Adobe MAX 2013: Miscellaneous Schizophrenia

I’m back from an interesting five days of Adobe MAX in Los Angeles and have a few thoughts I’d like to share. A quick reminder: this is the first MAX since the disastrous events of November 9th, 2011 occurred. It was definitely a different experience this year… but many elements of the conference were quite familiar as well. Overall, it was a great event and I’m happy to have been a part of it. I’ll try and break things down in the way with which I’ve categorized them in my mind the past few days.

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The Unfamiliar

Adobe MAX is now branded as “The Creativity Conference”. As such – Adobe has gone way out of the way to make that known. The entire second day keynote, normally set aside do do product deep dives, was reduced to hours of people getting up on stage and talking about themselves… I’m not going to sugar-coat my reaction here… it was boring, uninspiring, and in the case of one segment- felt as though I was being lectured at by one of those horrid TED speakers.

It wasn’t all bad though. The image composition artist, Erik Johansson, demonstrating his Photoshop compositions was immensely interesting and exploring the work of film-maker, Rob Legato, was also intriguing (though I am unfamiliar with his works). In the end though… I want to see more of what ADOBE is doing to enable creativity, to push the web forward, to make all of this possible. Individualized outpourings of self-exaltation is better suited to some other venue… not the Adobe MAX stage.

shantanu

The constant Behance hammering is something else that was completely unnecessary for me. Even as someone in a predominantly developer role… I know what Behance is – I understand it and even think it’s interesting. If I understand the purpose and function of a service like Behance – I would wager that most of the designers in the audience were on-board as well. We didn’t need a 30 minute lecture about how great it is on top of everything else.

With that said though… seeing material being displayed from Behance on the huge presentation surface was quite a sight! I really did enjoy seeing the work that was on display. THIS was much more inspiring than what I saw in the Day 2 general session. I loved it and absolutely welcome more of this.

Here are some pretty dead ladies:
skullgirls

The Familiar

Despite the focus on creatives (and for the record: developers ARE immensely creative people) – there was a lot of familiarity at MAX this year. Most all of the sessions I attended had to do with either Flash tooling, Flash platform technologies, or other developer-centric content! There was definitely a lot of it and the sessions and labs I attended were PACKED. The community was present, as always, though some people who would normally be at MAX were not and were definitely missed!

The big community boards are still there to draw your logo on – here is FVM!
fvm

The Day 1 keynote was an expected array of news and changes from Adobe. The biggest news is that the “Creative Suite” brand is being retired since everything is now handled via Creative Cloud – imparting a new “CC” branding to the products: Photoshop CC, Flash Professional CC, Edge Animate CC, et cetera. I’ve been using everything through Creative Cloud for a year now and absolutely love it. In an unexpected turn, Adobe is looking into the feasibility of producing creative hardware such as a cloud-enabled stylus and slide rule. An interesting and totally unexpected development!

Sneaks was weird this year. In place of the MAX Awards – was the host coming out and doing a 30 minute promotion for his personal brand. Much like a lot of the Day 2 keynote… this rubbed me wrong.

The Sneaks themselves were pretty awesome though! A lot of neat stuff with Photoshop, Audition, Edge tools, “Adobe Magic APIs”, and more… too bad the aforementioned host and co-host (why was she even there?!?) completely ruined a bunch of the demos by being entirely rude and eating into the engineer’s time. Again – this big ego problem is rampant across these sessions and is a real pity. Ben Forta did his best to reel those two in and provide time for the demos but they were totally out of control. Real pity.

bash

The MAX Bash is still wild and amazing. We also had a really splendid Community Summit this year. I absolutely adored having AELs alongside ACPs and UGMs! Good call, community team! Honestly, the community is what makes events like MAX worthwhile. You can view the sessions after the fact since Adobe makes them all available a few days afterwards (I still love this aspect of MAX) – but the community events and personal interactions are entirely irreplaceable!

Some Little “Extras”

A lot of press has been given to Adobe’s foray into hardware with the “Mighty” and “Napoleon” projects. I was one of the lucky few to get some hands-on experience with the devices during an event Monday evening. These are, again, the times which make going out to MAX so worthwhile.

