Adobe's MAX 2006 conference is the premier worldwide event for Web developers and designers to hear first hand what is going on inside the company and what new technologies are just around the corner. Experiencing this year's event up close and personal it was well worth the time off work and travel to the city of sin — Las Vegas, Nevada.
Without a doubt the biggest buzz of MAX was Flex and Apollo.
Flex was a hot topic at the conference with many developers focusing on the new technology stack. For those not aware of Flex it's a rapid way of building what Adobe are calling "Rich Internet Applications" that work the same way in any browser via the latest version of the Adobe Flash player. For a hands-on tutorial of Flex check out a previous article I worte for Builder AU.
Mac users were given a nice present at MAX with the beta release of Flex Builder 2 and the Flex plug for Eclipse announced for OS X, both delayed because of issues with the Eclipse 3.2 build. Senior Director of Engineering at Adobe Sho Kuwamoto made the announcement during the first day's keynote and anybody keen to get their hands on either version was able to a couple of days before they we released to the public on Adobe Labs.
Apollo is the code name for Adobes new runtime that will allow developers to deploy Rich Internet Applications on the desktop. It will support applications built in Flash, HTML and PDF, allowing for hybrid applications that could combine all three.
Kevin Lynch, Adobes CTO, demonstrated a number of Apollo applications during the first day's keynote, including one built on top of Google Maps that used a Flash overlay to hold and display a list of vCard driven contacts. Entries from that list could call up locations in Google Maps and fetch driving directions - a really cool mashup of Flash and Ajax working together in Apollo.
While at MAX I had a chance to sit down with Mike Chambers from Adobes Apollo team and have a chat about what Apollo will offer.
Firstly Apollo will treat both Flash and HTML equally as first class citizens, running under the hood of Apollo is a version of WebKit - Adobe is not intending to enter the browser business via Apollo.
Flex is the current developers tool of choice for the Apollo applications that have been on show. Most existing Flex applications will not need to be re-authored to work in Apollo, unless the developer wants to take advantage of everything that Apollo has to offer.
You will be able to author Flash applications for Apollo in the Flash IDE but they will need to be written in ActionScript 3 so that the necessary hooks for the system level calls Apollo makes are properly supported.
Apollo will be very kind to Ajax developers. There currently is no accepted Ajax standard; the closest thing on offer is the number of frameworks currently available that aid developers in rapid development. The major browsers while similar interpret HTML differently, cleaver Ajax applications require different codebases in order to work "universally".
Apollo offers Ajax application developers the single runtime that they're looking for, and more. It will solve a lot of their headaches, offering them the ability to build applications that will run on the desktop and run offline.
Like the Flash player, future versions of Apollo will be backwards compatible in the way that they support applications built for Apollo. If an Ajax authored application worked in version one of Apollo, it will still work in version five - not all Ajax applications work the same way in the recent release of Internet Explorer 7.
For those of you who remember it, Apollo is not Central 2.0, Central was an experiment by Macromedia that has lead to Apollo. Central contained Macromedia branding that sometimes confused potential users and frustrated developers. Developers are free to build Apollo applications with any kind of skinning that they choose. The licensing for Apollo is one that developers are going to love and the necessary tools like the compiler will be free just as the Flex SDK is also free to developers.
You can keep an eye on the progress of Apollo on the Adobe site including FAQs and release details from the following link: http://www.adobe.com/go/apollo
While its been previously shown at some of the north American conferences that lead up to MAX it was interesting to see the features of the new version of Flash in action. The ability to import Photoshop files into Flash while preserving the layers and keeping objects, including text, editable is going to make a lot of people happy. The import feature has been well thought out with the hidden attribute of layers being preserved along with support for most of the layer effects.
Another feature of the Photoshop import is the ability to make individual Photoshop layers into separate Flash movieclips and set the Flash stage to equal the size of the Photoshop file.
The new versions of Photoshop and Flash will have another thing in common; a new mobile device emulator for Flash design and testing called Device Central. Emulating environmental conditions like screen glare and operating conditions like the phones time or battery condition will certainly prove useful to developers. The ability to emulate phone CPU performance was also demonstrated.
It appears as though Adobe has for now decided to leave the UI of the two companies (Adobe & Macromedia) products as is. One thing was different in a number of the new product versions demonstrated, Photoshop included, was a new style of collapsible panel that could minimise as an icon to the top right of the application window.
Now that there's a robust development environment for Flex built on top of Eclipse Adobe have turned their attention to improving the developer features of the Flash IDE.
New features were shown that were met with a lot of enthusiasm by the Flash developer crowd. The ability to target an open Flash movie means that the compile and test can now be called from any open ActionScript file - a real time saver.
Debugging has been greatly enhances as well with a new debug workspace and the addition of a Compiler Errors panel that will jump to the offending line of code via a double click. Debugging with a movie is running is now possible.
Code name Scorpio ColdFusion 8 is currently in alpha, Adobe were using MAX to show some of it's features off for the first time. I was able to catch up with Tim Buntel from the ColdFusion team to talk about Scorpio and what's happening with ColdFusion in general.
