure that the Adobe Flex SDK 4.6 and prior will be supported in future versions of Flash Player and AIR, it will be the responsibility of the Apache Flex Project to test future versions of the Apache Flex SDK against released Adobe runtimes to ensure compatibility and proper functioning.

Another little downer is that since Adobe cannot sign Apache-created Flex shared libraries, they will not be cached globally by the Flash player, but only per domain.

Adobe also notes that:

Flash Platform technology will continue to evolve with a focus on gaming and premium video.

which maybe is not what a Flex developer wants to read.

Then there is the tooling, and the paper confirms that Flash Catalyst is discontinued, and that Design View and Data Centric Development tools will be removed from Flash Builder, even including updated 4.x versions. Adobe says this is “In order to better support future Apache-derived Flex SDKs.”

One last point of interest: regarding Flash Player and AIR for Windows 8, Adobe says:

For information on support in future operating systems, please refer to the Flash Player Roadmap White Paper, which will be published shortly.

I guess what we are waiting to hear is whether and when Adobe might support the new Windows Runtime with AIR and the Flash Captive Runtime, since the Flash plug-in will not work on the Metro browser in Windows 8.

So what is Adobe really saying, and what is the future for Flex development? It is all very well saying now, three months after signalling a shift to HTML5, that Flex is still a great platform, but the tangible facts are these. First, Adobe is investing less than before in Flex. Second, Flex will be with Apache and it is up to that nebulous thing the community to determine what happens to it.

The problem is that the future of Flex is wedded to the future of Flash, and the general belief is that Flash is gradually giving way to HTML5, and AIR giving way either to native code or to HTML and JavaScript packaged as an app via PhoneGap or similar.

Kudos to Adobe for spelling out more clearly what is happening to Flex and AIR; but my sense is that the platform will still decline. awards 2011: ten key happenings, from Nokia’s burning platform to HP’s nightmare year

2011 felt like a pivotal year in technology. What was pivoting? Well, users are pivoting away from networks and PCs and towards cloud and devices. The obvious loser is Microsoft, which owns PCs and networks but is a distant follower in devices and has mixed prospects in the cloud. Winners include Apple, Google, Amazon, and Android vendors. These trends have been obvious for some time, but in 2011 we saw dramatic evidence of their outcome. As 2011 draws to a close, here is my take on ten happenings, presented as the first ever annual awards.

1. Most dramatic moment award: Nokia’s burning platform and alliance with Microsoft

In February Nokia’s Stephen Elop announced an alliance with Microsoft and commitment to Windows Phone 7. In October we saw the first results in terms of product: the launch of the Lumia smartphone. It is a lovely phone though with some launch imperfections like too short battery life. We also saw greatly improved marketing, following the dismal original Windows Phone 7 launch a year earlier. Enough? Early indications are not too good. Simply put, most users want iOS or Android, and the app ecosystem, which Elop stated as a primary reason for adoption Windows Phone, is not there yet. Both companies will need to make some smart moves in 2012 to fix these issues, if it is possible. But how much time does Nokia have?

2. Riskiest technology bet: Microsoft unveils Windows 8

In September 2011 Microsoft showed a preview of Windows 8 to developers at its BUILD conference in California. It represents a change of direction for the company, driven by competition from Apple and Android. On the plus side, the new runtime in Windows 8 is superb and this may prove to be the best mobile platform from a developer and technical perspective, though whether it can succeed in the market as a late entrant alongside iOS and Android is an open question. On the minus side, Windows 8 will not drive upgrades in the same way as Windows 7, since the company has chosen to invest mainly in creating a new platform. I expect much debate about the wisdom of this in 2012.

Incidentally, amidst all the debate about Windows 8 and Microsoft generally, it is worth noting that the other Windows 8, the server product, looks like being Microsoft’s best release for years.

3. Best cloud launch: Office 365

June 2011 saw the launch of Office 365, Microsoft’s hosted collaboration platform based on Exchange and SharePoint. It was not altogether new, since it is essentially an upgrade of the older BPOS suite. Microsoft is more obviously committed to this approach now though, and has built a product that has both the features and the price to appeal to a wide range of businesses, who want to move to the cloud but prefer the familiarity of Office and Exchange to the browser-based world of Google Apps. Bad news though for Microsoft partners who make lots of money nursing Small Business Server and the like.

