Has Adobe capitulated to Apple?
Since acquiring Macromedia in 2005, Adobe has dominated high-end web design just as it does professional print, so the launch of Creative Suite 5.5 (CS5.5) is significant because it fundamentally repositions Adobe’s overall web strategy.
Only a year ago with the launch of CS5, Adobe dropped its Web Standard edition, which had provided the core Macromedia tools (Dreamweaver Fireworks and Flash), and replaced it with a CS5 Web Premium edition containing 11 applications, all unified by a single component – Flash.
How Flash attained such a central role is a fundamental question that Adobe failed to address, let alone explain, so let me try here.
Without anyone noticing, Flash’s userbase had become bigger than that of any browser
First of all, it’s essential to understand how different Adobe’s Flash is from the Macromedia Flash that first appeared back in 1996. When I reviewed SmartSketch, forerunner of Flash, I failed to spot that this quaint doodling program would eventually change the nature of the web.
With hindsight it’s clear what gave Flash its edge – a vector object-based file architecture that extended HTML’s browser runtime capabilities by efficiently delivering rich typography, graphics and animation within the severe bandwidth limits of the day.
Eventually, Flash added support for audio and basic interactivity, and real programmability with the introduction of ActionScript in Flash 5 (in 2000). Version 6 added video support and made Flash the crucial browser extension, whose cross-platform, player-based runtime was independent of the underlying browser, OS or hardware, and hence universal.
Successful Flash-enabled sites such as YouTube made the Flash player near-ubiquitous, installed on around 99% of desktop PCs.
Without anyone noticing, Flash’s userbase had become bigger than that of any browser, bigger than Java’s, bigger even than Windows. This cartoon-doodling app had somehow become “the world’s most pervasive software”.
The underlying runtime of HTML browsers employs a request-response model of sequentially fetched pages, but Flash’s runtime has no such limitation and can establish persistent connections to download server-based audio, video and data (XML as well as HTML) as real-time streams.
It can deliver a far richer, desktop-style user experience than awkward, stuttering page-based HTML, and this enabled Macromedia to talk about a new role for Flash as the provider of Rich Internet Applications (RIAs).
Typical early RIAs were live share-price dashboards and e-commerce apps, but its potential stretched far into the world of communications, TV streaming and online interactive applications such as word processors and spreadsheets.
This vision of a rich, universal desktop-like web platform via the ubiquitous browser was almost limitless, but Macromedia realised it was simply too small a firm to deliver it
Essentially, the Flash player was the “next-generation rich client” that designers and developers should target just as they had earlier the browser. Flash could provide the rich platform for cloud computing.
This vision of a rich, universal desktop-like web platform via the ubiquitous browser was almost limitless, but Macromedia realised it was simply too small a firm to deliver it.
At one time it looked as though Microsoft might buy it, but then it decided to work on its own cross-platform player Silverlight, so Macromedia threw in its lot with long-standing rival Adobe.