Category Archives: design

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.

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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 Creative Cloud updates include 3D printing in Photoshop

Adobe has added a number of new features for its Creative Cloud software suite, which includes Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

The new features include Perspective Warp in Photoshop, which can adjust the perspective of an object so you can match it to that of an existing background; a new Pencil tool in Illustrator; and for InDesign, simplified hyperlinks and the ability to automatically install fonts from Typekit (another Creative Cloud service) if they are missing from the document.

The most intriguing new feature though is 3D printing support in Photoshop.

3D printing is not new; it has been around for many years in industry and medicine. More recently though, 3D printers that are affordable for hobbyists or small businesses have become available. There are also services like Shapeways which let you upload 3D designs and have the model delivered to you. Picking up on this new momentum, Adobe has added to Photoshop the ability to import a 3D design from a modelling tool or perhaps a 3D scanner, and print to a local printer or to a file for upload to Shapeways. Photoshop, according to Adobe, will do a good job of ensuring that models are truly print-ready.

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After opening the design and applying any changes needed, such as altering the shape or adding colour, you can use the new 3D Print Settings to print the model.

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Photoshop is intended primarily as a finishing tool, rather than for creating 3D models from scratch.

Here are some actual results:

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3D printing support is now built into Windows 8.1, but Photoshop does not use this. Apparently the Windows feature arrived too late, but will be supported in a future release.

Adobe says it is bringing 3D printing to the creative mainstream; but to what extent is this a mainstream technology? The hobbyist printers I have seen are impressive, but tend to be too fiddly and temperamental for non-technical users. Still, there are many uses for 3D printing, including product prototypes, ornaments, arts and craft, and creating parts for repairs.

Adobe announces next Creative Suite, now called Creative Cloud

Adobe has announced the next version of its all-conquering Creative Suite, now renamed (or subsumed into) Creative Cloud.

Availability is set for June 2013. There will not be any perpetual licenses for the updated applications:

Can I purchase a perpetual license for the new Creative Cloud (CC) desktop applications that were announced in May 2013?

No. The new CC versions of the desktop applications are available only through Creative Cloud offerings for individuals, teams, and enterprise. We do not have any current plans to release future CC tools outside Creative Cloud.

Let’s start with the important stuff. I like the new “totems” which are intricate and abstract; but I think it works. Here is Creative Cloud:

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and here is InDesign, wow:

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Here is Premiere, can you see the lettering?

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So what about the technical stuff? Here is quick tour of what’s new.

Adobe always seems to demo Creative Suite on the Mac these days, but says there is feature-parity between Mac and Windows. GPU acceleration of algorithms (such as in the Mercury engine) no longer uses NVidia Cuda but rather Open CL for best cross-platform compatibility.

Typekit Fonts can now be installed on your desktop, and once installed work like any other font – you can use them in Microsoft Office, for example.

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We quizzed Adobe about what happens to the fonts if you stop subscribing to Creative Cloud. The answer seems to be that you must no longer use them, but whether this is technically enforced is unclear.

Settings synchronisation is a theme across a number of apps including Dreamweaver and After Effects. This touches on a curious aspect of Creative Cloud: despite the name, the applications are desktop applications. Sync settings means you can log in on any machine with the suite installed and get your settings back, including for example web sites in Dreamweaver. The consequence is to bring the make your desktop experience more cloud-like in respect of working from anywhere.

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Photoshop gets an amazing camera shake reduction feature. Camera shake is a big problem for me, as I rarely have a tripod. The new feature detects how the camera moved during the shot and compensates accordingly. The demo worked great on Adobe’s sample shot, but then it would, so it is not until we get to try this with some of our own images that we will know whether Adobe’s claim of “making unusable images usable” is justified. Still, Adobe has a good track record and I am optimistic.

Other interesting features are a filter for Camera Raw, and a “straighten” effect for perspective distorting in images such as those of tall buildings which look as if they are leaning (though I am sure I have seen ways of handling this in earlier versions too). There is also an rounded rectangle editor, a new artefact removal feature, and the ability to upsample an image so that your low-resolution bitmap magically becomes more suitable for print.

