Design Visualization

Event Report: Adobe MAX 2008

19 Nov, 2008

Mobile revolution rages in the cloud.


On Monday, November 17, sporting a pair of round glasses that gave him a Harry Potter look, Adobe's resident magician and CTO Kevin Lynch received a hailstorm of applause from his adoring fans. This year, they totaled more than 5,000 — the largest number of attendees in the history of Adobe MAX (Moscone West, San Francisco, California, November 16-19), according to company CEO Shantanu Narayen.

Lynch thinks three major trends are transforming the high-tech sector: client-cloud computing, social computing, and multiscreen delivery. "Each one of these major trends is interesting in itself, but they are all happening at the same time now," he observed.

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This year, Adobe MAX hosted nearly 5,000 attendees, reportedly the largest number in the history of the conference.

Photoshopping in Clouds
Simply put, cloud computing means allowing some or most of the computing work to take place on the Internet (or in the cloud). The model is sometimes called software as a service (SaaS). In August, Adobe tossed something into the cloud.

Photoshop.com is a Web portal where members can apply photo-editing features and filters (such as red-eye removal and saturation adjustment) to their photos. The operations are performed via a browser, so the user doesn't need to own or install Photoshop on his or her local machine. Lynch thinks the commonly used phrase "cloud computing" is a misnomer because, in some cases, the local machine (the client) and the hosted software (in this case, the editing tools on Photoshop.com) talk via the internet, but the lion's share of the work (such as rendering) is done by the local machine's processor. Hence, his preference for the term "client-cloud computing."

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Adobe recently launched Photoshop.com, an example of cloud computing. The portal lets members perform photo-editing operations via a browser.

Floating on Platforms
In what some might consider hyperbole, Steve Fisher, senior vice-president of the platform division at Salesforce.com, remarked, "For the past 20 years, enterprise software has been where innovation goes to die. The old model — the client-server model — has no room for innovation." He believes the rise of cloud computing means "the days of having to procure, manage, and upgrade multiple servers are over."

As a major player in the on-demand customer-relationship management solutions provider, Salesforce.com has benefited much from the SaaS revolution. Forging ahead in this market, the company now offers Force.com, described as Platform as a Service (PaaS), an application development environment offered via the Web.

"This is pure cloud. No hardware. No software," the company declares. "Build powerful web applications in days or weeks, not months or years. Under the hood, Force.com sites [include] a relational database, a workflow engine, and integration features. You can build any interface for any device using standard web technologies like HTML, Java script, Flash, or Flex."

Some product lifecycle management (PLM) and CAD vendors are reticent about the SaaS movement, but others, like Dassault and Arena Solutions, have embraced it. Their implementations include Dassault's ENOVIA 3D Live and Arena Solutions' on-demand PLM modules.

Friendly Development
Social computing encompasses the use of ad hoc collaboration, inspired by Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites (Photoshop.com allows users to log into their Facebook or Flickr accounts directly from its photo library setup).

At the conference, Adobe debuted Cocomo, a platform that enables developers to incorporate real-time social networking features (such as voice-over IP and IM components). Because Cocomo itself is a web-hosted solution, the platform is, like Force.com, a PaaS.

"Cocomo is comprised of Flex client components, a hosted services infrastructure, and a simple but powerful development model," the company announced. "Adobe uses Cocomo in Adobe Acrobat 9 software and Adobe Reader 9 software, as well as Acrobat.com, to provide end users with access to real-time collaboration within and around PDF documents. This capability can enable users to drive a group's navigation through a PDF document in real-time."

Cocomo enables, among other things, conavigation of the same document by collaborators. Enticing possibilities for manufacturing include publishing a CAD file in 3D PDF format and reviewing it in real time. Some CAD and PLM systems can facilitate such interactions, but in a Cocomo-powered implementation, you can do it in the cloud, without ever launching the CAD or PLM software.

Portable Priorities
At the present, software developers tend to think of the mobile platform as a secondary consideration, but Lynch cautioned, "We need to start thinking mobile first, rather than as an adjunct to the big screen experience. ... Consumers are demanding a consistent experience across multiple devices." Furthermore, he pointed out, "Handheld devices can offer location-based services in ways that PCs can never do."

Currently, Adobe offers Flash Lite, a runtime engine for mobile and consumer electronic devices. The software is designed for use both by device manufacturers and content developers. But in the future, Adobe AIR might become the preferred solution for mobile content development. It's described as a runtime program that "lets developers use proven Web technologies to build rich Internet applications that run outside the browser on multiple operating systems."

To address the multiscreen conundrum, Adobe initiated the Open Screen Project, aimed at enabling consumers to "engage with rich Internet experiences seamlessly across any device, anywhere." Partners include OpenTV, Motorola, Comcast, Samsung, and Toshiba, among others.

At the conference, Revolver, an Israel-based developer, showcased its flagship product FreeSpin3D. "As of today, Adobe Flash rules the online content (e.g., casual gaming, UI, advertising, education applications, and more)," the company wrote in its white paper. "Most of the content is vector based and in 2D. In the last year, things have changed. Content developers are looking more and more to embed 3D in their online content. Currently, there are over 2.5 million flash developers, all creating content, and all seeking the next thing, which is 3D." If Revolver's calculation is correct, CAD users with their ready-made 3D models might be in a position to fuel the mobile content explosion.

FreeSpin3D currently allows 3ds Max models to be imported into its authoring environment and refine them for Flash content creation. But, depending on market demands, the company is willing to put its resources behind supporting other popular 3D formats. According to Amir Fischer, the company's CEO, COLLADA and OBJ formats are under consideration.

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FreeSpin3D offers a way to convert 3D data into Flash content.

Worlds on Collision Course
The Adobe fan base is made up of graphics designers, art directors, and digital content creators, among others. Buzz Kross, Autodesk's senior VP of manufacturing solutions, once referred to this segment as "the ponytailed crowd" ("Autodesk Heralds New Visions in 3D Modeling," August 30, 2006). Over the years, the emphasis on visualization has pushed their world closer toward the world of architects, engineers, and industrial designers.

Just as a CATIA model rolls along the manufacturing process, low polygon derivatives and high-resolution renderings of the same model find their ways into a web developer's Flash animation sequences and a graphics designer's Photoshop collages. While Adobe continues to refine its Acrobat product line for the exchange of manufacturing data, Autodesk bolsters its media and entertainment portfolio with new acquisitions. With its planned purchase of Softimage (expected to close soon), Autodesk is set to own the Holy Trinity of 3D modeling: 3ds Max, Maya, and Softimage.

Adobe's PDF universe and Autodesk's DWG universe may revolve around different file formats, but sooner or later, the data from the residents of both worlds will end up on the same virtual cloud. The good news is, the cloud is infinite, big enough for both crowds.

For more reports from Adobe MAX, watch for December 4 edition of MCAD Tech News newsletter.

To find out how the outsourcing trends have spawned a new breed of freelancers, visit Kenneth Wong's blog and read the post titled "Outsourcing Gets Personal."


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Lynn Allen

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