Has Adobe capitulated to Apple?

Adobe Flash: new and improved

Has Adobe capitulated to Apple?

In many ways Adobe was the perfect fit to deliver Flash’s rich abilities to professional designer. It was a good match in another way too: Adobe’s original design platform was based around the device-independent PostScript page-description language for ink and paper, and now it could apply Flash as a similarly device-independent screen description language for online delivery.

Soon after taking over Macromedia, Adobe dropped the unloved GoLive and ImageReady apps from CS3 and replaced them with Dreamweaver, Fireworks and, of course, Flash Professional.

Adobe also began incorporating the Flash player into Acrobat to handle multimedia and interactivity, and strengthened Flash support in its other apps – most notably, InDesign and the various video tools – but to fulfil its potential Adobe needed to go further still. Recognising that the Flash player could act as a rich universal platform was the easy bit: now Adobe had to make it happen.

First step

An essential first step was reshaping the frame-based Flash animation player into a more robust programmatic runtime suited to its new RIA role.

This is exactly what Adobe did with its first release, Flash Player 9, building in a second virtual machine (VM2) based around the completely rewritten ActionScript 3.

Next Adobe had to rethink its authoring tools to encourage developers to produce RIAs for the new runtime – Flash Professional had proved its worth in producing high-impact rich content, but its frame-based environment was designed for animation rather than app development.

Here, Adobe built on the RIA groundwork that Macromedia had already laid down with its Flex framework. A key feature of Flex is MXML, an XML-based markup language for describing the components of a UI, components that can be linked to ActionScript logic and themselves rendered via ActionScript.

Flash builder

Back in the Macromedia days, Flex was tied to on-the-fly, server-based Flash generation and prohibitive CPU-based licence costs, but Adobe completely repositioned Flex 2 by throwing it wide open. Using a now freely available SDK and compiler developers can produce and deploy advanced Flash-based RIAs for free.

More practically, developers can take advantage of Adobe’s low-cost Flash Builder application, which provides a familiar Eclipse-based IDE complete with intelligent code editing, debugging and visual design.

Adobe’s next Flex update framework in 2008 was just as significant, extending the SDK to support the new Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), which in addition to supporting Flash, Flex and ActionScript3 also provides PDF handling, a built-in SQLite database and the WebKit rendering engine to run HTML5, CSS and JavaScript.

The very nature of computing was changing and becoming truly personal: the handheld mobile device would soon replace the desktop PC as the primary means of accessing web content

AIR enables developers to break their RIAs free from the browser and its sandbox and deliver them as lightweight, standalone applications for any AIR-enabled desktop, using exactly the same file across Windows, Mac and Linux systems.

But Adobe was aware this wasn’t enough. The very nature of computing was changing and becoming truly personal: the handheld mobile device would soon replace the desktop PC as the primary means of accessing web content. Adobe needed to rework the Flash platform to encompass the mobile space, ready for the oncoming flood of handheld devices.

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