I spent many years building Flash and Flex applications. A lot of the criticism leveled at the browser plugin had nothing to with the technology, and everything to do with the type of content developers built with it. Sure, plugins did require a bit of bending to users’ mental model, but was that really a bad thing?
Flash gave us the browser we wanted, long before we would actually get it. It formed many of our current ideas of what the modern Web could be. The tools to build content for the Flash runtime were not perfect, in part because they tried to straddle the worlds of creative professionals, coders, and applications developers. But as a platform for development of native and desktop applications, Flash remains an important part of the entertainment software ecosystem, and will remain that in the foreseeable future. If you doubt it, check out this video of the new Farmville 2, built by Zynga for Flash Player 11. Purty.
I moved on from Flash development to pure Web development some time ago. As much as I like the standards-based approach, the dearth of tools to help with Web development has always been notable to me. At this week’s Create The Web conference, Adobe unveiled seven new tools and services focused on Web development. Many of these tools have been open source projects to this point, now available as commercial offerings via the Creative Cloud service. The functionality here is impressive.
- Edge Reflow (not yet available) is an authoring tool for responsive design. This gives you visual control over multi-channel Web development, with CSS3 media queries represented as draggable bars. The tool gives you command over how elements get hidden, revealed, scaled, or otherwise manipulated on devices of different sizes and form factors. The time this will save me…
- PhoneGap is a great tool to bring Web technologies to the app store, but maintaining local SDKs and building these apps on the desktop has never been particularly easy. PhoneGap Build is a service that packages up mobile Web apps in the cloud. Upload your files, and watch as a native-ready version gets built for all the popular mobile devices. You can then scan a QR code with your phone to automatically load the app onto the device, with a start-to-finish time of minutes.
- Edge Web Fonts gives you a large library of free Web fonts hosted by Typekit.
- Typekit is adding 500+ new Web fonts.
As valuable as these offerings will be to Web developers, equally impressive to me is the overall attitude behind the Edge tools. All of the tools provide easy access to code, rather than attempting to abstract away any elements. The Adobe Edge teams clearly understand the modern Web coder better than many: Web coders want tools that help to solve development challenges, rather than solving them outright (because that has never worked well). These tools do nothing to step on the coder’s toes or limit integration options.
The corollary to this developer friendliness is that the Edge tools are highly agnostic to both server platforms and Web frameworks. You can use them as part of workflows to building applications for Rails, Node, or even Sharepoint. Full-stack integration could be part of Adobe’s applications strategy of the future (as with LiveCycle and Flex), making for a turnkey enterprise offering. But I hope the Web development community receives the Edge tools and their open source projects with sufficient enthusiasm to show Adobe that the task-focused, non-prescriptive approach is the right one. If and how a business model gets built around these (currently free) tools is another conversation. For now, I’m just going to enjoy using them.