MAX 2009 Conference Report

 
Nov 23, 2009

by Lisa Heselton

Another year, and another Adobe MAX has come and gone. This year's event took place in Los Angeles from October 5-7; a bit earlier in the year than previous events, but full of great information and training as always. While MAX really is an event to be experienced, the majority of the sessions (as well as both of the keynotes) are available online for those who weren't able to attend (or who'd like to relive those magical moments again).

MAX: Day One Keynote Highlights

After an introduction featuring dancers from the Black Eyed Peas Peapod Youth Academy (who have a partnership with the Adobe Foundation), Adobe's CEO Shantanu Narayen gave a brief welcome and introduction to the crowd before bringing out Kevin Lynch, Adobe's CTO. The keynote covered:

Flash Player 10.1: Smartphone enabled; allows multi-touch, accelerometer awareness, screen orientation, lower power consumption, hardware acceleration, memory optimization (automatic memory reduction), HTTP video streaming, content protection, and peer-assisted networking (client-to-client communication). Demos of several next-gen smartphones were shown, even showing Adobe Connect running on a mystery Android device.

Open Screen Project (OSP): new partners include RIM (Flash on the Blackberry) and Google.

Netbooks and TVs (set-top boxes): I was surprised at the lack of focus on alternative platforms; previously, Adobe had been making big splashes in the consumer electronics space with Flash screens on digital cameras and other devices, and with some of the recent progress on gaming consoles and cable boxes, a new announcement in this space seemed likely. Keep an eye on the 'streaming Flash video on television' space, but for now, all that was shown was processor improvements and Flash Player 10.1 performance improvements.

AIR 2.0: Some highlights of the AIR release include native process API, the ability to detect mass storage devices (such as flash drives, cameras, etc.), accessibility enhancements, native code integration, improved networking APIs (including UDP, IPv6, and more), document handling (i.e., ability to open a document with its default app), local microphone support and audio recording, multi-touch/gesture support, performance enhancements, a global error handler, and improved socket support. AIR 2.0 is expected to be on Labs by the end of the year, with the final version expected to ship in the first half of 2010. Kevin Lynch stated that the plan is to get AIR onto smartphones and other devices, so that "you'll be able to build an app once and have it work across a variety of devices."

If you blinked, you might have missed the mention of ColdFusion 9. While it was mentioned that the ColdFusion developer community has tripled in the past four years (to over 3/4 million strong), there was not nearly as much time devoted to ColdFusion as would be expected given that it was one of the few product launch announcements at the event. It was mentioned that with (currently beta) Flash Builder and ColdFusion Builder, you could combine the two to create great Web applications. Ben Forta focused his presentation on the LiveCycle products, so there was no ColdFusion dog-and-pony show at all this year.

On to LiveCycle ES2, which has gobbled up what was formerly called Genesis to become LiveCycle Mosaic, a rich Internet platform for building integrated applications that combine HTML, AJAX, and Flex to provide visualizations of different backend applications. The former CoCoMo project (a hosted peer-to peer collaboration service) is now LiveCycle Collaboration Services, which enables you to put real-time communications into the enterprise application process. LiveCycle Launchpad ES2 is an AIR application that allows you to drag-and-drop LiveCycle processes from the desktop. The Mobile features were mostly glossed over, so those are most likely on the horizon, and there is a Cloud aspect as well. LiveCycle Collaboration Service pricing is now available online.

While Johnny Loiacono is always a great presenter, the demo of Photoshop doing 'realistic media manipulation' fell flat; this is stuff that Painter has been doing for over a decade. Quite frankly, I hate seeing Photoshop become more bloated by incorporating Painter's features. The demo of a 'future version' of Flash Pro, with enhanced text capabilities, a new physics-like engine, and ActionScript snippets, was certainly more enticing. He also did a demo of Flash Catalyst, showing a few of the newer features found in the new beta release.