There will no longer be an Extended Photoshop. If you have it, you have it all.

The Kuler colour theme chooser has been rebuilt in HTML.

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Illustrator gets a CSS properties panel.

Flash has a Publish feature which converts Flash to HTML (We can see where Adobe is going with this). This uses the CreateJS framework; it does not convert ActionScript.

Premiere Pro now includes the engine from Audition for advanced audio editing within the application.

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Edge Animate is able to animate a sprite across a Motion Path curve for some cool effects.

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Fireworks is still in the suite, but is not being updated. Bad news for Fireworks lovers.

Dreamweaver has a new CSS designer, and a Fluid Grid Layout for designing adaptive web sites:

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After Effects now embeds the Cineware 4D engine, which is big news if you use both AE and Cineware (as many do).

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InDesign is now 64-bit with an updated user interface.

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InDesign also has a “favourite fonts” feature making it easier to manage a multiplicity of fonts on your system.

What have I missed? A lot, no doubt; but I am impressed with how well Adobe has managed its transition from mainly perpetual licences to mainly subscription, how it is rapidly adding features to Creative Cloud, and how it has also managed the transition from Flash to HTML.

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:

$millions

  • 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.

Book Review: Smashing UX Design (a great read for developers too)

That the abbreviation UX can appear in a book title without expansion says a lot about the extent to which user-focused design is now embedded in the web development industry. The theory behind it is that User Experience is primary when designing a web site. The word "experience" suggests that this is not just about usability, or attractiveness, or performance, or enjoyment, but rather about all those things and how they combine when the end user is navigating your site.

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This book is for professional designers who want techniques for putting UX design into practice. The authors, Jesmond Allen and James Chudley, work for UX consultancy Cxpartners, based in Bristol in the UK, and the book is written from their perspective, including tips on how to work with your clients. That said, this is an excellent read even if you do not fall into that niche, thanks to the expertise and professionalism which informs the content.

There is a note right at the start of the book about the interaction between development and design teams which seems to me of key importance:

In order to produce designs that development teams can utilize, it is helpful for UXers to understand the development process they will be using. As external consultants, we do not always have the opportunity to work with development teams on a daily basis as they create a functional product from our designs, although we always strive to make ourselves available to developers as they work. Internal UX staff will likely have a much closer relationship with their development teams.

Some developers may see UX activities as troublesome big design up front. However, UX activities contribute to requirements gathering and backlog prioritization activities. These activities typically take place long before development sprints begin.

In order to produce robust products, it is important that UX research and design activities take place throughout the design and build cycle, whether it is product managers, UXers, or developers who perform the activities.

The emphasis is mine. A bad scenario, for example, runs like this. The project is initiated and handed to a design team, who come back with good-looking sketches and mock-ups. The developers then implement the design, but discover that it does not quite work as-is, maybe because the designers did not appreciate every nuance of the workflow, or because of evolving new requirements, or performance problems, or any number of other issues.

At this point the developers may endeavour to match the not-quite-working design as closely as possible, blaming shortcomings on the “bad design”. Or they may adapt the design to work better technically, potentially wrecking the design concept and delivering something which users will perceive as odd. This scenario is more likely to occur when budgets are particularly constrained and the design team external.

Note that Agile methodology has always emphasized that the team is the whole team – stakeholders, developers, designers, users, everyone – so it makes sense to keep designers involved right through the process. Put another way, do not allocate a design budget and spend it all up-front, before development begins.

It all comes down to communication, respect and understanding between team members, which is why this book is one that developers as well as designers should read.

Be clear: this is not a book about technology, so look elsewhere (perhaps to one of the other Smashing titles) if you want help with making beautiful web pages using CSS, or a how-to guide for building web sites. Smashing UX Design is about the process rather than the outcome, though there are plenty of practical tips along the way.

The book is in four parts. Part one is a general introduction to the concepts behind UX design and planning UX projects. Part two covers tools and techniques for UX research and evaluation, such as running requirements workshops, usability tests, surveys, analytics, and expert reviews.

