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9/24/2009
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Adobe In The Crossfire

With all the excitement surrounding HTML 5 and Web development, Adobe is moving to make sure that Flash remains relevant.

Google is also pushing the envelope in terms of expanding the availability and utility of 3D imagery online. Two different patent applications filed by Google on Thursday, one in the EU and one in the US, foretell the company's ambition to bring 3D panoramic driving direction imagery to Google Maps and to bypass browser file-system access limitations in order in to generate rich 3D graphics "without needing special software such as a Flash plug-in or the like."

Adrian Ludwig, group manager for Flash Platform Product Marketing, acknowledges that a certain portion of the development community sees HTML 5 as a threat to Flash but argues that Adobe supports browser innovation and has done so for years.

A lot of the innovation that has been happening with browsers, he said, "has been strongly inspired by what we do with Flash. ... The browsers are going to have to get better and we're all for that."

"We think it's going to take a long time for anything to be standardized," he said, suggesting it could be five to ten years before HTML 5 stabilizes. "It doesn't feel like a threat. There are certainly parts of the community that have positioned it as a threat."

In downplaying that threat, Ludwig says that much of the focus has been on the client when there's also consideration that needs to be given to the server side of things. Flash of course isn't just about rendering pretty images; it's also about delivering those images at scale, through streaming servers.

And Flash is evolving. On Monday, Adobe launched Flash Platform Services to provide a platform for promoting, measuring and monetizing Flash applications on social networks, desktops, and mobile devices. Viewed in conjunction with Adobe's recently announced acquisition of Web metrics company Omniture, it's clear that Adobe's vision for Flash and other Adobe development technologies involves empowerment on the server side -- think content management -- at least as much as advances on the client side.

Andrew Crow, senior experience designer with online design firm Adaptive Path, believes Flash isn't under any immediate threat.

"I know that a lot of developers are extremely excited about things like HTML 5 and the new capabilities that will be made available in the future," he said. "But people still use Flash and will continue to use Flash for while because it does provide some options that browser-based interaction does not."

Acknowledging that some developers in the debate have entrenched opinions, often due to time invested learning a technology that now provides income, he notes that he's currently working on a kiosk project where JavaScript and CSS weren't an option. He said the projected required something more robust, which happened to be Flash and Flex. At the same time, he said that were he working on a Web site, he'd likely try to use HTML technology so as to be more accessible and not reliant on plug-ins.

For Crow, it's a matter of using the right tool for the job.

With regard to Microsoft's WebsiteSpark announcement, Ludwig suggests that Microsoft isn't so much aiming at Adobe as it is the entire Web-centric development community, of which Adobe considers itself a part.

"I don't see them with that particular announcement thinking about Adobe," he said. "I see them thinking about everything on the Web and the preponderance of interest in Web technologies. I think it is being driven by losing their developers to Web development inclusive of Flash."

Perhaps the real problem that Adobe confronts is that it's caught in between the open-source and the closed-source world. Flash, for example, is mostly open source, but not completely. "It's as open as we can make it," said Ludwig. "There are some constraints on some of the codecs...but we're committed to making it as open as possible."

Unfortunately for Adobe, being in the middle of things can be dangerous. "We tend to get hit in the crossfire a little bit," said Ludwig.


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