Tag Archives: adobe

Adobe will charge a royalty for use of “Premium features” in Flash Player

Adobe has announced that from August 1 2012, developers who make use of hardware-accelerated Stage3D in Flash Player, in combination with Domain Memory, will pay a 9% net revenue share as royalty. Net revenue is what remains after taxes, payment processing fees and “social network platform fees” (sounds like Facebook) are deducted.

“Domain Memory” is a block of memory declared as a byte array that is used as memory by the Alchemy C/C++ to ActionScript compiler. Allocating some bytes from this byte array is much faster than asking the Flash Player to grab some real memory from the system for your new object or variable, and manipulating memory via this technique is quicker too. In other words, it is a hack to improve performance.

Adobe is aiming the new licensing arrangement at games developers. Most developers will not be affected because of the following:

  • A license is only needed if both Stage3D hardware acceleration and Domain Memory are used. Use just one of these and you are fine.
  • If the game or app is packaged using Adobe AIR for iOS, Android, Windows or Mac (in other words, anywhere) then no license is needed.
  • Applications that make less than $50,000 in revenues (not clear whether this is net or gross) will be royalty-free
  • Applications released before July 31 2012 will remain royalty-free

There may be a program fee however, which I imagine will apply whether or not you pay royalties.

Although the new royalty is not all that onerous, it is significant as a change of direction. Until now, the deal with all these runtimes – Flash Player, Silverlight, Java – is that you might pay for the tools, but the runtime is free.

If you are considering Flash versus other runtimes for your new project, Adobe has now informed you that future free use of the runtime is not a foregone conclusion. Who knows what Adobe will define as “premium features” that might require royalties in future?

According to the FAQ, further premium features are indeed planned:

We are already planning premium features that enable "instant play" gaming experiences for content that relies on large assets which will be able to cache data using a local storage API. For content publishers looking for better branding and user acquisition, another planned new feature would allow apps to request if the user would like to create a shortcut on the desktop, task bar or start menu pointing to the application.

Overall it seems a curious move, at a time when Adobe seems to be moving away from Flash and towards HTML5 as its long-term strategy. The company may profit a little from a few high-profile games, but the dampening effect on Flash usage in the long term will offset any advantage.

No developer likes to pay runtime royalties and I would guess that Adobe’s move will spark an immediate search for alternatives.

Update: there is a great discussion of the issue with participation from Adobe’s Thibault Imbert here. Why the change in direction, when Adobe has previously made money from its tools:

at some point you are capped. Ask any tooling company today, hence why you see companies going to consumers, services, because games could generate millions of revenue with maybe 200 copies of Flash Builder and Flash Pro sold. Is it a good business? Not really.

says Imbert. Another issue is that third-party tools for Flash have been taking market share away from Adobe, which must hurt:

The model where Adobe invests all of the resources in developing the Flash Player, and then projects such as Haxe and Unity pull developers away from Adobe tooling is one that was not sustainable under the old model. Under the new model, it doesnt matter which tools and technologies you are using to develop Flash content, since revenue is generated based on the runtime and not tooling.

says Adobe’s Mike Chambers.

PhoneGap is Adobe, Cordova is Apache

The hot cross-platform mobile toolkit PhoneGap was created by Nitobi, a company acquired by Adobe last year. Almost at the same time, the project was submitted to Apache as an open source project. However, the Apache project is not called PhoneGap; it was briefly known as Callback and is now called Cordova (the name of the street in Vancouver where Nitobi was based).

A new official log post explains why PhoneGap was renamed at Apache, but also makes the point that the PhoneGap brand will continue.

PhoneGap is a distribution of Apache Cordova. You can think of Apache Cordova as the engine that powers PhoneGap, similar to how WebKit is the engine that powers Chrome or Safari. (Browser geeks, please allow me the affordance of this analogy and I’ll buy you a beer later.)

Over time, the PhoneGap distribution may contain additional tools that tie into other Adobe services, which would not be appropriate for an Apache project. For example, PhoneGap Build and Adobe Shadow together make a whole lot of strategic sense. PhoneGap will always remain free, open source software and will always be a free distribution of Apache Cordova.

Read it carefully, because it is still potentially confusing. Note that PhoneGap “will always remain free, open source software” though it may gain hooks into commercial Adobe tools. At least, that is how I read it.

