It has been ten years since I lived in Rome working as a satellite TV transmission controller – so my Italian is pretty rusty. Arriving in Milan for Adobe's MAX developer conference this week, I hoped my hosts wouldn't need as much re-oiling as I did to perform with lucidity and gusto. After a couple of days with them, I don't think Adobe is too short on flavour and content right now, despite the fact that there isn't a press release or worn out news story in sight.
Billed as a chance for 'deep-dive' access into the company's latest technologies, we weren't far past the keynotes and the cappuccinos before I found myself sat informally (in a non-scheduled chat) with Adobe's principal scientist Mark Anders to discuss the state of the web-facing nation and whether our mobile web experiences will ever elevate out of their current state of “a bit rubbish to be honest” (that's my term not his).
Anders' thoughts on the mobile web were slightly redolent of the concept often ascribed to motorway construction i.e. if you build roads – they will fill up. Adobe is clearly opening new channels for digital content to flow through, but - says Anders, these will not necessarily sustain traffic unless there is a clear end point and destination. What he was meant was that if you build new web apps on the desktop or on mobile platforms – they will not prove popular unless they are like, for example, the BlackBerry... which has always had a clear end point destination i.e email on the go.
Adobe wanted the 1300 European attendees this week to take away three key conceptual drivers for the way the software development is shifting tectonically right now:
1. client + cloud computing
2. the social computing revolution
3. new devices + the desktop
“New technologies for the web on mobile phones need to be embraced by developers everywhere,” said Anders. “Moving from a single screen world to multiple screens means we need to find a way to retain a consistent experience across all form factors.”
Well, of course, he would say that wouldn't he? As that is precisely what Flash's technology proposition purports to make possible. The trouble is, it's now been around for over 13 years and it's maturing all the time, so it's a relatively tough point to argue against.
So what's new this week? Project Gumbo (the latest version of FlexBuilder) is hot – and of course Adobe is excited about Creative Suite 4 (and I use it all the time so it's hard not to give it a positive vote unless you want to argue that the company is pumping out updates too rapidly in order to cream a bigger cash crop). There's also Project Thermo (also known as Adobe Flash Catalyst) and we'll hear more about this tomorrow apparently.
One of the biggest areas of discussion was Flash Player 10, especially now that it is all grown up and can handle right to left (such as Arabic) text and 3-D for the ActionScript community in the way that they (according to Adobe) want it to.
“We recently made the Flash bug-base publicly available to aid the development of Flash Player 10 - and some of its new APIs have come about as a result of feedback we have received,” said Anders. “Flash Player 10 is being installed at a rate of 10 million copies per day and a 64-bit Linux version has also been developed.”
Adobe figures state that in Nov 07 66% of all online video was viewed in Flash – and in Aug 08 that figure had risen to 80%.
Some extra words in our opening keynote came from Anthony Rose, the guy that heads up the whole BBC iPlayer project. “Ten per cent of all UK bandwidth is now taken up by BBC iPlayer and this is all delivered in Flash with the average viewer spending 22 minutes a day using the service,” he said – before, predictably but enjoyably playing us a Top Gear intro/promo thing.
Flash – if this technology were a beer, it would be one of the most friendly and quaffable pints --------- in the world. Oh, oops, sorry – I came over all Jeremy Clarkson there for a moment.
Anyway, as we moved deeper into Adobe web proposition and learnt more about Project Thermo, the forthcoming Flash Player 10, the equally forthcoming AIR 1.5 and the use of all these technologies on the new so-called “MID” form factor large-mobile web-surfing PDA-type products (think about one third the size of a netbook) there was plenty to take in... you can read a whole lot more at www.adobe.com/go/keynote if you so wish.
There's a whole heap I haven't mentioned here: Adobe Wave technology for social computing, the Flex 4 Beta 2 planned for a slightly later than expected arrival in summer 09' and the Adobe 'Open Screen' Project for consistent experiences across mobile devices – but then, how much can I fit in on day one?
Want some good advice to end on then? If you are thinking about building for the cloud, you should never be dependent upon one platform for hosted services. So, for example, if you are looking for an online book repository, then Amazon.com might seem like a sensible source to go to, but however comprehensive, if you only think of one cloud-based data channel, then that solution will always fall short and always be restrictive.
Want a cheesy quote to end on? “If Adobe was a country, we'd be Switzerland,” said VP of product development Dave Story to wrap up a press roundtable in a 'we're all things to everyone in the web-o-sphere' kind of way. So they'd sit out of conflicts but make good chocolate and penknives then? Just kidding. Ciao for now raggazzi!