Fellow AEL Jynse Cremers was kind enough to demonstrate for this photo:
mighty

Having always had some trouble in forming straight lines on my tablet in drawing applications like Photoshop Touch or Ideas… I really enjoyed seeing both of these projects revealed during the Day 1 keynote. I’m happy to say that using them in person is just as simple, direct, and tactile as was presented during that general session. They are an amazingly familiar set of devices and I do hope that they move on from project status into a full, retail project. Just too cool. And so very useful!

The Adobe Flash Platform

WHAT ABOUT FLASH?!? Right? Well, while everything Flash was quite subdued during the keynotes and Sneaks… there were actually a whole slew of sessions and labs based around this most controversial of Adobe technologies.

flash

Some things to keep in mind: at the current time, Adobe is focusing upon it’s Creative Cloud technologies, developments in creative applications, and contributions in tooling and standards in the realm of general web stack technologies. Even as a traditional “Flash guy” – I get it. It makes sense to do so given the capabilities we now have with the standard web stack and the absolute hammering Adobe continues to receive around their Flash-based efforts.

I remember during MAX 2011 that Tom Green and I were in the Westin bar having a pre-conference beverage or two – he said something that struck me and I feel it’s important to share this thought here. Seeing how Flash (as a platform) is quite mature in all its capabilities… “where else is there for it to go?” …where, indeed?

Honestly, just about anything you envision today can be accomplished by targeting Flash Player or AIR – when a platform reaches that sort of maturity level, excitement around it has to plateau. There is effectively no where else for it to go. That is, I believe, one of the reasons for Adobe to remove resources and public focus from the platform to apply these resources to other areas in which they can be put to the most good and are most desperately needed: the general web platform.

Does this mean that Flash Player and AIR are dying technologies? Not at all. It means that they exist in a mature state and that Adobe will continue to support them through enhancements and updates which continue to stabilize and augment an already-mature set of technologies while putting their best foot forward in working to drastically push forward in the general web stack.

A perfect example of this is the new Flash Professional CC. The tool has been rewritten from the ground up to be the premiere rich content creation for a variety of target platforms; Flash Player and AIR, but also video workflows, and HTML5 Canvas via CreateJS. Flash Professional CC is on the way to realizing the vision of becoming the premiere rich interactive content authoring tool!

flashgaming

Interestingly enough (despite Flash being *ahem* “dead”) – there were all sorts of Flash platform sessions and labs around gaming, animation, Flash Professional CC, and so on at Adobe MAX this year. The ones I attended were totally sold out. You would never know any of this occurred looking in from the outside! Lots of the sessions that did focus on Flash took a light-hearted approach toward the state of things. Just look at this, for one example: Adobe Flash Recap.

Also announced during Adobe MAX 2013 were Flash Player 11.8 and AIR 3.8 beta, the Away3D 4.1.1 beta, Away Builder 0.9.0 alpha, and the Adobe Gaming SDK 1.1 – which now includes DragonBones and OUYA controller support! That’s a lot of Flash goodness right there!

Additionally, it was revealed that all three major components of the Gaming SDK; Starling, Feathers, and Away3D – are all exploring canvas/WebGL support via TypeScript. That is pretty awesome because it means we have even greater choice when developing content using these technologies. TypeScript looks to be really nice language when dealing with web stack technologies until ES6 is finalized and implemented by browsers.

Remember: this was the core of the Apple vs. Adobe argument from a few years back… the freedom and choice to use whichever technologies we wanted. Great progress, all!

A Word on Flash Player “Next”

Sadly, all of the efforts over the past year or two to “ensure that the platform stays viable over the next decade” are stillborn. Adobe has abandoned Flash Player “Next” and ActionScript “Next” in favor of contributions to general web technologies.

When I first signed up and registered for a number of sessions – there were sessions on everything to do with this great work; runtimes roadmaps, AS4, Flash Builder 5, et cetera. This was all pulled, of course… leaving Flash developers again with nothing but dust… further decimating a once strong core community.

I want to be very clear about this: I am all for Adobe working to improve web standards through tooling, VM, and W3C contributions. ABSOLUTELY! But it is a DAMN shame that they feel the need to sacrifice their own platform in order to do this. I share in the general sense of frustration and anger around this – there is just no way around it.

A recap of very valid community concerns around Adobe and Flash can be found here: Where is Adobe going with flash – “After-Max” conclusions. I recommend reading it.

