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Adobe flexes its muscles

Why can’t employees expect the same quality of interaction with business applications or services as when they shop online, connect to friends through social media or book their vacations?

Keynoting at Adobe MAX in Los Angeles in October, an annual event to bring together the company’s design and development customers, CTO Kevin Lynch said businesses are losing productivity because enterprise systems fail to deliver the same level of fluid, intuitive user experiences—even from mobile devices.

“Our studies on information worker productivity show the needle hasn’t moved much,” agrees Melissa Webster, IDC program VP for content and digital media technologies. “People are still wasting hours and hours every week navigating these complicated desktop applications.” If it takes 14 clicks instead of two, employees are likely to be interrupted or lose their train of thought. In many cases, she says, employees will abandon enterprise apps in favor of consumer tools to get their jobs done.

Lynch  laid out a vision in which not only games, videos, digital publishing and websites but also enterprise applications could be simultaneously developed and presented on PCs, smartphones, tablets or TVs, delivering “more meaningful and personalized” experiences with consistent content and functionality across screen sizes and operating platforms.

According to Dave Gruber, who is Adobe group product marketing manager for Flex and Flash Builder, that is the advantage of Flex, an open source software toolkit used to develop rich Internet applications that run on Adobe’s OS- and device-agnostic Flash platform.

“At large enterprises, I see separate teams for Android, iOS, desktops, etc., and every time they want to rev the app across the board, they ship app specs to each team to implement them. That’s a very expensive model,” Gruber says. “We’re trying to present a common framework and toolset for peopleto reach Web, desktop and multiple mobile platforms.”

In the same way people will want to simultaneously encode media (video, etc.) for multiple devices simultaneously, people will be looking to compile their multiscreen applications simultaneously without a lot of duplication of development.

“The actual UI will look different and you still have to customize for device size, but this is very different from the current, siloed model that requires learning separate development models and tools for each mobile and desktop platform,” Gruber says. “The concept is to save time, save money and go to market faster because these applications will have one tool, one framework and a shared library of code.”

The stack

Gruber describes a Flash Platform “stack” intended to make apps look as good as they work. On top of various device interfaces, Adobe AIR (2.5) for standalone apps and Flash Player (10.1) for browser apps become the core connections to those devices—the layer that exposes the different platform and device characteristics through a common development framework for the developer, Gruber says.

Layered on top of Flash Player and Adobe AIR, the Flex framework provides a programming model that exposes all the capabilities of those devices to developers. The Flex SDK includes the ActionScript 3 programming language to construct client-side logic; MXML and CSS to describe the user interface layouts, transitions and behaviors; and a library of modular components and classes to speed the process.

Layered on top of that, Eclipse-based Flash Builder accelerates development with features such as intelligent code editing, step-through debugging and memory and performance profilers.

New preview releases of Flex SDK and Creative Suite’s Flash Catalyst and Flash Professional announced at the show extend those capabilities to mobile platforms (only Android in the preview but other platforms to follow before completion, expected sometime in 2011). However, to improve user experience, those capabilities are also integrated into Adobe’s CS5 design tools such as Dreamweaver, Illustrator and Photoshop to accelerate workflow from the interaction design process through to developer implementation. An update to Dreamweaver CS5 also supports HTML5 with CSS3, while allowing sites to be designed to automatically reformat for multiple screen sizes.

Game changer

Meanwhile, Adobe AIR 2.5, announced in October, now supports BlackBerry OS, Android and iOS, as well as Windows, Macintosh and Linux operating systems. Flash Player 10.1 runtime is now working on Android, BlackBerry, HP, Windows, LiMo, MeeGo, and Symbian mobile OSs. The company simultaneously announced the availability of Adobe LiveCycle Enterprise Suite 2.5, extending its solutions to improve multiscreen delivery of applications with an enhanced framework for building enterprise rich Internet applications (RIAs) and real-time collaboration. It also boosted its content management capabilities with the acquisition of Day Software.

IDC's Webster calls the opportunity to put a new front end on existing enterprise systems without touching them an “economical game changer.” She adds, “Adobe is in a unique situation. No one else has both the design and development tools. Adobe’s done a good job of streamlining workflows. By sharing formats, files and components, it’s possible to change designs or code without re-importing or starting over.”  

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