4. Most interesting new cross-platform tool: Embarcadero Delphi for Windows, Mac and iOS

Developers, at least those who have still heard of Embarcadero’s rapid application development tool, were amazed by the new Delphi XE2 which lets you develop for Mac and Apple iOS as well as for Windows. This good news was tempered by the discovery that the tool was seemingly patched together in a bit of a hurry, and that most existing application would need extensive rewriting. Nevertheless, an interesting new entrant in the world of cross-platform mobile tools.

5. Biggest tech surprise: Adobe shifts away from its Flash Platform


This one caught me by surprise. In November Adobe announced a shift in its business model away from Flash and away from enterprise development, in favour of HTML5, digital media and digital marketing. It also stated that Flash for mobile would no longer be developed once existing commitments were completed. The shift is not driven by poor financial results, but rather reflects the company’s belief that this will prove a better direction in the new world of cloud and device. Too soon and too sudden? Maybe 2012 will show the impact.

6. Intriguing new battle award: NVIDIA versus Intel as GPU computing catches on

In 2011 NVIDIA announced a number of wins in the supercomputing world as many of these huge machines adopted GPU Computing, and I picked up something of a war of words with Intel over the merits of what NVIDIA calls heterogeneous computing. Intel is right to be worried, in that NVIDIA is seeing a future based on its GPUs combined with ARM CPUs. NVIDIA should worry too though, not only as Intel readies its “Knight’s Corner” MIC (Many Integrated Core) chips, but also as ARM advances its own Mali GPU; there is also strong competition in mobile GPUs from Imagination, used by Apple and others. The GPU wars will be interesting to watch in 2012.

7. Things that got worse award: Spotify. Runners up: Twitter, Google search

Sometimes internet services come along that are so good within their niche that they can only get worse. Spotify is an example, a music player that for a while let you play almost anything almost instantly with its simple, intuitive player. It is still pretty good, but Spotify got worse in 2011, with limited plays on free account, more intrusive ads, and sign-up now requires a Facebook login. Twitter is another example, with URLS now transformed to shortcuts whether you like it not and annoying promoted posts and recommended follows. Both services are desperately trying to build a viable business model on their popularity, so I have some sympathy. I have less sympathy for Google. I am not sure when it started making all its search results into Google links that record your click before redirecting you, but it is both annoying and slow, and I am having another go with Bing as a result.

8. Biggest threat to innovation: Crazy litigation from Lodsys, Microsoft, Apple

There has always been plenty of litigation in the IT world. Apple vs Microsoft regarding graphical user interfaces 1994; Sun vs Microsoft regarding Java in 1997; SCO vs IBM regarding UNIX in 2003; and countless others. However many of us thought that the biggest companies exercised restraint on the grounds that all have significant patent banks and trench warfare over patent breaches helps nobody but lawyers. But what if patent litigation is your business model? The name Lodsys sends a chill though any developer’s spine, since if you have an app that supports in-app purchases you may receive a letter from them, and your best option may be to settle though others disagree. Along with Lodsys and the like, 2011 also brought Microsoft vs several OEMs over Android, Apple vs Samsung over Android, and much more.

9. Most horrible year award: HP

If any company had an Annus Horribilis it was HP. It invested big in WebOS, acquired with Palm; launched the TouchPad in July 2011; announced in August that it was ceasing WebOS development and considering selling off its Personal Systems Group; and fired its CEO Leo Apotheker in September 2011.

10. Product that deserves better award: Microsoft LightSwitch

On reflection maybe this award should go to Silverlight; but it is all part of the same story. Visual Studio LightSwitch, released in July 2011, is a model-driven development tool that generates Silverlight applications. It is nearly brilliant, and does a great job of making it relatively easy to construct business database applications, locally or on Windows Azure, complete with cross-platform Mac and Windows clients, and without having to write much code. Several things are unfortunate though. First, usual version 1.0 problems like poor documentation and odd limitations. Second, it is Silverlight, when Microsoft has made it clear that its future focus is HTML 5. Third, it is Windows and (with limitations) Mac, at a time when something which addresses the growing interest in mobile devices would be a great deal more interesting. Typical Microsoft own-goal: Windows Phone 7 runs Silverlight, LightSwitch generates Silverlight, but no, your app will not run on Windows Phone 7.  Last year I observed that Microsoft’s track-record on modelling in Visual Studio is to embrace in one release and extinguish in the next. History repeats?

Adobe discontinues Flash Catalyst, clarifies Flex and Flash Builder futures

Adobe has told a group of Flex developers, invited to San Francisco for a special reconciliatory summit following the sudden announcement that Flex is moving to the Apache Foundation, that Flash Catalyst will be discontinued. Developer Fabien Nicollet was there and posts:

CS5.5 version of Catalyst is the latest version of Flash Catalyst. It is compatible with Flex 4.5, but compatibility will not be ensured for future versions.