My Session(s)

I contributed to Adobe MAX 2013 with two sessions of my own. One was a normal 60-minute session on Edge Animate, and the second was a short community presentation revolving around a PhoneGap application I maintain. Thanks to everyone who showed up to hear me talk about these things – a full house in all regards (thank you!).

speaking

Using Edge Animate to Create a Reusable Component Set

This session will examine the Adobe Edge Animate Symbol structure and demonstrate a number of ways to achieve functional results similar to ActionScript using jQuery and JavaScript APIs. Learn these valuable techniques from Joseph Labrecque, senior interactive software engineer at the University of Denver.
Read the full post here…
[Slides]
[Recording]

Edge Code, PhoneGap Build, and lots of Absinthe!

We’ll be having at look at the Absinthe Dilution Faerie mobile app and how it was created with Adobe Creative Cloud tooling and services. You might even learn a thing of two about Absinthe…
Read the full post here…
[Slides]
[Recording]

joseph

Conclusion

All in all – despite my bitching, above – it was a great MAX and I am sure that 2014 (in Chicago) will be even better. If Adobe can balance things out a bit to be more inclusive of developers as creatives this next round [and weed out the design-ego]… we’ll have a real winner!

You may have noticed I didn’t devote much of this write-up to the fact that Creative Suite is no more… yes, the Adobe Creative Cloud is the only way for someone to access all of the applications and services going forward. I am 100% behind Adobe on this call.

This is a new model – an entirely new way of thinking about the distribution of software and services. The amount of versatility, flexibility, and creativity it enables goes far beyond what may be initially visible – and the implications of such a shift will only become more apparent as time goes on. I have no problem criticizing Adobe when I believe they are in the wrong. I think this is the right move for continued, accelerated innovation in digital and creative media.

People can either get angry and become frustrated, or embrace these changes for all of the good things they bring today and promise for the future. As for myself – I’ll see you in the future :)

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13 thoughts on “Adobe MAX 2013: Miscellaneous Schizophrenia”

  1. Thanks for sharing! Nice to hear a balanced reflection on MAX. I admit I’m one of the people that probably think that CC is a bad move for me personally – though I don’t feel attacked like everyone else out there seems to. It really just comes down to the fact that my work is locked away after the cloud expires. I actually think there are a number of things Adobe could do to fix this. Perhaps make a free version of CC where all the editing features are locked away and you can do 2 things…open and export. If they did this, or something like this, I’d be 100% behind the cloud as you are.

    That’s also an interesting take on Flash – I just don’t think I agree with that perspective. Flash has always been branded as the tool to be one step ahead of the web – and if we feel the platform is “mature”, well the web is just going to catch up. I think there are always ways to improve whatever platform you have – however, at this point, we may be at kind of a plateau where the public has hit an imagination wall that tops out as 3D being the last frontier. I think this is where we need someone else to step in and say “Nah, 3D is just where the fun begins…lets push this farther”. Historically that role has been filled by Macromedia/Adobe. That’s why I’ve personally loved Flash all these years – because with every release, there’s a new feature like a xmas present waiting for you under the tree to open up, break down, and tear apart. But if Flash is “mature”, well I guess santa isn’t coming anymore!

    1. Balanced? Did it really come across that way? :)

      I hear you about CC subscriptions. People will definitely have greater or lesser degrees of difficulty with this – and I’m sure Adobe is listening to all of the points being made. It would be nice to have a version “unlocked” for perpetual licence after it is a year or two old or something along those lines. That sort of thing may just keep everyone happy. Who knows – we are still in the beginning stages of all this.

      Good points about Flash. I personally think it can ALWAYS be improved… maybe this didn’t come across as well as I intended in my write-up, but I would love to see Adobe keep innovating and pushing things forward with Flash. As you mention – it has fulfilled this special role all these years… no need to hold it back now. Sadly, I don’t think that the resources or commitment are there to make this happen. So we are left with “maturity”. At least for now.

  2. C|Net interviewed someone from Adobe last week (news.cnet.com/8301-1001_3-57582735-92/adobe-kills-creative-suite-goes-subscription-only/), and there were some unintentionally funny quotes:

    “Obviously we would not be making a decision this big if the percentage of people in that category was so big it was the wrong thing for us to do.”

    “If we did that, we would completely lose everyone’s trust and fail in what we’re doing.”

    Yeah, that would suck.