I would also expect that Adobe will come up with design and development tools for which PhoneGap (or Cordova) is invisible to the user. You will just be able to build for multiple platforms.

The post adds:

Currently, the only difference is in the name of the download package and will remain so for some time.

I will add that there is great brand-awareness of PhoneGap and what it is, and little for Cordova, so if you want to be understood talk about PhoneGap.

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.

On BlackBerry 10, Cascades UI and Adobe AIR

I spoke to Jeff Lejeune, RIM’s Advanced User Interface Director, here at BlackBerry DevCon Europe in Amsterdam.

He is part of the team responsible for the Cascades UI, a native code UI framework for the forthcoming BlackBerry 10 OS. One of the things he told me is that the Cascades name is actually being used for parts of the API beyond the user interface. It is a major part of the new operating system.

I had not appreciated until today the extent of the likely difference between BlackBerry 10 and the current Tablet OS 1.0 or Playbook OS 2.0. Since the PlayBook OS is already based on QNX, I had assumed that BlackBerry 10 would be an incremental update rather than a radical new direction.

Certainly there is less difference between PlayBook OS 2.0 and BlackBerry 10 then there is between BlackBerry 7.0 and the PlayBook OS, so my assumption was not completely wrong. That said, the introduction of the Cascades UI acquired with The Astonishing Tribe is a major change. Lejune told me that Cascades UI will be in effect the native UI of BlackBerry 10, and the built-in apps will use it.

The first version of the PlayBook uses both native code and Adobe AIR for its built-in apps.

RIM has given full backing to Adobe AIR at this event, presenting it as one of the supported development platforms and saying that it will support AIR for as long as Adobe does and maybe even longer. Even so, it would be fair to say that RIM is moving away from AIR and towards native code and Cascades UI in BlackBerry 10.

Further, Adobe itself has changed direction since the launch of the PlayBook last year. Adobe has made it clear that while Flash, Flex and AIR are still important, its strategic direction is HTML 5 when it comes to development platforms. Some aspects of Flex, the code-based approach to AIR authoring, are being wound down, including the visual designer in Flash Builder.

My sense therefore is that AIR is not the best choice if you are considering how to develop for BlackBerry 10 – and BlackBerry 10 is the future of RIM’s platform. The primary choice should be between Cascades UI, for best performance and integration, or WebWorks (PhoneGap), for development in HTML and JavaScript and cross-platform code.

How to brew better software: The Monki Gras in London

I attended The Monki Gras in London yesterday, a distinctive developer event arranged by the analyst firm RedMonk.

This was not only a developer event, with the likes of Andre Charland and Dave Johnson from the PhoneGap team at Adobe, Mike Milinkovich the executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, and Jason Hoffman with Bryan Cantrill from cloud services (and Node.js sponsors) Joyent. It was also a serious beer event, complete with a range of craft beers, a beer tasting competition with nine brews to try, and a talk plus a free book from  beer expert Melissa Cole. An unusual blend of flavours.

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In charge of the proceedings was RedMonk co-founder and all round impressario James Governor. I am a big fan of RedMonk and its developer-focused approach; it has been a fresh and heady brew in the dry world of IT analysts.

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The Monki Gras did seem like an attempt by a regular IT conference sufferer to fix problems often encountered. The Wi-Fi worked, the food was fresh, unusual and delicious, the coffee was superb; though brewing good coffee takes time so the queues were long. Not everything scales. Fortunately this was a small event, and a rare treat for the couple of hundred or so who attended.

That said, there were frustrations. The sessions were short, which in general is a good thing, but left me wanting more depth and more details in some cases; we did not learn much about PhoneGap other than a brief overview, for example.

Nevertheless there was serious content. Redmonk’s Stephen O’Grady made the point succinctly: IT decision makers are ignorant about what developers actually use and what they want to use, which is one reason why there is so much dysfunction in this industry. Part of the answer is to pay more attention, and several sessions covered different aspects of analytics: Matt LeMay from bitly on what users click on the Web; Matt Biddulph (ex BBC, Dopplr, Nokia) gave a mind-stretching talk on social network analysis which, contrary to what some think, was not invented by Facebook but predates the Internet; and O’Grady shared some insights from developer analytics at RedMonk.

