Adobe shows how anything can be a web application

The closing session here at Adobe MAX Europe was a series of “sneak peeks” at forthcoming technology, presented with a disclaimer to the effect that they may never appear commercially. I am not going to do a blow-by-blow account of these, since it was mostly the same as was shown a couple of weeks ago in the USA, and you may as well read one of the accounts from there. For example, this one from Anara Media, if you can cope with its breathless enthusiasm.

So what was interesting? Overall, Adobe is doing a good job of challenging assumptions about the limitations of web applications, and I am not just talking about AIR. A few years ago you might single out something like Photoshop as an example of something that would always be a desktop application; yet this evening we saw Photoshop Express, a web-hosted Photoshop aimed at consumers, but with impressive image manipulation capabilities. For example, we saw how the application could turn all shades of one colour into those of another colour, so you can make a red car blue. Another application traditionally considered as local-only is desktop publishing, yet here we saw a server version of InDesign controlled by a Web UI written in Flex.

The truth is, given a fast Internet connection and a just-in-time compiler anything can be a web application. Of course, under the covers huge amounts of code are being downloaded and executed on the client, but the user will not care , provided that it is a seamless and reasonably quick experience. Microsoft should worry.

We also got a glimpse into the probable future of Adobe Reader. This already runs JavaScript, but in some future version this runtime engine will be merged with ActionScript 3.0. In addition, the Flash player will be embedded into Adobe Reader. In consequence, a PDF or a bundle of PDFs can take on the characteristics of an application or an offline web site. A holiday brochure could include video of your destination as well as a live booking form. Another idea which comes to mind (we were not shown anything like this) is ad-supported ebooks where the ads are Flash videos. I can see the commercial possibilities, and there are all kinds of publications which could be enhanced by videos, but not everyone will welcome skip-the-intro annoyances arriving in PDF form.

This was a fun and impressive session, and well received by the somewhat bedazzled crowd of delegates.