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article imageOp-Ed: Adobe demonstrates impressive horsepower Special

By Jack Kapica     Oct 6, 2011 in Technology
The software maker specializing in graphics and design maps out its strategy to be the overwhelming favourite to publish anything on cellphones and tablets — in fact, anything with a screen
Los Angeles – Adobe Systems Inc., whose software products dominate the world print and online design markets, has bolted from its peaceful paddock like a spooked stallion and is threatening to trample all potential competitors who might want to make tools to publish products on any device with a screen on it — cellphones, tablets, netbooks, laptops, desktop computers and anything else that might still be invented.
At its annual product launch and convention, the 2011 edition of Adobe MAX, held in Los Angeles Oct. 3 to 5, the company presented some 4,000 corporate partners, industry analysts, technology press, selected programmers, online or print designers and a vast number of assorted nerds with a dizzying list of products designed to help everyone from game-makers to high-end magazine publishers to publish their products on any device running any number of operating systems, from Google's Android through Windows and Apple's iOS, which runs the iPad.
As though to underline its appearance as an unstoppable force in technology, Adobe's event completely overwhelmed the hype emanating from Cupertino, Calif., where Apple was coincidentally announcing the latest iPhone, widely expected to be the iPhone 5, the latest in a long line of revolutionary Apple products. The Apple announcement, occurring at the same hour that Adobe's second keynote speech was being delivered Tuesday morning, crushed the Apple faithful who had expected yet another revolutionary new product but ended up with merely an upgrade to a previous model, and turned Apple's event into a damp squib.
One tech reporter and die-hard Apple fanboy, finding himself covering the Adobe event but yearning to be in Cupertino, followed the tweets from the Apple event on his laptop during the Adobe keynote, like many others in the audience apparently did. He lamented later that “I had this dream that no one would be paying any attention to the Adobe announcement because they'd all be paying attention to the iPhone 5 announcement. But now I'm just pissed off because it's only an iPhone 4S.”
The comment was made in the spirit of comic petulance, but surely the sentiments behind it were secretly shared by Adobe management, whose triumphalist extravaganza appeared to be motivated, at least in part, by the conflict between Apple and Adobe almost two years ago. That contretemps saw Apple banning Adobe's celebrated and most successful product, Adobe Flash, from Apple's own celebrated and successful iPad. In fact, many of the tools Adobe was announcing over the first two days of MAX 2011 were made either for the iPad or designed to make applications for the iPad, such as rich, entertaining magazine presentations or game-making. For example, one new set of tools, called Adobe Touch Apps, designed for content creation for tablet devices using tablet devices, included Photoshop Touch, a slimmed-down finger-painting version of the venerable Adobe photo-editing software.
And if anyone didn't get the message, Adobe insisted that Flash, which is already dominant among game-makers,would become the "gaming console of the Web."
This isn't the only point of friction that chafes Adobe's relationship with Apple. A few months ago Apple announced the Oct. 12 launch of the iCloud, a set of free cloud services, including iTunes in the Cloud, Photo Stream, Documents in the Cloud, Find My Friends and iCloud Backup; at Max 2011, Adobe announced the Creative Cloud, a slightly different concept designed to become “the focal point for creativity,” where users can get access to creative services such as its new Touch Apps as well as desktop and tablet applications, and share their work. The idea, Adobe says, is to encourage creativity by getting designers to swap ideas among themselves; the process is being sold as a way to “democratize” professional-level creativity.
But flexing its biceps at Apple (if indeed there was such a motivation) was just a small part of Adobe's extravaganza, which included the company's announcement that it would buy Nitobi, maker of a product called PhoneGap, which allows developers to create applications using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and jQuery for all mobile platforms; the release of the latest beta of Adobe Edge, which creates interactive features such as looping, hyperlinks and animation control; the acquisition of a company called Typekit, which adds a much-desired collection of elegant and interesting Web fonts for the creation of websites using a software-as-a-service model, and CSS Regions, which allows designers to wrap text in Web pages around images and graphical shapes.
Adobe has also proposed its product CSS Shaders as a standard to the W3C standards committee, a program that creates animated effects for content elements used by Cascading Style Sheets, which act as design templates that give a uniform look to all the pages in a given website. Adobe also announced the release of new versions of Adobe Flash Player (now in version 11) and Adobe Air (now in version 3), applications that create interactive applications for gaming, rich media and data-driven apps.
Among other new products are Adobe Debut, for professional designers, to produce images suitable for viewing on tablets; Adobe Ideas, a vector-based drawing tool; Adobe Kuler, a tool to generate compatible colour themes, and Adobe Proto, a development tool using interactive wire-frames for websites and mobile apps on a tablet using gestures and a touch-based interface.
Also announced was Adobe's intention to develop interactive applications specifically for the coming age of Web-connected television, to be used by TV manufacturers as they enter the brand-new field (for them) or content creation. Among the cutting-edge TV makers to have partnered with Adobe being Samsung, LG and TiVO, who want to capture audiences using Web-based content, which they hope to do with particularly appealing presentations.
Hearing about this conjures up a whole new battlefield in which TV manufacturers no longer try to compete with each other by offering slimmer flat-panel designs or 3D capability or better pictures for existing televised fare, but by offering extra content. That's similar to the war that was once fought by Internet service providers, who tried to snare and corral audiences by locking their customers in to exclusive content. This “walled garden” concept, which reached its peak with the efforts of America Online, didn't work particularly well and so the ISPs dropped the approach quite a few years ago. But then TV manufacturers can now have their own kick at that can to see if they can make it work when others couldn't.