I had not noticed before that github now gets nearly double the number of commits than does Google Code. That is partly because developers like git, but may also say something about Google’s loss of kudos in the open source developer community.

Kohsuke Kawaguchi, lead for Jenkins Continuous Integration and an architect at CloudBees, spoke on building a developer community. His context was how Jenkins attracted developers, but his main point has almost limitless application:  “Make everything easy, relentlessly.”

Something I see frequently is how big companies (the bigger the worse) place obstacles in front of developers or users who have an interest in their products or services. Examples are enforced registration, multiple clicks through several complex pages to get to the download you want, complex installs, and confusing information. It all adds friction. If the target is sufficiently compelling, like apps on Apple’s app store, developers will get there anyway; but it all adds friction, and if you are not Apple that can be fatal.

The Joyent guys did not speak about Node.js, sadly, but rather on the distinction between a VP of engineering and a Chief Technology Officer. Sounds dry and abstruse? I thought so too, but the delivery was so energetic that they were soon forgiven. Hoffman and Cantrill moved on to talk about management antipatterns in the software industry, prompting many wry nods of recognition from the audience. “It is very hard for middle management to add value,” said Cantrill.

Milinkovich made the point that the most valued open source projects generally make their way to a software foundation; PhoneGap to Apache is a recent example. He then gave the talk he really wanted to give, noting that as new software stacks emerge they have a tendency to re-implement CORBA, a middleware specification from the Nineties that tackled problems including remote objects, language independence, and transactions across the Internet. CORBA is remembered for drowning in complexity, but Milinkovich’s point is that the creators of exciting new stacks like Node.js should at least research and learn from past experience.

Milinkovich also found time to proclaim that “Flash is dead, Silverlight is dead, browser plugins are dead.” Perhaps premature; but I did not hear many dissenting voices.

I tweeted the conference extensively yesterday (losing at least one follower but gaining several more). Look out also for a couple of follow-up posts on topics of particular importance.

Adobe sheds more light on its LiveCycle plans–but what is happening to its Digital Enterprise Platform?

When Adobe announced a shift in its business strategy in November, it was not clear what the implications were for the products that were no longer favoured. Since then bits of information have dripped out, presumably as the company itself works out its priorities. In December developers learned that Flash Catalyst would be discontinued and Flash Builder would have features removed. Now VP Arun Anantharaman has posted about what is happening to LiveCycle, the Enterprise Services side of Adobe.

Quick summary: Anantharaman says that the following “core offerings” will be the subject of continuing investment:

  • Modules: Reader Extensions, Forms, Output, Digital Signatures, Rights Management, Process Management, PDF Generation
  • Tools: Workbench, Designer
  • Solutions: Correspondence Management
  • ECM Connectors: SharePoint, IBM Filenet, Documentum
  • Advanced Offerings: Data Services

While it is reassuring to see that Data Services will not be abandoned, and that the most important PDF-based server products still have a future, not everything is clear regarding Adobe’s enterprise strategy. It is telling that Anantharaman’s post is entitled “The Future of LiveCycle”; yet the LiveCycle product page still says that LiveCycle has been replaced by the Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform:

The next evolution of LiveCycle is here. The new Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform (ADEP) brings together core LiveCycle capabilities and much more.

So why not a post on the future of ADEP? If you look at the FAQ about ADEP it seems that many of the modules mentioned above have been replaced by ADEP services.

It would also be helpful to spell out exactly what is being dropped, rather than leaving customers to work this out by spotting what is not mentioned. It does appear that the work Adobe has done on composite applications (“Mosaic”) is a casualty. Collaboration services are another obvious omission. Correspondence seems to be the sole survivor from what was three Solutions Accelerators: the other two were “Review and Approval” and “Interactive Statements”.

There is also the question of what is happening with Adobe’s Enterprise Content Management story. In October 2010, Adobe completed its acquisition of Day Software, thereby acquiring REST pioneer Roy Fielding as well as Day’s core product, CQ (Communiqué). ADEP seemed to bring together the CRX content repository which is used by CQ with Adobe’s previous investment in Enterprise application development, as well including the PDF document services that go back many years at Adobe, before the Macromedia acquisition.