The third part is about tools and techniques for UX design. If you are wondering what an Ideation Workshop is, you will find out how to run one here. Another technique described is how to create a "user persona", a fictional user who represents a category of users. There is also a discussion of wireframes, sketches and prototypes.

Finally, the fourth part looks in more detail at UX design for specific site pages, including the home page, search, product pages, shopping carts, images and tables. This is the section of most general interest, being full of practical suggestions and thought-provoking comments on what makes web pages work well for the user.

There is a too-brief chapter on mobile UX and this is a weakness of the book: not much on how tablets and smartphones are impacting UX design.

If you run or plan to run a web design business, then the book is perfect. It is also a great read for professional web developers. Individuals who are doing their own web design, or just want to understand it better, will find good content here but also a rather jargon-heavy style and probably more information than they need about working with clients and running workshops of various kinds.

 

Adobe turns to OpenCL rather than NVIDIA CUDA for Mercury Graphics Engine in Creative Suite 6

Adobe has just announced Creative Suite 6. CS 5.5 used the Mercury Playback Engine in Premiere Pro, which takes advantage of NVIDIA’s CUDA library in order to accelerate processing when an NVIDIA GPU is present. Just to be clear, this is not just graphics acceleration, but programming the GPU to take advantage of its many processor cores for general-purpose computing.

Premiere Pro CS6 also uses the Mercury Playback Engine, and while CUDA is still recommended there is new support for OpenCL:

The Mercury Playback Engine brings performance gains to all the GPUs supported in Adobe Creative Suite 6 software, but the best performance comes with specific NVIDIA® CUDA™ enabled GPUs, including support for mobile GPUs and NVIDIA Maximus™ dual-GPU configurations. New support for the OpenCL-based AMD Radeon HD 6750M and 6770M cards available with certain Apple MacBook Pro computers running OS X Lion (v10.7x), with a minimum of 1GB VRAM, brings GPU-accelerated mobile workflows to Mac users.

PhotoShop CS6 also uses the GPU to accelerate processing, using the new Mercury Graphics Engine. The Mercury Graphics Engine uses the OpenCL framework, which is not specific to any one GPU vendor, rather than CUDA:

The Mercury Graphics Engine (MGE) represents features that use video card, or GPU, acceleration. In Photoshop CS6, this new engine delivers near-instant results when editing with key tools such as Liquify, Warp, Lighting Effects and the Oil Paint filter. The new MGE delivers unprecedented responsiveness for a fluid feel as you work. MGE is new to Photoshop CS6, and uses both the OpenGL and OpenCL frameworks. It does not use the proprietary CUDA framework from nVidia.

It seems to me that this amounts to a shift by Adobe from CUDA to OpenCL, which is a good thing for users of non-NVIDIA GPUs.

This also suggests to me that NVIDIA will need to ensure excellent OpenCL support in its GPU cards, as well as continuing to evolve CUDA, since Creative Suite is a key product for designers using the workstations which form a substantial part of the market for high-end GPUs.

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 announces strong results though much of the business looks flat

Adobe has announced its financial results for its second quarter. Revenue is up 9% year on year, and profits are up too, so it looks like a strong quarter. However, the success is really limited to a couple of business segments.

Here is the comparison with the equivalent quarter last year:

  Q2 2010 Q2 2011
Creative and interactive 429.3 433.1
Digital Media 139.3 136.7
Digital Enterprise 231.9 283.5
Omniture 91.9 115.9
Print and publishing 56.6 54

Adobe has changed the segmentation of these figures since last time I looked, removing the confusing Platform and splitting out Digital Media. Broadly:

  • Creative and interactive is most of Creative Suite and the Flash platform including both developer tools and streaming servers. It also includes the nascent Digital Publishing Suite for  Apple iPad and tablet publications.
  • Digital Media is Creative Suite Production Premium and individual sales of Photoshop. Premiere Pro, After Effects and Audition.
  • Digital Enterprise Solutions is the LiveCycle middleware, now rebranded as part of the Digital Enterprise Platform, plus the content management platform acquired with Day Software in October 2010, and Acrobat.
  • Omniture is self-explanatory; this is the analytics business acquired in 2009.
  • Print and Publishing is a bunch of tools including, oddly, ColdFusion but not InDesign. Technical authoring sits here, as does Director.

