Adobe Genesis brings fresh AIR to business portals

Adobe Genesis is an AIR take on the venerable enterprise dashboard, or "enterprise desktop" as it is referred to on their development blog. Development of this business platform has not taken place in secret, but it has only recently been given its first public outing at the Office 2.0 conference. Below is a 40 minute video presentation by the Product Manager Matthias Zeller on Genesis, but if you want a higher resolution view check-out this March 2008 screen-cast.

Genesis is an attempt by Adobe to position their AIR run-time as the platform for business applications. Given the eagerness of business developers to use Flex, Adobe are hoping AIR will see similar levels of adoption. However unlike Flex, which produces Flash content that any modern web browser can consume, AIR applications reside in their own, dedicated run-time. This requirement, alongside improvements in browsers, may prove too big an obstacle for Adobe to get around, but you have to give them credit for trying.

Overall Genesis is a shiny looking, but still fairly standard, enterprise dashboard. The biggest problem is that the majority of the functionality demonstrated could be achieved using modern Javascript and Flash. Besides the ability to drag and drop files to and from Genesis there appears to be very little demonstrated benefit to using the AIR run-time over a standard web browser. This is unfortunate but the signs are there that if luck went Adobe's way Genesis could become huge.

The demise of Flashpaper sends a warning to developers

Do not base key functionality of your software on closed, third-party libraries - you never know what the future holds.

When Adobe purchased Marcomedia the writing was on the wall for Flashpaper from the outset. Flashpaper was Macromedia's alternative to Adobe PDF for paper-based documents on the Internet. Unlike PDF which requires a dedicated reader application (e.g. Adobe Reader), Flashpaper turns print documents into easily consumable Flash animations. Not only is Flash just as (or even more) ubiquitous as PDF, it integrates better with a user's web-experience. Consequently from Adobe's perspective letting Flashpaper live on as a potentially superior competitor to PDF on the web just did not make sense. Yet whilst this axe has been dangling above Flashpaper's head for quite some time, Adobe has only recently made it official; Flashpaper is dead, long live PDF.

This long coming announcement was a kick in the guts for businesses that have built their products on top of Flashpaper or use it for internal purposes. One bright point was that Scribd took the demise of Flashpaper as an opportunity to establish a competing product called iPaper. Whilst iPaper has some very interesting features (like integrated Google Adwords), it cannot operate 'within the firewall' on documents that are too sensitive for public release. Also iPaper's hosted architecture precludes it from being embedded into third party, redistributable applications.

Photoshop 10's new photomerge feature

Yesterday my copy of Photoshop 10 arrived and I have been playing around with it a bit. Aside from the vastly improved performance thanks to native Intel support by far the coolest time saving feature I have come across so far is the automatic photomerge option.

Oriental Bay this afternoon (click to enlarge)

The image above is two separate photographs I took today with my k800i mobile phone whilst walking around Oriental Bay. They have been automatically stitched together with Photoshop in a process that took less than ten seconds. Overall the results are pretty impressive considering that zero user input required.

Adobe ready to launch Apollo rocket at Microsoft

For over a year and a half Adobe has been making some interesting moves that could bridge the gap between the Web and traditional desktop applications. Adobe's first move in this strategy was to purchase Macromedia, the company behind Flash and a range of Web development tools. With these technologies in stock they are now actively developing Apollo, a cross-platform desktop framework which draws together HTML, PDF and Flash to create a Web/desktop hybrid environment (refer to this technical article for details).

TechCrunch has an excellent article about Apollo and posted a podcast with Adobe's chief software architect Kevin Lynch on the subject. With Apollo Adobe will be put on a direct collision course with Microsoft in the emerging Rich-Web application arena. Alongside Vista, Microsoft are releasing their new Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and XML Paper Specification (XPS) technologies. WPF and XPS are Microsoft's response to the two formats that have successfully defied their monopoly on desktop file standards: HTML and PDF. WPF is part of the .Net 3.0 framework and whilst intended to replace the aging Windows graphical API a large part of it is devoted to facilitating Rich-Web applications through XAML markup (an incompatible derivative of HTML). XPS on the other hand is a direct PDF competitor and is not intended to replace any existing Windows technology rather destroy the incumbent. Usurping these entrenched standards is important to Microsoft because as history has shown controlling a standard is equivalent to holding the high ground on a battlefield; it does not automatically win you the war but it goes a long way.

An Apollo application running on Windows

Reinventing Collaboration: An Adobe Perspective

The September 15th edition of the AECBytes email newsletter it featured a very good article from Patrick Aragon from Adobe. Entitled Reinventing Collaboration across Internal and External Project Teams, the article focused on findings from collaboration research conducted by Harris Interactive (on behalf of Adobe). The research concentrated on how Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) professionals collaborate digitally. The research was undertaken using an online survey undertaken during April of 2006.

From the perspective of my own research the most significant finding from the article is that 72% of respondents collaborated outside their office location. This is a clear indication that the concept of a consolidated ‘office space’ where all design/construction activity takes place is eroding (or perhaps never existed). As a consequence the value of centralised, firewalled project databases or physical documentation repositories is brought into question because if project information cannot be accessed when and where it is needed what immediate value does it hold to the process? Of course these repositories are required for long-term reference and legal purposes but in the interests of moving a project forward it would appear participants are limited to the project knowledge they can personally recollect or store in a mobile device (be it laptop, phone or briefcase).

The other interesting finding was the collaboration file format breakdown as it illustrated the overwhelming majority of exchanged data is by and large straightforward text, numeric and image data stored in Word, Excel and jpeg formats respectively. The other very significant format used by participants is PDF which typically contains textual data but is capable of transferring any printable information (from pixel-based image to vector-based plan) making it difficult to classify. What all these formats have in common is that they are not semantically rich or typically considered part of a greater Building Information Model. In fact from the study it would appear that only approximately 21% of participants use some form of 3-dimensional computer model as a means of collaboration whilst 2-dimensional CAD representation is slightly higher at approximately 38%. These findings highlight the following issues of relevance to my thesis:

1. Given the emergence of Writable-Web tools like blogging, image sharing and the so-called Google Office (and equivalents) what is the future for the bulk of AEC collaboration?

2. Considering the majority of AEC collaboration takes place in formats not suited for integration with the Building Information Model does this validate the need for a looser, broader concept for dealing with design project information in an intelligent manner?

The future role of the Writeable-Web in AEC collaboration

The underlying motivation behind adoption of blogging and online photo-sharing is that these tools make very simple the publishing, consumption and feedback processes. Prior to these tools sharing information over the Internet took place primarily via email. Whilst email has the capability to ‘just work’ it is not as useful for sharing complex or time-sensitive data and requires recipients to be explicitly stated when the message is created. Consequently these issues add collaboration barriers and potentially limit the target audience.