Now, Web Content Management is still a focus at Adobe, being part of what Adobe, with its love of the Experience word, calls Web Experience Management. This is from Anantharaman’s statement last November:

we are now planning to focus our Enterprise efforts on products targeting the digital marketer, including the Digital Marketing Suite and Web Experience Management solution.

That suggests CQ and CRX are alive and well at Adobe; but what exactly is happening to ADEP?

I have asked Adobe for clarification of its Enterprise strategy, and while nobody was available to speak to me on the subject immediately, I have been told that this should be possible in a couple of weeks time, so watch this space.

Appcelerator CEO on EMEA expansion, Titanium vs PhoneGap, and how WebKit drives HTML5 standards

I spoke to Appcelerator CEO Jeff Haynie yesterday, just before today’s announcement of the opening of an EMEA headquarters in Reading. It has only 4 or 5 staff at the moment, mostly sales and marketing, but will expand into professional services and training.

Appcelerator’s product is a cross-platform (though see below) development platform for both desktop and mobile applications. The mobile aspect makes this a hot market to be in, and the company says it has annual growth of several hundred percent. “We’re not profitable yet, but we’ve got about 1300 customers now,” Haynie told me. “ On the developer numbers side, we’ve got about 235,000 mobile developers and about 35,000 apps that have been built.”

Jeff Haynie, Appcelerator

In November 2011, Red Hat invested in Appcelerator and announced a partnership based on using Titanium with OpenShift, Red Hat’s cloud platform.

Another cross-platform mobile toolkit is PhoneGap, which has received lots of attention following the acquisition of Nitobi, the company which built PhoneGap, by Adobe, and also the donation of PhoneGap to the Apache Foundation. I asked Haynie to explain how Titanium’s approach differs from that of PhoneGap.

Technically what we do and what PhoneGap does is a lot different. PhoneGap is about how do you take HTML and wrap it into a web browser and put it into a native container and expose some of the basic APIs. Titanium is really about how you expose JavaScript for an API for native capabilities, and have you build a real native application or an HTML5 application. We offer both a true native application – I mean the UI is native and you get full access to all the API as if you had written it native, but you are writing it in JavaScript. We have also got now an HTML5 product where that same codebase can be deployed into an HTML5 web-driven interface. We think that is wildly different technically and delivers a much better application.

Haynie agrees that cross-platform tools can compromise performance and design, and even resists placing Titanium in the cross-platform category:

Titanium is a real native UI. When you’re in an iPhone TableView it’s actually a real native TableView, not an HTML5 table that happens to look like a TableView. You get the best of both worlds. You get a JavaScript-driven, web-driven API, but when you actually create the app you get a real app. Then we have an open extensible API so it’s really easy if you want to expose additional capabilities or bring in third-party libraries, very similar to what you do in Java with JNI [Java Native Invocation].

The category has got a bit of a bad rap. We wouldn’t really describe ourselves as cross-platform. We’re really an API that allows you target multiple different devices. It’s not a write-once run anywhere, it’s really API driven.

80% of our core APIs are meant to be portable. Filesystems, threads, things like that. Even some of the UI layer, basic views and buttons and things like that. But then you have a Titanium iOS namespace [for example] which allows you to access all the iOS-specific APIs, that aren’t portable.

I asked Haynie for his perspective on the mobile platform wars. Apple and Android dominate, but what about the others?

RIM and Microsoft are fighting for third place. I would go long on Microsoft. Look at Xbox, look at the impact of long-term endeavours, they have the sustainability and the investment power to play the long game, especially in the enterprise. We’ll see Microsoft make significant strides in Windows 8 and beyond.

Even within Android, there are going to be a lot of different types of Android that will be both complementary and competitive with Google. They will continue to take the lion’s share of the market. Apple will be a smaller but highly profitable and vertically integrated ecosystem. In my opinion Microsoft is a bit of bridge between both. They’re more open than Apple, and more vertically integrated than Google, with tighter standardisation and stacks.

I wouldn’t quite count RIM out. They still have a decent market share, especially in certain parts of the world and certain types of application. But they’ve got a long way to go with their new platform.

So will Titanium support Windows 8 “Metro” apps, running on the new WinRT runtime?

