In the past year, many web developers have transitioned from Flash to HTML, and as the new standard continues to evolve, many more are likely to do the same. In her session, Deepa Subramaniam outlined the way Adobe is dealing with this shift, which actually holds interesting parallels with the changes us developers are experiencing.
Adobe has been developing the Flash player for many years as a proprietary island in web space. In doing so, they have had full control of the environment, the updates and road map for the platform their users were working with. Today, like many developers, Adobe is dealing with a far more democratic web, with no single stakeholder. Adobe is still adamant about supporting our community, but must now do so through collaboration with companies and organisations like Google, Apple, Microsoft, W3C and Webkit.
Helping to build a better web is an important part of Adobe’s new mission statement. For this purpose, a new web platform team has been created. The efforts of this new team are mainly focused on improving the web at the foundation level. One way they are doing this is by working on new standards with the W3C. They have embedded engineers in several working groups, aiming to take the experience they gained while working on Flash and Flex to help push the web forward. Adobe is also contributing directly to WebKit, the open source engine inside Safari and Chrome.
A recent result of these efforts can be seen in CSS Regions, which enable complex magazine style layouts. This Adobe proposed feature is currently available in Chrome 15 and IE 10 developer preview. Other propositions which may be close to seeing a public release are CSS Shaders and progress events for the image tag. With CSS shaders, Adobe is looking to apply lessons learned in PixelBender to create CSS powered 3D animations which can be applied to any DOM element. With progress events, managing a progress bar would no longer require convoluted XMLHTTPRequests, and could instead be handled with a single function.
Deepa talked about many other proposals being drafted for features further down the road. Discussing these in detail goes beyond the scope of this post, but they are worth mentioning none the less. They include CSS compositing through blending and clipping, CSS variables and the rather ominous Shadow DOM, which would add encapsulation to the document object model.
The second part of Adobe’s new mission statement is building better tools. Regarding this, Deepa talked about a strategic shift within the company to support a new way of development where people use a combination of smaller, specialized tools, rather than relying on a single program. One example of this is Adobe Edge, a tool created for the single purpose of making web based motion graphics. Another is PhoneGap, acquired by Adobe in October. This tool can wrap HTML content in a native app shell for distribution on the many marketplaces. No details were divulged regarding future tools Adobe would release, other than that they would. Deepa did mention that PhoneGap get better integration with current and future software.
It is nice to see that instead of trying to swim against the current of change by pushing the Flash player to web developers, Adobe has made a clear choice to collaborate with other stakeholders in order to reach the same goal: empower designers and developers to create new and exciting digital experiences.