Flash Builder will also have features removed in future versions. Adobe’s slide talks of:

Removing unpopular and expensive to maintain features: Design View, Data Centric Development (DCD) and Flash Catalyst workflows.

The Monocle profiler, shown at the MAX conference as a sneak peek, “continues as a priority”.

The FalconJS project, to compile Flex to HTML5, will be discontinued, though possibly donated to Apache at a date to be determined.

AIR on Linux will not be given to Apache because it would mean sharing the proprietary Flash Player code. This is bad news in the Apache context.

Nicollet concludes:

Flex still has a bright future for companies who want to build fast and robust applications . Not to mention the people who will have a hard time building complex applications on HTML5, for whom Flex will always be a viable and mature alternative.

That is the optimistic view. What is clear from the summit is that Adobe is greatly reducing its investment. I guess we knew this already; but hearing about how Flash Builder will be cut-down, Catalyst discontinued, and so on, will not improve developer confidence.

A lot depends on the progress of the Apache project. My concern here is that since the Flash player, which is the Flex runtime, remains proprietary, this will dampen enthusiasm in the open source community and limit its ability to innovate around Flex.

Silverlight 5 is done. Is Silverlight also done?

Microsoft has has announced the release of Silverlight 5.0.


Silverlight is a cross-platform, cross-browser plug-in for Windows and Mac. It is relatively small size – less than 7MB according to Microsoft, though the Mac version seems to be bigger, with a 14MB compressed setup .dmg and apparently over 100MB once installed:


Never mind, it is a fine piece of work and has considerable capabilities, including the .NET Framework, the ability to render a GUI defined in XAML, multimedia playback, and support for applications running inside the browser or on the desktop. New in version 5 is better H.264 performance, 3D graphics, and Platform Invoke support on Windows enabling trusted applications to call the native API. Another change is that in-browser applications can also run with full trust, again only on Windows. The cross-platform idea has become increasingly diluted.

If Microsoft had come up with Silverlight early in the .NET story it might have become a major application platform. As it is, while still useful in some contexts, the technology has been side-lined by new things including HTML 5 and the Windows Runtime in the forthcoming Windows 8.

While I have huge respect for the team which created Silverlight and rapidly improved it, it now looks a sad story of reactive technology that failed to capture sufficient developer support. Microsoft invented Silverlight when Adobe Flash looked like it might take over as a universal runtime for web applications. The outcome was that Adobe evolved Flash with renewed vigour, keeping Silverlight at bay. Then Apple invented a new platform called iOS that supported neither Flash nor Silverlight, and the whole plug-in strategy began to look less compelling. Adobe has now reduced its focus on Flash, while Microsoft has been signalling a reduced role for Silverlight since its Professional Developers Conference in October 2010.

The question now is whether there will ever be a Silverlight 6.

Microsoft itself uses Silverlight across a number of products, such as administrative consoles for various server applications. Silverlight will be around for a while yet. Of course it is also the runtime for Windows Phone 7. Visual Studio LightSwitch generates Silverlight applications, and this one I am rather sad about, because it is an interesting tool that now seems to target the wrong platform. Perhaps the team will create an HTML 5 version one day.

What next for Adobe Flash? Think runtime not plugin

Adobe is stating that mobile Flash will no longer be developed:

Our future work with Flash on mobile devices will be focused on enabling Flash developers to package native apps with Adobe AIR for all the major app stores. We will no longer continue to develop Flash Player in the browser to work with new mobile device configurations (chipset, browser, OS version, etc.) following the upcoming release of Flash Player 11.1 for Android and BlackBerry PlayBook. We will of course continue to provide critical bug fixes and security updates for existing device configurations. We will also allow our source code licensees to continue working on and release their own implementations.

Although this seems like a major shift in strategy, Adobe has been moving in this direction for some time. At the MAX conference last month the company was clear that most web developers can be expected to use HTML 5 rather than Flash most of the time, reserving use of the plug-in for video, games and certain kinds of application. As for mobile, all the talk was about AIR and the captive runtime, an approach similar to the iOS packager which bundles the Flash runtime into your application so that no plug-in or additional download is required.