What about this whole 'Flash on the iPhone' thing? Much of the buzz about Adobe's own announcements was drowned out due to the overwhelming interest in the iPhone's Flash capabilities. While the ability to create Flash apps for the iPhone placated some [Editor's Note: for more details, see the Wired.com article "Flash Lands on the iPhone - One App at a Time"], most were still crossing their arms and shaking their heads, wondering when the native Flash support for Safari would appear. While no official statement was forthcoming from Adobe, Kevin Lynch, Adobe's CTO, was relatively candid on the matter during a press briefing, stating that he felt that Apple was replaying its own history by not playing nice with others at its own peril. Right after MAX, Adobe launched their Photoshop.com app for the iPhone.

The Day One keynote wrapped up with something not on the online video: a 20-minute preview of various clips from the upcoming film AVATAR. This film has been gaining attention for its attempt to push the boundaries of technology with stunning 3D work. Tools such as Photoshop, After Effects, Lightroom, Connect, and even InDesign were used throughout the project, and Producer Jon Landau came out to set up the preview scenes that were shown in 3D on a 60-foot screen.

Day Two Keynote Highlights

The Day Two Keynote focused on the community and the projects that were being created with the Flash platform. The demo of mlb.com showcased some of the new Flash Player/AIR 2.0 capabilities, including HTTP streaming and Digital Rights Management (DRM). Jennifer Taylor, Director, Flash Content Creation and Distribution, covered some details of the OpenSource Media Framwork and demoed the framework in action. Flash Access will be the new name for FMRMS (Flash Media Rights Mgmt Server), which is expected early next year. A FedEx demo showcased their LiveCycle Data Services/Flex-based system for tracking and monitoring their fleet. Electronic Arts discussed pogo.com, a 'casual gamer' site, where they use Flash prototypes to create Web-based Flash games. Serge Jespers demonstrated a shooting game to showcase the Distribution Manager, a way to share and/or monetize applications (information on AIR monetization (including try/buy functionality), codenamed Shibuya, is on Labs now). The keynote closed off with a demonstration of Augmented Reality (AR), featuring an application for the USPS and an interactive music video by John Mayer (who joined Kevin Lynch onstage as well).

Sneak Peeks

The Sneak Peeks are always a bit of a breath-holder, not so much for what amazing technology will be showcased, but for which demo will be the unfortunate crash/fail victim. This year only one product failed to work, which is impressive given that these are such highly advanced applications, usually in very early stages of development. All of the demos were impressive; thin-client gaming, a physics engine for Flash, smart pasting, a development cloud environment, mobile Flex, Pause and Resume (aka Edit and Continue) Flex coding, and a massive improvement to Photoshop's currently hit-or-miss (usually more 'miss') Spot Healing tool. Adobe always makes the caveat that what is shown in the sneaks may or may not ever see the light of day in a product release. The one demo that really blew everything else out of the water was code-named Rome; Greg Rewis later quipped that it 'wasn't built in a day,' which was pretty obvious. Rome is definitely a kitchen-sink application. It can be used online or offline, and works with video, Flash, photos, images, graphics, etc., allowing context-sensitive controls for each (i.e., each element has its own unique set of functions that will appear). Greg mentioned to me that he'd actually forgotten to do one part of the demo (putting a PixelBender effect onto the transition to the video), but it seemed hard to believe that there was anything missing at all. Most of the developers wore Star Wars costumes to present their sneaks in honor of the special guest, Mark Hamill (there was no Joker love, sadly). After the sneaks, the crowd went outside to meet Mr. Hamill and hang out in various venues at LA Live. The party wrapped up with a performnce by Adobe's own Duane Chaos (a.k.a Duane Nickull, Senior Technical Evangelist) and his band, 22nd Century, who were joined at one point by Scott Fegette (Technical Product Manager for Dreamweaver).

So that's a wrap-up of the main highlights from the 'announcement side' of Adobe MAX; while this wasn't a Creative Suite upgrade year with a ton of new products, there were several key technologies and announcements that should generate a lot of cool projects in the months ahead.


Lisa Heselton's diverse background includes writing, creating, producing, managing, developing, promoting, training, and any other -ing she can get her hands on. After a stint in art school as a video major, she worked in the music business, then as a government contractor, a trainer, a marketer, a Web developer, a video editor/producer, a computer salesperson, a multimedia director, and a promoter, and is now the founder and principle at kindred LLC (http://kndrd.com), a creative consultancy and marketing firm. Her blog is http://www.vombie.com, and she can be found twittering at http://twitter.com/kavka.



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