  3. Great article, I was also at MAX this year and although I had a great time and got in some fantastic networking……. it was fairly depressing. My favorite part about MAX and other conferences is leaving feeling re energized for months and months. This year I left feeling a bit deflated and confused and re considering the current path of my career. The key notes and general sessions made me feel like an outsider that wasn’t suppose to be there. The biggest impression i got is how much Adobe has changed and is now re focusing their efforts into being a creative design and web(html/css/js) “programming” company. At least they are going to continue to make some really cool new stuff for web programmers.

    You are totally right there were some amazing sessions on flash/game development. But regardless they are all irrelevant if Adobe is moving to a new TypeScript html world. I was quoted from several evangelists that the future is writing your games/apps in TypeScript and letting starling/feathers/Away3d present your game to the world in html5/js and have flash be a fall back when webgl wasn’t available. This sounds pretty nifty, but I no longer trust Adobe and do not buy into this new paradigm that is their current new “long” term plan.

    Why should I trust and buy into another tech/tools from Adobe when they keep letting me down. There was a time when I left MAX stoked on writing awesome Flex/Air apps for mobile with hints of gpu accelerated gaming….. There was also a time when I left MAX with my heart burning for making amazing games !!!! This time I left with an empty feeling and now question where I should go next.

    I have always made fun of fan boys and people that don’t question their political party just to stay “loyal”…. After being a flash dev for almost 15 years and a “former” flex dev of 6 years… ADOBE WTF is going on AND why should I TRUST in your NEW vision for true devs?

    I know that I’m kind of rambling and beating the dead horse, I don’t know what else to say???? This how MAX left me feeling….. empty, confused… despair.

    wow that was actually a nice writing exercise i feel a little bit better already :)

    Anyways thanks for the write up Joseph :)

    1. Yeah, it isn’t so much that I no longer trust Adobe as a whole – but rather I believe the engineers, product managers, and community team all have their hearts in the right place and desire to do what is right. From what I know – they are often just as blind-sided as the rest of us when this sort of thing (November 11) occurs. I had talks with a bunch of people around AVMNext and they were incredibly excited about what was coming! They are now, of course, working on different things altogether.

      As for the CC – that isn’t so much a matter of trust for me. I see it as a more convenient distribution mechanism for the software I use every day. Because I’m in a position where I use so much of their software all-the-time… it just makes sense for me. I know it doesn’t make sense for everyone and this is where people start getting angry.

  4. Somewhat contradictorary?

    “when a platform reaches that sort of maturity level, excitement around it has to plateau.”

    “Adobe has abandoned Flash Player “Next” and ActionScript “Next””

    I also have to massively disagree with your opinion on the cloud. Renting is a mugs game, is always the more expensive option and you end up with nothing. Doesn’t matter what the cloud has or will offer.

    For the last year or so Adobe have buggered so many of use about, I’m surprised anyone has any trust in them. What they say means nothing.

    1. Contradictory, yes. My thoughts are conflicted. See the title of the post.

      Opinions are split in regard to CC – I know this. It works well for me and I can only go with that.

  5. I’m pretty sure every one of the guest speakers in the day 2 keynote were, in fact, recycling a TED talk. I don’t follow TED all that closely, but I watch a couple videos here and there, and I realized that I had already seen two of the speakers talk about the same topics before. David Wadhwani even mentioned that he met one of them at TED. I didn’t really mind this format, though. I thought it was an interesting change that might be worth exploring again. Maybe as long as the speakers use new material, though. On the other hand, Rainn Wilson’s little self-promotion thing before Sneaks was just plain weird and out of place. With all the talk of spiritual stuff, I felt like he was trying to convert me to his new religion or something.

    I’ve seen that a few people in the Flash community are treating this MAX as a major let-down, as if it’s a repeat of 2011 (or maybe they missed 2011?). I’m sad that Adobe is still causing people to feel that way, but kind of happy that some folks were still so gung-ho about Flash. I didn’t have high expectations for MAX, and I was kind of impressed by the new direction. Especially the hardware. I wish there were some more web development stuff, though, because it felt almost as second-class as Flash, in my opinion. As for people being disappointed, I think I assumed that most of the remaining community had taken a pragmatic approach, like I have: I may not be working with Flash at all in a couple of years, but I’m quite willing to continue using it while it’s still better than alternatives. I think a number of people worry that a transition away from Flash will totally sneak past them, and that they’ll be left behind. I think it’s best to just ride it out, and the transition will be easier than most expect. Things aren’t ready yet for many people, but we’re on the verge of very interesting things on the web and mobile, and I think that traditional Flash developers will soon feel right at home.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I was pretty impressed by most of it – including the new direction. It’s a determined move, for sure – shows confidence in their strategy.