This approach is now explicit, and I reckon we can further conclude that if the Flash plugin for mobile is being abandoned, then the Flash plugin for the desktop is also less important than before. Mobile browsing is huge, and likely to grow, so developing web pages for Flash is unattractive other than in cases where there is an easy way to direct mobile browsers to a non-Flash alternative. Flash as a browser plugin will now decline forever, which is a good thing for web standards even if it is not necessarily a good thing for web developers, who must face the challenge of cross-browser development.

So what is Flash now? It is still Adobe’s runtime, and the client for its media services, and in that role it remains significant. Thanks to Adobe’s packaging work, you can take your Flash or Flex application and deploy it to most desktop and recent mobile platforms, though not to Windows Phone or older Android devices. Could you not use HTML 5, JavaScript and PhoneGap instead? Maybe in some cases; but Flash is a richer, faster and more consistent platform, as well as benefiting from Adobe’s design and development tools.

See also my piece for the Register: Down but not out: Flash in an HTML5 world.

Update: Added official Adobe link for statement on mobile Flash.

Adobe MAX 2011 and the future of Flash

The unstated theme of Adobe MAX 2011 last week was this: what is the future of Flash? The issue being that with HTML 5 ascendant and Apple wrecking the idea of Flash as an ubiquitous web plug-in, should Adobe be frantically retooling its design tools for HTML and apps, or does Flash still have a future?


The answer is a little of both; but let’s be clear: there was more Flash than HTML at MAX. What was the most eye-catching demo? It was Flash running Unreal Tournament with the claim of better graphical performance than on Microsoft Xbox 360 or Sony Playstation 3.

It is also worth noting that the touch apps demonstrated at the day one keynote were created in Flash and compiled into apps using the new Captive Runtime feature in AIR 3.

At the same time there was a substantial amount of HTML effort on show. There was the announced acquisition of Nitobi, makers of PhoneGap – though note that PhoneGap itself is heading to the Apache Foundation – and demos of the Edge motion and interaction tool for HTML5. Adobe also told us about its work on CSS Regions and CSS  Shaders. I also saw how HTML export, including partial ActionScript to JavaScript conversion, is coming in a future version of Flash Professional.

My perception is that while Adobe is serious about stepping up a gear with its HTML tools, its heart is still with Flash. That said, there is a shift of emphasis away from Flash as a web plug-in, other than when it is the “Games console of the Web”, and towards Flash and Flex as a cross-platform development platform. Adobe is using Flash and AIR for its own Touch apps, previewed at MAX.

Let me add that the new features in AIR are huge, in particular the ability to package the Flash runtime as part of your app, called Captive Runtime, and the ability to extend your AIR app with native code. Cross-platform mobile tools are a particular interest of mine, and Adobe’s offering is strong in this field, though it will never be the most efficient. Adobe is also pressing ahead with something like web workers for ActionScript, providing a form of concurrency, though this is not in AIR 3 but planned for a future release. Another big new feature in the Flash runtime is Stage 3D, accelerated 3D graphics which enabled the Unreal demo mentioned above.

Nitobi’s Andre Charland was at MAX and I could not shake off the thought that he will find joining the Flash company difficult.


It will be near-impossible for Adobe to be equally enthusiastic about both PhoneGap and AIR, and given that Flash and AIR are so deeply woven into the company’s products I suggest that PhoneGap is more likely to be neglected.

Take a look at Adobe’s agenda for the Back from MAX event in London next month. It is 100% Flash and Flex.

What about the MAX attendees? I have contradictory evidence here. I noticed that a session on Building mobile apps with HTML, CSS and JavaScript (ie PhoneGap) was packed out, while the session running at the same time on What’s new in AIR – and what’s next was sparsely attended. This session was repeated, which means Adobe thought it would be a popular one. I was also surprised by how few went along to hear about Flash Professional Sneak Peek: a glimpse at the future which was a fascinating session if you are interested in the future of this tool. Adobe must have been surprised too, as it was in a large room.


That said, a session on native extensions for AIR was moved from one of the smallest rooms to one of the biggest and was still full. There was also great interest in concurrency in the Flash runtime. Many of the attendees I spoke to saw themselves as Flash and Flex developers and there was more talk about how to fight off the perception that the tech world is moving to HTML, than of how to encourage it.

Getting rid of Flash may seem like obvious progress to someone annoyed by the Adobe updater, or who is an Apple iOS enthusiast, or who does not like the idea of proprietary plugins. It does not feel like that though if you have a browser-hosted app to maintain and enjoy targeting a single runtime rather than testing in every browser, as well as using features of Flash that are hard to replicate in HTML.

Adobe’s design and development platform is still Flash-centric, which is either good or bad news depending on your perspective.

