Archive for November, 2008

MAX tidbits

MAX was a big event. The last few days I’ve been reading reaction and news. Here are some items that I found interesting which haven’t been discussed as much yet.

groups.adobe.com has potential to bring people together in the real world, not just the online world. It’s essentially a portal to Adobe User Groups worldwide. Helps to find like-minded people in your own area, but also helps if you’re travelling too.

I was working the booth in the Community Lounge during the event, and was astonished by how many people wanted to set up a local user group in their area. Fortunately there’s a link on the front page to resources to starting a local group. Face-to-face, I saw a lot of interest in this directory.

We’re still populating the database and improving the navigation… it’s very much a work-in-progress. What you see in it today is just a taste of what you’ll see over the coming weeks. Keep an eye on it.

More from Ted Patrick, and also see the MAX Open Working Group page.

Videos of the San Francisco event will be online soon.

It’s a small thing, but I got a kick out of Linux first for 64-bit Player, and Mac first on the early preview of Flash Catalyst. In each case the situation made sense, but it can also serve to demolish some stereotypes and assumptions. (A full pre-release of Catalyst is expected on Adobe Labs early next year, and please be sure to install the MAX pre-pre-release into the default directory as explained on the Labs page.)

There’s lots of talk about individual initiatives, such as CoCoMo, Alchemy (check out Doom user reviews!), Stratus, Flash text, more… I don’t have a full overview yet myself, still learning.

One project which hasn’t been discussed much is Adobe Wave. It probably has zero impact on you — Wave is basically a notification system for publishers and service providers. But it’s interesting to consider why it works, why it has the potential to become valuable.

Sometimes there’s a trusted vendor you want news from… could be an online store that handles new models you’d like to know about, could be a hosting service, could be a musician or other artist… it’d be convenient if you could just say “let me know when something new happens”.

We tried this with email and it sucked. Sometimes the little “add me to your mailing list” checkbox is ignored, and you get spammed regardless. If you say “stop sending me email!” it’s 50/50 they’ll listen. And of course your mailbox is clogged with spam and malware you never wanted. Email put all the control in the hands of the message creator.

Wave is an AIR app to display system notifications from trusted publishers. The control over which publishers you listen to is on your own desktop. If you want to stop seeing messages from a given publisher, you can exercise that control directly. There’s a better blend of power between creator and consumer. You control your own experience.

This is an important principle. Lots of today’s technical problems arise from an imbalance of power between agents. Websites bulk down their pages with third-party widgets. Greasemonkey dissociates the content from the presentation. Movie producers charge big prices “because we can” and then they get Bittorrent’d “because we can”.

We’ve got to find better ways that people can opt-in to a communication, and opt-out when tired of it. Adobe Wave may not be a big, flashy project, but it seems a valid example of how things should be. Both consumers and creators have rights, and I think the successful internet applications of the next few years will find novel ways to respect those rights.

These next two links aren’t MAX-specific, but came up in the same timeframe. Zoetrope is an Adobe research project into searching the web — with a twist. Instead of focusing on “what pages are on the Web today?”, Zoetrope asks “What information has been revealed on the Web over time?” Like the old Recall engine at The Internet Archive, Zoetrope can search a site back through time. But there are also tools to extract changing information from those different versions of a page. Very interesting.

And Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch was quoted on fragmented JavaScript implementations by The Register during the conference. JavaScript implementations won’t reliably be improved until you can use a feature knowing that the overwhelming majority of your audience will actually support it. The browser brand with 80% marketshare is moving a little bit slower than the changing and under-standardized browser behaviors from Mozilla, Safari, Opera, Google. A multi-implementation runtime will always evolve more slowly than a single predictable runtime, but we need both types of runtimes in our digital ecology. The future is uncertain, but Kevin lays out Adobe’s priorities here.

One more topic… Silverlight is getting a bit of a bum rap. The MLB.com deal produced lots of headlines like “Silverlight strikes out” and such.

Part of this is Microsoft’s fault, for over-hyping its prior deal with the baseball site. The best info I’ve seen on the implementation was in an InfoQ interview last February… MLB.com has used Flash for years, and used Windows Media Player for years, and last year added a Silverlight client for the WMP stream. The MAX news was about MLB.com converting their backend from a WMP workflow to a Flash video workflow… about 80% of web video is Flash video now. It’s just a practical move.

But much of the blogosphere coverage was pretty brutal. Some of it is likely an over-reaction to the “execution of Adobe” and “reboot the Web” jive from last year — the “build ‘em up, then tear ‘em down” style of journalism. But the overall tone was more of a morality play, a soap opera, rather than neutral evaluation of technology. Harsh.

(This also shows there’s a danger in being a second-mover in the marketplace, because there will be pressure to mimic the first-mover instead of finding your own unique path. A lot of the reason SVG failed was because its advocates wanted to duplicate Flash. HTML5 is facing the same pressure, as is Silverlight. It’s hard to focus on what you alone can provide, when external pressure compares you to something else. Be yourself.)