Perhaps the biggest thing to happen in Scorpio will be the new server monitoring features. With a sleek UI built in Flex you will be able to keep track of the ColdFusion server's overall health. During development it can be used to identify problem code, one example demonstrated a code error with the segment of code shown and the suspect line number identified.
Monitoring will be capable of running during production as well, enabling checks on server performance.
This version of ColdFusion will have better integration with .Net. While .Net Web services can play nice with everyone else by returning regular arrays and objects in their results the typical experience is that they instead return pointers to DLLs creating havoc with other application servers - Scorpio will address this.
With ColdFusion actually being a Java application, it's been possible for some time to leverage Java straight from ColdFusion itself, one example that a lot of other developers have done in the past is to use Java for image manipulation. Adobe acknowledges that and has added a new tag set that will build image manipulation into ColdFusion itself.
I asked Tim how ColdFusion was faring, there has been some recent discussion here in Australia about where its place is in the application server marketplace is right now. The news in the US is that ColdFusion adoption is on the increase - as a Java solution it's been added to the Federal Government standards list.
It's still a major presence in the Fortune 500 with many organizations taking on enterprise licenses so that they can deploy ColdFusion any time that they like.
Another interesting bit of news is that there have been a number of new ColdFusion users due to the introduction of Flex 2 and the new Flex connectivity features of ColdFusion 7.0.2.
Adobe showed off features that should make it into an upcoming version of the popular HTML editor Dreamweaver, no hints as to what's happening with Adobe's GoLive HTML but a quick check of the Adobe site shows it still listed.
Dreamweaver will have better integration with existing Adobe products. In a demonstration an image was copied and pasted from Photoshop into Dreamweaver. Dreamweaver acknowledged the source of the image and offered optimisation settings for the image. The image was then changed in Photoshop, Dreamweaver reflected the changes.
Designers wanting to make more of straight HTML design will be interested to know that there are plans for an upcoming version of Dreamweaver to incorporate Adobe's Spry framework for Ajax - display and management of datasets, effects and UI components like accordion panes can be inserted straight into a page as new behaviours. Spry is available as a download from Adobe Labs.
Adobe want to make CSS even easier in future versions Dreamweaver, one thing that they've got in mind is CSS Advisor, a new companion site for Dreamweaver.
Much like a community site it will advise on CSS problems and offer the public the opportunity to comment and rate it's content. Dreamweaver will be able to analyse HTML and CSS for errors and call the CSS Advisor site directly to get further information about problem code that it's identified.
Better and more specific browser targeting including rendering issues will be introduced in Dreamweaver with better error highlighting and tooltips to detail information about problem code.
The other side of MAX
The public areas at MAX was: black MAX bean bags; agonising slow wireless internet; networking opportunities; guys betting on whether or not they would get an electric shock from licking an Ethernet cable; and smoking - lots of it. Vegas is probably one of the few major cities in the US where it would appear that smoking hasn't been outlawed indoors.
Another very public thing happening during MAX was MAXUP, a show and tell opportunity for developer to literally have their fifteen minutes of fame and present to their peers.
The social side of MAX included a number of parties both scheduled and private, an official MAX event was organised for every night of the conference - the highlight being the Party at the Palms. Organisers took over a large portion of the Palms Casino for the night with the exclusive Rain nightclub pounding out beats.
Sydney web developer Justin Mclean and I checked out the Ghost Bar while we were at the Palms. Located on the 55th floor of one of the two towers that make up the Palms, the bar has a large balcony that extends beyond the building giving you a fantastic view of Vegas by night. Part of the balcony's floor is a large glass panel that if you're game you can stand on, looking straight down through it was a bit of a mind bend.
As an Adobe Community Expert I attended the MAX Community dinner at the very swish Tao restaurant at the Venetian. What was cool about the event was being able to meet a number of folk that I've encountered online in various ways over the years.
Another private event that I went to was a party hosted by effectiveui, the folk who built the eBay Apollo app that was a big hit of day ones keynote. They had a couple of Cirque performers as party entertainment. There was a presentation by a client of effectiveui's from the US Air Force who talked about how effectiveui helped them to build an application on top of Flash Media Server to chat, share images and "Madden" whiteboard via a secure satellite link with their B1 and B52 bomber crews. Quote of the night: "When I showed it to the boys at Langley..."
The size of MAX was at times hard to comprehend. 3500 is quite a lot of people to house, feed and coordinate. Although by Vegas standards I'm led to believe that is about a tenth of an average conference - it's amazing to see that the Venetian Hotel's conference facilities could handle attendees without appearing as though there was any kind of crowding.
The number of sessions on offer over the three days of the conference was many and varied, represented on each floor of the venue by multiple rows of plasma screens and print out stations where everywhere so that you could keep track of your personal schedule.
You need to work the corridors to get the most out of your connections. There were a couple of people that I had intended to catch up with that I just didn't get to see at all.
Here in Australia we have our own MAX equivalent without the crowds yet still gives you the latest from Adobe and hearing from top developers who use their products: WebDU.
Mike Chambers has been a regular to WebDu and it's previous incarnation MXDU and I understand that he's going to make the trip again in March - no doubt to give us the latest on Apollo.