Flash and Apollo
Went over to the Barbican, for the FLASH User group to hear what Mike Downey had to say about Apollo.We had the usual CS3 run through before Mike and he ended up taking the flak for the disgracefully large upgrade prices on the software. We spent over two grand buying the Photoshop suite and the Production Studio Premium less than six months ago. Now we’re being asked to spend almost as much to do the ugrade. Adobe moved down a point in my estimation and lost some of the positive ground they’ve made with AS3. Had to get that out of the way first; I just think it’s appalling and I can’t afford the new toys.
What’s new in CS3? A couple of interesting features for Bridge. An API could produce some interesting automation products, so I’d like to look at that. Bridge can also play back swf’s in the interface which is a bonus. Well done them. Photoshop now has the ability to read in 3D models and do some simple texture mapping. This should be useful. It can also do the cut throughs, similar to SketchUp with buildings, so that you can see cross sections of the models growing into the final image. Very neat. I should look at what formats are being used. How are the developments here linked to the 3D display within pdf files etc? Non destructive filters and multiple photo alignment are another two features of interest. The improved magic wand looks impressive. Let’s try it in the real world; I remember the CS2 demos.
Flash CS3 has now got Photoshop layers import, with an interface to decide what gets converted to movie clips etc. They are also using the Fireworks jpeg compression rather than the Photshop offering. Looks like the Fireworks compression will be the algorithm of choice for future Adobe software. (A few non-quotable comments about the lack of future for GoLive at this point…) Some improved handling for cubic beziers are now in there and the ability to save out some of the animation keyframes. This sounds similar to getting the frames out of AfterEffects but may be even better. It might be one reason for me to go back into using the Flash interface, as I have become more used to doing everything within the Flex programming environment nowadays. They have persuaded Robert Penner to put some of his work into the animation facilities. Robert has pulled together some examples of the easing equations needed for lots of common animation situations and his site is definitely worth a look if this is what you’re into. Adobe have done well to bring him into the team. The excitement for me though, is that the animations can be saved out as xml, into an e4x class for use while programming directly. Sounds similar to the Tweener library (which has now been ported to AS3 and can be found on the Google code pages here). What else? Deinterlacing, better cue points, and full screen skins for Flash video. All positive steps. Export as Quicktime, with alpha channel. Maybe alpha channel is going to be the buzz this summer.
Mobiles have a boost as well. FlashLite3 is here. AdobeDeviceCentral will allow developers to look at the different facilities of different mobile phones and it offers emulators for most of the popular handsets. A neat idea from the emulator is to allow it to run at the correct handset speed and also to use a version that shows what the screen display would look like when used outdoors in less than optimal conditions. All very useful, if you’re in that area. I think I shall wait for a bigger screen tho’. The emulator can be used to display output directly from Photoshop, which will speed up designing layouts considerably.
On the web front, Dreamweaver has had more Ajax built in. Adobe seems to be putting in some effort to add facilities using the Spry library. This is an excellent library that I’ve tested on the Happy Tuesdays web site. Easy to insert into pages and much more lightweight than the JSON equivalent. Dreamweaver now gives more of an interface to using this library and it also has some more xml import facilities which will be useful. Spry can be used separately very easily and it’s a free download at the labs.adobe.com site. I’m more into Expression at the moment, if I’m using a web page builder. It fits in with Visual Studio much better, which I use half the time, but it also has some neat CSS handling in it as well. The Spry toolkit I’ve used when building PHP pages, so Zend is more use to me then, or the neat, free HTMLKit if I’m feeling brave enough to edit the live pages! (I know I shouldn’t!)
Oh yes, and there was Mike Downey talking about Apollo. The alpha is on the labs, and I shall try it for a small project early next month. The webkit html renderer is used, with Adobe putting their improvements back into the OpenSource domain, so we should have no problems rendering on Macs. Version 1 will be English with other languages following on in quick succession. It can run swf and pdf files. Html can drive the Apollo contents and the Apollo programs can drive the DOM and html. Works both ways. Local file access will also be in version 1. Mike showed the eBay app which must be the direction that many of the larger companies are going. Domination of the desktop will be another battleground but not just between Mac and Windows. Large corporates are able to join the fray and put in some competition. With this and the battle between portals it will be an interesting area. Maybe Apollo will have the edge by being able to split applications across several windows, they will certainly take the battle across operating systems.
Other neat things from Apollo: you’ll be able to regiter filetypes to open with your app; custom chrome or use the windows setup; local storage options; drag and drop; DRM in various layers; socket support (UDP later); easy version updates over the net; system notifications to the app when it’s in background mode; There will also be an extension to the Flex environment to help build these apps. Hardware acceleration will come later, but maybe not primarily for 3D cards. The games market is not neccessarily where the big money is. Adobe appreciate the open source areas like Papervision and the Artemis project for database interfacing, but they are keeping their distance. Future plans will obviously change to suit what ever is best for them, but it’s still an exciting area.
A couple of beers, a few conversations, an interesting evening. Andrew Shorten of Microsoft (ex-Adobe) was at the back with a wry smile. They’ve just renamed their WPF/E to Silverlight at NAB this week. It rolls off the tongue better but how similar to Flash is that name.