Yes, we don’t have a date or anything to announce, but yes.

I was also interested in his thoughts on Adobe, particularly as there is some flow of employees from Adobe to Appcelerator. Is he seeing migration of developers from Flex, Flash and AIR to Titanium?

Adobe has had a tremendously successful product in Flash, the web wouldn’t be the web today if it wasn’t for Flash, but the advent of HTML5 is encroaching on that. How do they move to the next big thing, I don’t know if they have a next big thing? And they’re dealing in an ecosystem that’s not necessarily level ground. That’s churning lots of dissenting and different opinions inside Adobe, is what we’re hearing.

We’re seeing a large degree of people that are Flash, ActionScript oriented that are migrating. We’ve hired a number of people from Adobe. Quite a lot of people in our QA group actually came out of the Adobe AIR group. Adobe is a fantastic company, the question is what’s their future and what’s their plan?

FInally, we discussed web standards. With a product that depends on web technology, does Appcelerator get involved in the HTML5 standards process? The question prompted an intriguing response with regard to WebKit, the open source browser engine.

We’re heavily involved in the Eclipse foundation, but not in the W3C today. I spent about 3 and half years on the W3C in my last company, so I’m familiar with the process and the people. The W3C process is largely driven – and I know the PhoneGap people have tried to get involved – by the WHAT working group and the HTML5 working group, which ultimately are driven by the browser manufacturers … it’s a largely vendor-oriented, fragmented space right now, that’s the challenge. We still haven’t managed to get a royalty-free, IPR-free codec for video.

I’d also say that one of the biggest factors pushing HTML5 is less the standardisation itself and more WebKit. WebKit has become the de facto [standard], which has really been driven by Apple and Google and against Microsoft. That’s driving HTML5 forward as much as the working group itself.

ITWriting.com 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 ITWriting.com 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

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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 t.co 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: why the big business shift when financial results look so good?

Adobe released its quarterly and full year results last week; I am catching up with this now after a week in China.

The company is doing well. Revenue is up by 11% year on year and it generated $1.5 billion in cash. It is buying back shares, usually a sign that a company has more money than it knows what to do with.

Here is the comparison with the equivalent quarter last year:

  Q4 2010 Q4 2011
Creative and interactive 404.8 437.2
Digital Media 165.9 186.4
Digital Enterprise 273.3 342.4
Omniture 109.0 131.1
Print and publishing 55 55.1

In other words, all business segments grew – impressive in uncertain economic times. See this earlier post for a rough breakdown of the segments.

A couple of observations. First, Adobe is benefiting from the big trend in IT towards web, cloud and device. Many companies regard apps (as in mobile apps) as vehicles for marketing, and Adobe’s tools are a natural fit, with or without Flash. We are in a more design-centric IT world than was the case a few years back, driven by Apple, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), and just because we can: technology now performs basic computing functions with ease so design becomes the key differentiator.

Adobe is nevertheless remarkable in the way it has managed the transition from print to digital. Few companies manage that kind of fundamental shift in their market successfully.

The other point that interests me is why Adobe announced a major change in its business model in November. Digital media and marketing will be the focus, while it winds down its enterprise development platform, as well as moving away from Flash and focusing on HTML5 for delivery.

Unless the announced figures disguise future problems that are only visible on the inside, this move was driven by bad results. Digital Enterprise, which includes the middleware business, increased revenue by 25% over the same quarter last year.

In 2012 the Digital Enterprise segment is being renamed Digital Marketing Solutions, expressing the company’s intent.

Adobe’s change of direction caught me by surprise, as it was not really flagged at the MAX conference the previous month, though there was evidence of struggle with regard to Flash versus HTML5.

I would describe Adobe’s moves as bold. Taking action ahead of when it becomes inevitable is a good thing, but there are significant risks. Adobe’s platform is all about synergies, and chopping off bits that still have a significant following may have unexpected consequences.

Another curious facet of Adobe’s move is that its normally excellent PR department has done little, as far as I am aware, to brief the press. Major news concerning what will be donated to Apache, or the discontinuation of Flash Catalyst, has emerged from sporadic reports instead. Normally that is a sign of a company under stress, rather than one which is about to deliver excellent results.

I guess this time next year we will have a clearer picture.

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.