See also Down but not out: Flash in an HTML5 world.

Sneak Peeks at Adobe MAX 2011 … and that annoying updater

The Sneaks session at Adobe MAX is always fun as well as giving some insight into what is coming from the company, though note that these are research projects and there is no guarantee that any will make it into products.

This time we also got commentary from Rainn Wilson, an actor in the US version of The Office. His best moment came during the MAX Awards just before the sneaks, when he put a little ad lib into one of the award intros:

Customers demand … that the little Adobe Acrobat update pop-up window just go away for a while, go the way of the Microsoft paper clip Clippy, the customer is demanding right now. I’m tired of clicking No No No No No.

I only read a PDF occasionally, he said.

We all know the reasons for that updater (and the one for Flash), but he is right: it is a frequent annoyance. What is the fix? There would be some improvement if Adobe were to make a deal with Microsoft and Apple to include Flash and Adobe Reader servicing in system update mechanisms like Windows Update, but beyond that it takes a different model of computing, where the operating system is better protected. It is another reason why users like Apple iOS and why Microsoft is building a locked-down Windows client for ARM.

Now, on to the sneaks.

1. Local Layer Ordering


We are used to the idea of layer ordering, but what about a tool that lets you interleave layers, with a pointer to put this part on top, this part underneath? You can do this with pieces of paper, but less easily with graphics software, at least until Local Layer Ordering makes it into an Adobe product.

2. Project rub-a-dub


The use case: you have a video with some speech, but want to re-record the speech to fix some problem. In this case it is hard to do it perfectly so that the lip synch is right. Project rub-a-dub automatically modifies the newly recorded speech to align it correctly.

3. Liquid Layout


This one is for the InDesign publishing software: it is about intelligent layout modification to deliver the same content on different screen sizes and orientation. I was reminded of the way Times Reader works, creating different numbers of columns on the fly, but this is InDesign.

4. Synchronizing crowd-sourced multi-camera video


This one struck me as a kind of video version of PhotoSynth, where multiple views of the same image are combined to make a composite. This is for video and is a bit different, in that it does not attempt to make a single video image, but does play synchronize multiple videos with a merged soundtrack. We saw a concert example, but it could be fascinating if applied to a moment of revolution, say, if many individuals capture the event on their mobiles.

5. Smart debugging – how did my code get here?


This is a debugging tool based on a recorded trace, letting you step backwards as well as forwards through code. We have seen similar tools before, such as in Visual Studio 2010. Another facet of this one though is an English-like analysis of “how did my code get here”, which you can see if you squint at my blurry snap above.

6. Near-field communications for AIR


This demo showed near-field communications for Adobe AIR for mobile. We are most familiar with this for applications like payments, where you wave your mobile at a sensor, but it has plenty of potential for other scenarios, such as looking up product details without having to scan a barcode.

7. Pixel Nuggets: find commonality in your digital photos

The idea of this one is to identify “like” images by searching and analysing a collection. For example, you could perhaps point it at a folder with thousands of images and find all the ones which show flowers.

8. Monocle: telemetry data for Flex applications


In this demo, Deepa Subramaniam showed what I guess is a kind of profiler, showing a visualization of where your code is spending its time.

9. Video Mesh – amazing video editing


My snap does not capture this well, but it was amazing to watch. As I understand it, this is software than analyses a video to get intelligent understanding of its objects and perspective. In the example, we saw how a person walking across the front of the screen image could be made to walk more towards the rear, or behind a pillar, with correct size and perspective.

10. GPU Parallelism in Flash


This demo used a native extension to perform intensive calculations using GPU parallelism. We saw how an explosion of particles was rendered much more quickly, which of course I cannot capture in a static image, so I am showing Adam Welc’s lighthearted intro slide instead. I am a fan of general purpose computing on the GPU and would love to see this in Flash.

11. Re-focus an image


This is a feature that I’d guess will almost certainly show up in Photoshop or perhaps in a future tablet app: take an out of focus image and make it an in-focus image. The demo we saw was an image suffering from camera shake. The analysis worked out the movement path of the camera, which you can see in the small wiggly line in the right panel above, and used it to move parts of the image back so they are properly superimposed. I would guess this really only works for images out of focus because of camera shake; it will not fix incorrect lens settings. I have also seen a similar feature built into the firmware of a camera, though I am sure Photoshop can do a much better job if only because of the greater processing power available.

This was a big hit with the MAX crowd though. Perhaps most of us were thinking of photos we have taken that could do with this kind of processing.