Two other Adobe products were announced but have not yet been released. Carousel is an application designed to give ordinary users access to their entire photo library across tablets, smartphones and desktops, with no storage or synchronizing issues. The product is designed to complement Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, itself designed to make it easier for non-professionals to handle and edit photos. A related product called Muse allows users to create websites even more easily than before.
These products offer a glimpse into another strategy Adobe seems to be testing, which is re-imagining tools for creating websites or images. Some of Adobe's original tools have grown very large or complicated over the years, and have thus created a demand for ever-easier software.
For instance, the venerable Photoshop gave way about a decade ago to Photoshop Elements, which itself gave way to Lightroom a couple of years back, and is now turning into Photoshop Touch; Carousel is an entirely new and easier approach to organizing photos that improves on Adobe Bridge, an integral part of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. Similarly, Adobe's own website-creation tool Go Live was jettisoned when Adobe bought Macromedia, whose Dreamweaver website creation tool proved to be much easier to use; and now we have Muse, which is another quantum leap forward in the ease-of-use sweepstakes and is being touted as a program that absolutely, positively requires no knowledge of writing code.
Yet Adobe isn't getting rid of anything with this approach, instead offering the new products as completely different tools that do much the same thing but for a different kind of user.
Pride of place at MAX 2011 went to Adobe's Digital Publishing Suite, a series of new tools designed to publish content on any kind of device without having to recreate the material all over again for each different device. The suite comes in three different configurations – the Single Edition, the Professional Edition and the Enterprise edition – all of which are designed to be sold to users in a software-as-a-service model, meaning that the three suites are cloud-based applications. Users are charged either by a single item created by a tool (the Single Edition, designed for, say, creating one annual report), small publishing houses that do regular but not massive publication work (the Professional Edition) or major publishers of content (the Enterprise Edition).
Implicit in these announcements was confirmation that Adobe is making a major move into the cloud, where it will increasingly park its software for customers to rent, paying fees for short-term or long-term use. Although Adobe had already released a few products intended for use in the cloud – Adobe's Creative Suite 5.5, released earlier this year, was one such significant move – the company had made no major announcement of this as a general refocus in its business strategy. Still, during Max 2011, one company representative mentioned casually that “Adobe is moving to a cloud-based business model” as though it were common knowledge. But it's still not clear which applications will eventually be exclusive to the cloud and which might remain as traditionally delivered product.
If all these announcements are cumulatively confusing, it's because of these different approaches to Adobe's business model. A number of the new products are reinventions of older ones, others duplicate previous products but are available for new operating systems, and still others are adaptations of earlier ideas but designed to be based in the cloud, and all have new features. It might take some time for designers, photographers and developers to sort them all out.
A note about style
With the all-too-early departure of Steve Jobs and his iconic black turtleneck sweater, jeans and sneakers, it has become necessary for the more culturally sensitive pundits among us to comment on the wardrobe of people at geek events. Apple's new CEO Tim Cook, seems to have become important in light of Apple's perceived failure to release an iPhone 5, was described thus in The Globe and Mail’s live blog: “For all those fashionistas out there: Tim Cook is wearing dark jeans and a navy Oxford shirt with a black t-shirt underneath. No black mock turtleneck.”)
Style was also a very important part of Adobe MAX 2011, and so I offer some non-expert and emphatically non-professional observations of what was on display.
If one were paying attention to footwear, for example, it would have been extremely obvious that today's geek, male or female, simply must have a pair of Vans, with their canvas tops and wide white stripe around the edge of the soles. (The canvas colours are optional: I saw red, black and blue predominate.) The choice of shoe also applied to Rainn Wilson, a star of TV's The Office, (he plays Dwight), who was emcee of the final Adobe “sneak peeks” event, and manifestly not very geeky despite being a hero to so many geeks.
Another fashion note was struck by the music that Adobe chose to introduce the full-scale events. It was loud, dance-club fare with a thundering beat that distorted the giant speakers on which it was played, so much so that it resembled a short-lived movie technology of the early 1970s called Sensurround, which used bass distortion on overpowered speakers to simulate earthquakes in the mercifully brief era of disaster movies.
I was certain that unless they frequent a lot of dance clubs, most of the geeks at Max 2011 couldn’t possibly identify the music, which was all based on the same relentless 4/4 time signature. Moreover, it was odd hearing it in the setting of an Adobe event, filled as it was by the kind of people one could never imagine ever shaking their booty anywhere. In fact, just about the only thing these geeks appeared to be able to shake with any authority is their heads, which they do when confronting an inexplicable system crash. Still, one geek I asked recited not only the artists whose music was being played but the titles too. I stand corrected.
The Nokia Theatre in Los Angles  where the Adobe Max 2011 convention was held  is more known among g...
The Nokia Theatre in Los Angles, where the Adobe Max 2011 convention was held, is more known among geeks as the last place Michael Jackson danced, and not as the place where TV actors win Emmy Awards.
It was also significant, I thought, that when the keynote presentations were given at the Nokia Theatre, a brief walk from the Los Angeles Convention Centre, a number of geeks pointed out the venue immediately as the very stage where Michael Jackson was rehearsing when he died. It was left to Rainn Wilson, a notable non-programmer, to mention at the end that it was in this very hall that he was a three-time loser at the Emmy Awards, which was the first mention of any other use for the Nokia Theatre other than as a Jackson shrine.
Conclusion? A dead Michael Jackson still trumps live TV in geek circles.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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