I still think the Silverlight initiative is useful. It gives .NET developers a way to do richer things in the browser. It might have been more useful if Microsoft had just compiled to SWF in the first place, but that’s water under the bridge. The people who create this technology deserve respect regardless.

Those are some of the MAX items that I haven’t seen as much in the aggregators. But like I said, I’m still reading and learning, finding what other people found important. Big event overall…. :)

MAX08 Themes

I was away-from-keyboard most of the past week, in the Community Lounge throughout the event. Other people have been reporting from individual sessions, and I’m still catching up with what they saw. But I’ve been thinking about some of the big, high-level topics from the conference.

Scale and relevance

Five thousand people… that’s a lot of people. Particularly when they all commit to a four-figure ticket, with a pricey hotel in a pricey town, and often with lengthy flights to get there. A few years ago, during the boom, only two thousand could make that level of commitment. Something has clearly changed.

But the industry level of commitment has changed too. Looking down the partner list at the keynotes… lots of major, mainstream companies are now delivering rich interfaces to their vast audiences.

This year’s event drew far more press attention too.

What caused the change, the increase in general importance?

  • “Experience matters” has been ratified by the industry. Apple’s iPhone helped the West accept rich experiences across device form-factors. Microsoft’s Silverlight and Google’s Gears helped the acceptance of predictable cross-browser functionality. Mozilla’s Prism acknowledged the need for network applications beyond a promiscuous document browser. Ajax helped the public accept the idea of processing both server-side and client-side, in tandem. The Open Screen Project brought all the players together for mobile delivery. Macromedia proclaimed some revolutionary things, and in 2008 everyone agrees.

  • We’ve actually achieved the goals of standard tooling, high-functionality servers, and predictable universal runtimes. Virtually every visual artifact we see these days has passed through the Creative Suite pipeline at some point. ColdFusion, FMS and CoCoMo span deployment models. And there’s now little remaining disagreement that Player is the de facto standard for advanced clientside work. This acknowledgment has really firmed up over the past twelve months. Production and distribution are solid.
  • The economic constriction has cut down on some of the frothy competition for attention. This year there’s more of an emphasis on solid, reliable performers. Adobe is conservative and diversified, but focuses squarely on enabling publishing, communication.

There are certainly other reasons for the increased size and importance of this event. Whatever the causes, this year’s MAX conference did clearly carry more meaning, to more people, than ever before.

Macromedia Flash Platform, vs Adobe Flash Platform

A few years ago Macromedia used the term “Flash Platform” to talk about the general ecosystem growing around the new Flex, Flash Media Server, Breeze initiatives. This year, “Adobe Flash Platform” was used to describe the quickly-growing ecosystem. I see a big difference.

The Macromedia Flash Platform talked about a promise, the way things could be, the way things might better fit together. The Adobe Flash Platform talks about the way things already are, how people are using capabilities right now, as a guide for new areas to explore in the future.

Flex is out there in the world today, creating public interfaces. Flash video has become the standard. Conferencing has gone mainstream in Acrobat. Desktop tooling is going to the web. Flash is used to re-organize the interface of desktop tools. ColdFusion is very Flash-savvy. There are almost a billion devices shipped with Flash. It’s different today.

The older Macromedia Flash Platform was more of a promise, a vision, a gamble, a bet. Today’s Adobe Flash Platform describes the world’s reality, and how this can grow in the future.

Same “Flash Platform” phrase, but for me, two different sets of context, of meaning.

Future changes

There’s a lot of work we’ve all still got to do.

Start with the little screen, then progressively-enhance to the big screen.

The laptop will still be important. It just won’t be the only thing that’s important. We need to shift our design awareness from the workstation to the pocket.

Adobe used to make the desktop browser plugin, and then try to shrink it down to the handheld. The computer was the standard, and then we refactored down to less-capable devices. You know how hard it was to develop against that.

Now, with more handhelds using open operating systems, there will be one “Adobe Flash Player” powering all display screens. No more “Lite” versions. Mobile will be as-near-to-parity with desktops as possible. There will be one codebase across all interactive screens, but with additional abilities available on more capable devices.

And… in open operating systems (like Symbian, Linux, Windows Mobile, Android) you can install or update a Player yourself, like in desktop browsers.

Developmental profiling will be based on the hardware — the pixel size of the display, offline capability, whether location-aware — rather than by which runtime version was baked into it at time of manufacture.

Upshot? The reach of your project will be greater including the mobile audience, than excluding it. And progressive-enhancement beats graceful-degradation. We need to start considering the mobile experience first, then adding to it.

Client and Cloud, Connected.

The RIA talk over the past half-decade has been about the technology, about how we achieve a mix of cloud and client computing. Now that the technology is well-distributed and predictable, we need to figure out how to best use it.

We need to design for multiple screens. All workstations are on The Internet now. Mobile is finally catching up in North America. And home television is slowly coming along as well. Our applications and data are increasingly moving to “The Cloud”, to remote machines. We’re going to want a coherent experience across those different display screens.

