Tag Archives: flash

Adobe’s Falcon JS: Compile Flex code to HTML and Javascript

Adobe has issued further information about its intention to donate the Flex SDK, which builds Flash applications from XML and ActionScript, to the Apache Software Foundation. Specifically, the donation will include:

  • BlazeDS, the free version of LiveCycle Data Services
  • Falcon, the new Flex compiler due to be completed in 2012
  • Falcon JS, a previously unannounced project

Of these, Falcon JS is the most eye-catching. This is an “experimental cross-compiler from MXML and ActionScript to HTML and JavaScript.” In other words, Falcon JS has the potential to give developers a migration path from Flash to HTML clients. Note that it is described as a cross-compiler rather than a porting tool, so it may well be that the output is not easily edited. The Google Web Toolkit works like this, converting Java to JavaScript but not in a form that anyone is expected to edit. Adobe also adds:

We have undertaken some experimental work in this area, but remain unsure as to the viability of fully translating Flex-based content to HTML. The Falcon JS cross-compiler, referenced above, represents this early work.

What about the most sensitive of Adobe’s statements, that HTML is the long-term solution for enterprise applications? Adobe says:

In time (and depending upon your application, it could be 3-5 years from now), we believe HTML5 could support the majority of use cases where Flex is used today.

and adds:

We intend to make investments in HTML-related technologies, so that we can help advance HTML5 to make it suitable for enterprise applications.

I am not sure to what extent the new statement will ease the worries of Flex developers; but at least Adobe is clear about its intentions. While there are benefits in the Flex SDK moving to Apache, overall the message is that Adobe is hastening towards HTML 5. I am surprised, considering the progress the company has made in creating a strong cross-platform toolkit for mobile and desktop applications. Although no-one should doubt that Adobe will continue to support and evolve Flex as a development platform, it has in effect declared it to be a legacy technology, and I would guess that the effect will be to depress the level of activity there.

Adobe favours HTML over Flex, retreats from its enterprise app platform

Adobe has stated that Flex, the xml-based language for developing applications that run on the Flash runtime (also known as AIR) will gradually give way to HTML 5:

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.

The company is also giving the Flex SDK to an open source foundation:

we are planning to contribute the Flex SDK to an open source foundation in the same way we contributed PhoneGap to the Apache Foundation when we acquired Nitobi.

though Adobe will continue to contribute to its development. Adobe also states that it will continue to develop the Flash Builder IDE for Flex.

I am surprised by this announcement. I understand Adobe’s reasons for abandoning Flash for mobile devices, but since you can use Flex with the packager for iOS or the captive runtime for other mobile devices, it is not necessary to abandon Flex as well.

But is Adobe abandoning Flex? Not as such; in fact the statement linked above says that Adobe is still “committed to Flex” and “committed to Flash Builder”. The problem though is that there are several clues showing that Flex is in decline and no longer strategic.

First there is the statement about HTML5 versus Flex in the long-term.

Second, Adobe says it is not sure what is happening to the Flex roadmap as discussed recently at the MAX conference in Los Angeles:

The Flex roadmap will be determined by the governing board once it’s been established. We plan to contribute framework features previously highlighted as part of Adobe’s Flex roadmap, into this new project.

Third, the delivery of a project to an open source foundation can be interpreted as a signal that a company wants  to distance itself and lacks commitment to its long-term success. I would not make that argument with respect to PhoneGap, but for Flex I am not so sure.

It may already be too late. Imagine you are an Adobe partner trying to sell a Flex project to your customer. What answer do you have when your customer says, “but isn’t Adobe moving to HTML 5?”

When Adobe made its first announcement about the change in its business model I came up with the phrase more publishing, less programming. That view was further strengthened by CEO Shantanu Narayen’s recent post:

The future of the Internet comes down to content – creating it and monetizing it. This is where our customers rely on Adobe, and it’s what is shaping our strategy moving forward.

I take this then as not only a retreat from Flex, but a retreat from enterprise application development in favour of content creation tools.

Charles Humble at InfoQ has an informative post on this issue here.

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 “shifting its business model”: more publishing, less programming

Adobe has announced a shift in its business strategy, together with the loss of around 750 employees.

So what is changing? Adobe says it will be focusing on digital media and digital marketing, while investing less in “certain enterprise solution product lines.” In line with this strategy, Adobe acquired video advertising company auditude last week.

Here are the things which Adobe says are “important elements” in its new approach:

  • Creative Suite extended with tablet apps and delivered through the cloud
  • Greater investment in HTML 5: Dreamweaver, Edge and PhoneGap
  • Flash positioned for “advanced” web, video, and mobile apps
  • Digital publishing solutions
  • Video advertising
  • Document services such as electronic contracts and signatures

So what will Adobe be doing less? This is harder to discern as the releases, naturally enough, say less about it. The key remark is that:

the company will reduce its investment, and expected license revenue, in certain enterprise solution product lines

We can conclude, I guess, that the Digital Enterprise Platform once known as LiveCycle is going to get less attention as the company focuses more on digital content and less on providing a platform for enterprise applications. I would guess that this will impact the middleware services more than things like the Flex framework and Flash Platform tools, but I am speculating. More information is coming in a financial analyst meeting tomorrow in New York.

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.