So what do these figures tell us? Creative Suite is trundling on OK, but no more than that, particularly when you consider that Q2 included the release of a paid-for upgrade, CS5.5. Revenue from Digital Media is slightly down, as is Print and publishing.

The strong results are in Digital Enterprise, following the acquisition of Day, and in Omniture.

Both of these were smart acquisitions in my view, though I am not a financial analyst. In a connected era, analytics is crucial, with great potential for integration with the design and development tools.

The enterprise middleware also seems to be going well. This is really a strange amalgam of the old Adobe document publishing and workflow servers with the application services that came from Macromedia. Throw Day software into the mix, with Roy Fielding’s content-centric vision for application development, and you have an interesting platform.

Adobe is also benefiting from the Apple-led revolution towards design-centric software.

That said, not everything is going Adobe’s way. The momentum behind both HTML5 and Apple iOS is a threat to the Flash business. Never mind the technical arguments, the fact is that designers are more likely to be working on removing Flash from their web pages than putting it in. Adobe also needs to sustain its prices, and there is plenty of downward pressure on software prices today, partly driven by Apple and its App Store model. I also get the impression that the hosted services at Acrobat.com have not taken off in the way Adobe had hoped.

RESTful and modernised: making sense of Adobe’s new Enterprise platform

Adobe has announced its Digital Enterprise Platform for Customer Experience Management. My tip to Adobe: that is too many words with too many syllables for busy IT people who are trying to get their work done. What on earth is it? The same old stuff repackaged, or something genuinely new?

The answer is a bit of each. Adobe has made several big acquisitions over the last few years, starting with the Macromedia merger in 2005 that really formed a new Adobe, bringing together digital publishing and the Flash platform. In September 2009 Adobe acquires Omniture for web analytics, and in October 2010 Day Software. This last one seems to be having a huge impact. Day’s product is called CQ5 Web Content Management and is built on CRX, a content repository which conforms to JCR 2.0 (Java Technology API 2.0), a Java API. Here’s Roy Fielding, formerly at Day and now Principal Scientist at Adobe, from this white paper [pdf]:

The Content Repository API for Java Technology (JCR) is poised to revolutionize the development of J2SE/J2EETM applications in the same way that the Web has revolutionized the development of network-based applications. JCR’s interface designers have followed the guiding principles of the Web to simplify the interactions between an application and its content repository, thus replacing many application-specific or storage-specific interfaces with a single, generic API for content repository manipulation.

JCR is a boon for application developers. Its multipurpose nature and agnostic content model encourages reuse of the same code for many different applications, reducing both the effort spent on development per application and the number of interfaces that must be learned along the way. Its clean separation between content manipulation and storage management allows the repository implementation to be chosen based on the actual performance characteristics of the application rather than some potential characteristics that were imagined early in the application design. JCR enables developers to build full-featured applications based on open source implementations of a repository while maintaining compatibility with the proprietary repositories that are the mainstay of large data centers.

Adobe already has an application platform based on LiveCycle Enterprise Suite, which you will notice now redirects to the Digital Enterprise Platform. Ben Watson, Adobe’s Principal Customer Experience Strategist, explained it to me like this:

The core of the platform now becomes the repository that we got from the Day acquisition. We are also following their leadership around the use of RESTful technology, so changing how we do our web services implementation, how we do our real time data integration into Flash using data services. There’s really four technologies at play here. There’s CQ5, Adobe LiveCycle which is all the business process management on the back end, the online marketing suite with Omniture, and Creative tools which allow to both design and develop all of this content and assets … We had two Java platforms and we brought them into one.

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You can read up on the Digital Enterprise Platform here or see a chart of capabilities here. Much of it does look like rebranding of existing LiveCycle modules; but as a statement of direction it is an interesting one.

Is this for on-premise deployment, or cloud hosted? Adobe has a tie-up with Amazon for hosted deployment, though there is no no multi-tenant hosting from Adobe yet; I got the impression from Watson that it is being worked on.