We’ll be in different social settings when using those screens. You’re on-the-go with mobile, and can’t drill down as deeply as at your desktop. Both are different from checking your finances on the couch across from the video wall. Right now we tend to “design an interface”. It’s going to have to move to “design a set of experiences”, which are sensitive to the varying user-situations.

And we really don’t understand social networks yet either. Web2.0 stumbled upon a few good models, but even the best services still have spam and gaming. Yet we need to make it easy to get good advice from friends, and filter out the rest of the noise. Social networks are in their infancy.

We’ve got the technology to have all your devices work together. Now we’ve got to design those experiences.

Those are some of the most important things I learned at MAX this year. But I’m still reading what others experienced, trying to understand it better. I’ll do a follow-up post with some additional items.

Matt Asay is my hero…

… for saying what few others will, about distribution channels for popular media:

“My desire for convenience shouldn’t have trumped New Line Cinema’s desire for control and profit. I had no right — legal or moral — to pirate the movie to satisfy my own whims. I was wrong, and that wrong could well end up ensuring that fewer ‘Dark Knights’ and ‘Fellowships’ get created. As consumers, whether of movies, software, or other digital goods, we do ourselves a disservice when we steal.”

I’m less concerned about abstract “legal rights” or “moral rights” than I am about practical sustainability. When one party in a transaction unilaterally dictates terms to the other, things don’t usually work out as well in the long run. I think we need to increase the total number of choices available to both creators and consumers, so that they have more options, more tools to reach agreement with each other.

Or, as Matt says: “As technology providers, we need to foster new, convenient, and safe technologies and, hence, business models for content providers to make their products available online as wares, not warez… [otherwise] we may well get what we pay for.”

No underestimation

At Seeking Alpha, Dan Rayburn has a good article, warning Adobe not to get too cocky about the success of Flash video. I tended to agree, but in a larger context. Unfortunately my comment got snagged by a late-appearing registration interface, and I’ve already got more than enough passwords, so it’s easier to just post it here…. ;-)

Hi, I’m not Shantanu, and wasn’t at that presentation, but I do know that folks within Adobe take Microsoft very seriously. We have to act as if each announcement will come true.

But from what I read, I think the presentation and stats were about the outside perception, the outside choices, what people outside Adobe have to think about when choosing their own video solution. Flash just works. It’s the easiest way to reach your audience.

Public events at MAX?

I wasn’t at the first MacroMind Developers Conference, in Chicago 1986, but did hang around outside the SF Chinatown event a few years later — couldn’t afford a ticket, couldn’t even afford a computer at that point, but I wanted to learn, to meet people who were also inspired by these new possibilities.

This year’s Adobe MAX event is the biggest in history, but not everyone can afford the ticket price. It’s still important to get together, learn from others, put faces to the names, understand what makes other people tick.

Here are some local San Francisco events I know of which are open to both MAX attendees and non-attendees. If you know of more — even if it’s just a casual get-together at a local pub — then please drop a note in comments.

  • First, a great general guide to “Getting Around MAX 2008″, with tips for visitors from SF locals in the community.
  • Tue Nov 11 (for you early arrivers ;-) is the inaugural meeting of the Illustrator User Group, 6:30 pm, Adobe building (601 Townsend at 7th).
  • Sun Nov 16 is CF_Underground. Day events require registration, but there’s networking at a pub near Moscone early evening.
  • Tue Nov 18, Fire on the Bay, SF Fireworks User Group, 6:45 pm, Adobe building (601 Townsend at 7th), RSVP.
  • Wed Nov 19, Bay Area ColdFusion User Group, regular meeting but with MAX-themed presentations, 6:30 pm, Adobe building (601 Townsend at 7th), RSVP.
  • Thu Nov 20 (for you late departers ;-) is the regular monthly meeting of San Flashcisco (just don’t call it “Flishco”), 6:30pm, SFSU 835 Market Rm 609.
  • 360|MAX has a mini-conference within the conference, but it’s only open to MAX attendees, sorry… still, if you’re in the area, keep an eye on this website for any additional off-site get-togethers.

Got more? Even if it’s just “we’ll be talking XFL at the Chieftain”, then a note here can help bring attendees and non-attendees together. Thanks!

Continue reading…

No need to update

Not if you’re in Player 10, that is.

Newspaper headlines this week urge “Update your Reader 8!” and “Update your Player 9!” Careful readers might notice something odd with this advice….

Why the news cycle? Adobe released new versions of old software this week, for people on locked intranets and others who cannot yet use the current versions. Once even people on locked systems have updates for old versions, at that point we can describe in general terms what was addressed. That new documentation is what’s driving the headlines.

(I tried leaving a comment at BetaNews, but after writing it, they told me my email address was already in use. ZDNet also uses a membership system for comments, as do many others. Even the Washington Post now has a membership wall… particularly sad because some pseudonymous commenters there are seeking info about version-detection implementations on some sites. Shouting through the wind is not my strong point, but these simple truths remain.)

If you’ve got to use old software, then yes, please do use this week’s downloads to protect against the later JavaScript intrusions.

But you’re already protected if you’re using current versions.

I wish the headlines were updated as easily.