Adobe: no new features for open source BlazeDS data services

Adobe’s Damon Cooper, who runs the BlazeDS and Data Services team at Adobe, has posted about BlazeDS vs the paid-for Data Services.

It is a curious post, in that he simultaneously highlights new features coming in Data Services 4.6 while also giving a number of reasons not to use BlazeDS.

BlazeDS is the free and open source version of Data Services, for publish/subscribe messaging and remote object invocation of Java objects in a Flash or AIR application.

He points out that the LGPL licence may be problematic; he emphasises that BlazeDS is unsupported; he says that while it is open source there are no non-Adobe committers; and as the knock-out punch adds:

Additionally, while we will absolutely be making sure we keep BlazeDS fresh and the bug fixes flowing, we don’t currently have any major new features planned for BlazeDS. That could change, but we’re currently full-out on delivering innovation to our customers have asked for in Data Services and we are full steam ahead there. 

It does sound like a retreat to me; and while I do not think Adobe is under any moral obligation to continue developing BlazeDS it does make me wonder what has changed between the moment in 2007 when Adobe decided it was a good idea to open source part of its LiveCycle Data Services, and today.

At Adobe MAX last week Adobe announced the acquisition of Nitobi and with it the open source PhoneGap project. PhoneGap is heading to the Apache Foundation – probably a good thing considering that Adobe sometimes seems to struggle when it comes to managing open source software.

Adobe Flash Professional to get HTML authoring features

I have just attended a session on the future of Flash Professional, the designer-oriented authoring tool for Flash, here at Adobe MAX in Los Angeles.

One feature that caught my attention is that export to HTML is coming to Flash Professional. Adobe already has a research project called Project Wallaby which converts .fla files to HTML 5, though I have heard that it is not very good. This one looks more promising, and we saw how a simple animation can be published to HTML and JavaScript and look exactly the same. Some of the key features:

  • There will be a limited ActionScript 3 to JavaScript conversion included.
  • There will be “guardrails” in Flash Professional, so that if you choose to work for HTML then incompatible options will be greyed out.
  • The exported code will use the same libraries as Adobe Edge, a new animation tool for HTML, and you will be able to open it in Edge and do further work on it there. The Edge approach uses jQuery as well as its own format for storing animations.
  • I got the impression that this feature will be in the next version of Flash Professional, which we can call for the sake of argument Creative Suite 6

We also got a glimpse of a future version of Flash Professional which will be 64-bit and use the native Cocoa framework on the Mac – but this will NOT be in the next version.

This move strikes me as significant, in that it shows Adobe’s ability to repurpose its tools for HTML 5 alongside Flash.

Does it mean that Flash is dead? That makes a good headline, but it is not the case. In fact, I have picked up some anxiety here among developers and designers concerning the future of Flash. They like targeting Flash and do not want to return to puzzling out endless browser compatibility issues, and having to limit their designs to what will work in the lowest supported version. They will have been reassured to hear about energy going into Flash development; the session I attended on concurrency in the Flash runtime was packed.

Stage 3D, the new GPU-accelerated 3D API in Flash, enables fast graphics that bring console-quality games to the browser. It will be a while before this is achievable in HTML that works across all popular browsers.

Flash is not going away, but nevertheless Adobe is in transition, and I am hearing more about HTML 5 at MAX this year than has previously been the case.

I am also seeing more focus on Flash as a cross-platform runtime that you bundle into your mobile or desktop application, using either the iOS packager or the Captive Runtime, so users will not even know that they are running Flash and will not need to download it separately.

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.

Developers keen to get apps on Barnes & Noble Nook

I took a quick look round the exhibition here at Adobe MAX in Los Angeles, and was intrigued to see crowds round the Barnes & Noble Nook stand, a newcomer to Max.


Barnes & Noble has its own app store for Color Nook, the AIR runtime is on the device, and in fact is used for some of the built-in apps. It is not the most powerful of tablets, and it only has wi-fi for internet connectivity, but nevertheless is proving a worthwhile market for apps. The store is curated to maintain quality, and one of the points made to me on the stand is that owners expect to pay for their content, making it easier to sell paid-for apps.


Unfortunately this device is not available globally, and of course everyone is waiting to see what impact Amazon’s Kindle Fire will have on Nook’s sales. Even so, for developers who have a suitable app this is a significant market.

Adobe acquires PhoneGap company Nitobi

Adobe has announced the acquisition of Nitobi, the company which created and sponsors the open source PhoneGap project for creating cross-platform mobile applications using HTML5 technology.

Apparently this does not affect the plan to donate PhoneGap to the Apache Software Foundation:

We are also excited to announce our donation of the PhoneGap code to the Apache Software Foundation,” said Dave Johnson, chief technology officer, Nitobi. “Adobe has been fully supportive of our decision.

Adobe already offers PhoneGap integration in Dreamweaver 5.5, though I found some gaps in this initial release.

I spoke to Nitobi CEO André Charland earlier this year.

Smart move, though it will be interesting to see how Adobe now balances mobile app development with PhoneGap vs mobile app development with Flash – both of which are cross-platform approaches.

Here at Adobe’s MAX conference in Los Angeles I will be quizzing Adobe about how it plans to evolve its design and development tools to better support PhoneGap.