      As for Flash: I don’t understand the either/or attitude some people have toward it in response to developments in web standards. Use whatever makes sense for various tasks – like always. All learning and doing is transitory from my experience.

  6. Hello Joseph, excellent info about max. Thank you so much. Since i know you love flash, I would like to share with you some crazy (maybe) thoughts.

    Played with dart and i think it’s the best thing happened to javascript. No drawbacks, no legacy stuff, clear and fresh start. Dart on the server side could also replace a lot of java. But, in the end Dart will fail because of the open nature of the project, slow adoption, js libraries and developers fragmentation and lack of momentum. It’s the same reason why standards , in my opinion , will fail in gaming industry

    What google should do is just… buy flash (or unity) and ..
    1] Dedicate the best developers to advance the platform to the maximum,
    2] Take advantage of the bytecode, and improve performance.
    3] Make faster tools like what they proved with dart editor
    4] Gather all the legacy developers and give them a dream.
    5] Make this new Flash (or unity) available to android 5 + browsers and voila …

    google won the heart of all serious game developers, the heart of serious app developers ( i think that love is missing in google) and in time (through games and web apps) google won the web for the next 30 years. Web is going nowhere.

    Thank you for the nice read.

    1. Dart looks neat – I’ve been keeping an eye on that as well.

      Ultimately though, I do believe that Flash Player and AIR still have a lot of life left in them. Adobe has a rather large team dedicated to improving the runtimes and while the current point releases are not as monumental as a Flash Player “Next” would be – they are still quite significant and the team shows no signs of slowing down.

      At the same time though – I want the general web to improve as well! So things like TypeSCript and Dart are also very interesting.

  7. Yes, i think that has a lot of life too. I was the first to switch:

    1] From Php to Java for backend (good desicion)
    2] From sql and sharding to Hadoop stack , HBase – MapReduce even for a 10 server cluster (best decision on my carreer, i wish i made a similar desicion with my wife lol)
    3] From Memcache to Hazelcast, because these transitions solved problems.

    Replacing Flash in the browser does not not solve problems, HTML5 is a worse platform and has some serious fundemental problems, but overall this is a very big discussion.

    I am sorry, but the future is now, i can’t wait for 5 -10 years if this will happen. Maybe Adobe is switching business model, that is something we should all respect. So please sell it Adobe and for god sake do not open source it.

    I like to think that Flash (and Unity) are the bad boys, that girls (developers) fall in love. JS is the good boy that eventually girls marry. But the question is, who gets the most and best of the girl, and who is more exciting :) Lol.

    This blog is going to my bookmarks. Thanks.

  8. Joseph, Thanks for the thoughtful summary on Adobe Max 2013.

    I have been a Flash developer since 1999, and like my colleagues where I work I was looking forward to the bright new future for Flash and AIR that somehow we believed hoping against hope, would be announced at this newly styled Creativity Conference (aka, from what I can gather, a technology cop-out clap-trap fest).

    This coincides with my trying out the otherwise fabulous Feathers UI library in conjunction with StageVideo and Stage3D. Adobe continues to deeply disappoint after using these fundamentally incompatible APIs. We wanted to use Adobe AIR for iOS, and Android devices but this clearly will not work given that Stage3D does not support transparency over a StageVideo instance you cannot even de-allocate properly. See this bugbase report from Adobe. Background processes for GPU accelerated apps using openGL are alsoa no-no. Both these reports are damning evidence of negligence on behalf of Adobe. They may well release updates to Flash and AIR regularly but they have known about these two fundamental flaws since last November and have still not even begun to address them.

    However, given Adobe’s abandonment of Actionscript 4, Windows 8 support and embracing HTML5 alternatives to its besieged Flash platform via Creative JS exports from within Flash and now Edge Animate, the evidence is already in. Key executives have also left the sinking ship and I am afraid that finally after having supported and nurtured me down the interactive years, it is time I now walk the plank too.

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