Adobe is aware that it does not stand alone, and there are several connectors and integration points for third-party applications, such as a SAP data services connector.

Adobe also has a series of “solutions”, which are permutations of web content management, analytics, document processing, social media and so on.  There is also a Unified Workspace, currently in beta, which is a dashboard application.

The company’s line is that it is well placed to address the challenge of the mobile revolution, and to bring greater usability and social interaction to business applications, the consumerization of IT.

Although that sounds a strong pitch, melding all this together into something new while keeping hold of existing developers and designers is a challenge. Another issue for Adobe is that the company’s strong presence in design, multimedia and marketing makes it hard to appeal to more general enterprise developers. Nevertheless, the combination of Fielding’s influence and Adobe’s strength in design, documents and cross-platform clients makes this a platform worth watching.

JetBrains WebStorm 2.0 and PHPStorm 2.0 First Look

I respect JetBrains, an IDE company which survives despite intense competition from free tools such as Eclipse and NetBeans. It does so because developers like the products, especially the IntelliJ IDEA Java IDE. The tools are focused on coding; there are few visual designers but lots of coding help, such as code completion, refactoring, find usages, and fast navigation. The tools are also relatively lightweight, so start up quickly, and generally run on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

The latest from JetBrains is two related web development IDEs. WebStorm 2.0 is for general HTML/CSS/JavaScript work, and PHPStorm 2.0 is a superset of WebStorm which adds PHP editing and debugging. There is also some support for Adobe’s Flex and ActionScript code.

New in PHPStorm is PHP 5.3 support, Zend Debugger support, improved SQL editing, support for the Mercurial source code management system, and updates for HTML 5 and EcmaScript 5.

I am interested in these tools since HTML development is increasingly important. Browsers are getting increasingly powerful, with HTML 5 and fast JavaScript engines challenging plugins as rich application runtimes, and PHP is less well served by IDEs than you would expect considering its popularity.

My first impressions though are mixed. I noticed a lot to like, in particular the work JetBrains has done on supporting mixed languages: HTML, JavaScript, CSS, SQL,XML and so on. One of its features is that code completion works even within quotes. For example, if your PHP is outputting HTML to the browser, code completion still works. Most editors treat anything within quotes as plain text rather than as code.

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The IDE is highly configurable and also supports plugins. Live templates let you expand abbreviations to code fragments. There is support for generating documentation with JSDoc, ASDoc and PHPDoc. Testing with PHPUnit is integrated. These are products that will appeal to developers who are code-oriented – are there any others? – and who like the ability to fine-tune their tools to improve productivity.

That said, I did not find it easy to get started with PHPStorm. The main challenge is configuring your PHP environment to support debugging. I have not yet succeeded, though I have not spent all that long on it. Difficulty getting PHP debugging working seems to be the biggest single topic on the support forums currently.

I know this is tricky and it took me a while to get it working with Eclipse. It is important though, and anything the tools vendors can do to make this easier to setup would be welcome. There is a case for simply installing a dedicated LAMP or WAMP server with the product so that developers get immediate and reliable support for PHP debugging, with the option to configure for their own PHP server later.

Another thing I found annoying was the over-zealous spell checker, which seems inclined to check variable names as well as being unaware of PHP extensions like mysqli:

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I expect there is a way to fix both issues by configuring the product.

In general JetBrains does not seem to suffer from the “not invented here” syndrome and uses open source libraries and tools; in fact it depends on Firefox for JavaScript debugging, and automatically installs its own plugin to improve integration.

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However I picked up a note of disapproval in the description on the Zen Coding site about the way JetBrains has chosen to implement Zen Coding abbreviations:

These plugins are developed by third-party and has their own ZC engine implementation, which leads to different feature set and abbreviation syntax. Zen Coding team has no relation to this projects

WebStorm is modestly priced at £54.00 for individual developers or £115 per concurrent user for organisations.  PHPStorm is £77 or £154 on the same basis. Free licenses are available for education or for open source projects, on application.

Competing products include the free Eclipse PDT and NetBeans, the commercial Zend Studio, and for a more designer-friendly approach to PHP, Adobe Dreamweaver CS5.