Flash Developer Take Aways From Adobe MAX 2010

Adobe MAX is always impressive. It offers unparalleled networking, fascinating exhibit hall booths and, for the last few years, excellent unconference sessions – all accessible on a $200 exhibits only pass. The general sessions are always well-rehearsed and theatrical, the sneak peeks interesting (with a cool special guest). This year was definitely enhanced by the swag: everyone got a Motorola Droid 2 and a Logitech Revue Google TV box – and a free eBook from O’Reilly! Several people got Blackberry Torch phones too. Sponsors and exhibitors went nuts this year with giveaways (VMware gave away a couple of iPod Touch devices and many booths had iPad raffles).


Each MAX (and DevCon before that) has a theme and this year was multiple screens. For years, we’ve had to listen to Macromedia and Adobe telling us that “mobile is coming”. Before I moved to America, I was used to fairly advanced cell phones and it was a big shock coming to America and getting a “brick” as the latest technology back in 1999. I was pretty skeptical about the mobile message each year but this year… well, mobile is here! Phones, tablets, and now, TVs, all run Adobe AIR. AIR has always had great potential but this year is really the first time that we’ve seen that potential realized.

I like Adobe AIR. I liked Central before it, too (hey! it had potential!). I’ve built apps with Adobe AIR. It allows cross-platform deployment of applications with a decent amount of native tie-in to the operating system. It allows you to use either Flex/Flash or HTML/JS so you’re not even tied to one technology. Seeing it running on everything was pretty exciting!

The capability of mobile was pushed hard in the opening keynote. Kevin Lynch said that we’re at a plateau with battery life but bandwidth will continue to grow so we should expect to see ever richer experiences in our hands as wireless bandwidth exceeds typical home bandwidth within a few years! We also saw some very impressive strides in digital publishing with Martha Stewart on stage to showcase her interactive “Living” magazine on a tablet device.

Flash is great – what about that other thing?

For the first time in as long as I can remember, Adobe had a new message for us. Alongside all the Flash / Flex / AIR hoopla we’ve had for years, Adobe recognized the “new kid on the block”: HTML/CSS/JS. True, their “new kid” dig was really aimed at HTML5 rather than HTML in general, but several times across both general sessions, it almost felt like Adobe had either just discovered HTML/CSS/JS or had decided that their previous Flash evangelism had spilled over into anti-HTML attacks and they needed to make amends. It felt a bit surreal to hear Adobe praising HTML5 for rich, interactive user experiences and for supporting multiple screens through CSS. We saw a timeline-based animation tool – generating jQuery / HTML – even tho’ it looked more like the Flash IDE. Adobe also talked about the work they are doing on increasing HTML publishing fidelity – which has lagged behind Flash – and the enhancements they are contributing back to WebKit.

Adobe does Saturday Night Live

OK, if you don’t like Adobe-bashing, skip to the next section.

As I said above, the MAX general sessions are always impressive, well-rehearsed and theatrical. So is lots of crappy TV and, unfortunately, with the focus on multiple screens, Adobe decided to set the day two keynote as a set of TV skits and fake commercials. It was one of the most embarrassing, painful, unfunny sessions I have ever witnessed. I’m not a giant fan of SNL in the first place: they take an occasionally funny idea and they bludgeon you over the head with it for about five minutes longer than it was ever funny. Adobe’s keynote was much like that, except that all but one or two of the ideas weren’t funny in the first place and SNL has real comedians whereas Adobe has… geeks. Sorry guys, I know how much work you put into this but it was terrible. By the end of the keynote, the seating section I was in was almost completely empty – people were leaving in droves 🙁 Aside from the painful ‘comedy’ aspect of it all, we simply didn’t get enough technical meat! Big, long build-ups to demos that really had very little information in them. I expect a lot more information from the day two keynote and they could have presented everything in about 30 minutes and saved us a lot of pain.

OK, rant over!

The ColdFusion Unconference

Joe Rinehart kicked off my unconference experience with an awesome presentation about design patterns for enterprise Flex / ColdFusion applications. Joe always gives a great presentation and this was no exception! Matt Gifford gave a great talk on using ColdFusion as a Service from Flex. Simeon Bateman enthused about git (preaching to the choir for me – but news for many CFers in attendance – and well-received too). Bob Silverberg told us what our mother never told us about ORM. I’d seen an earlier version of this preso but Bob had updated it for Adobe ColdFusion 9.0.1 (where the transaction was fixed) and it was full of good information about managing object lifecycles and transactions – very important stuff if you’re using the Hibernate ORM in Adobe ColdFusion or Railo. Hemant (Adobe) took us through the AIR / ColdFusion service integration stuff (but didn’t go into as much depth as Matt Gifford’s earlier talk.
Emily Christiansen presented Anti-Patterns (which I saw at cf.Objective() last year – good talk).
Kev McCabe took us through debugging techniques, mostly focused on what you can do with proxies like Charles. I didn’t realize you could modify requests, set breakpoints and do request reply so easily!

ColdFusion Builder

Ram Kulkarni gave a one hour sneak peek at some of what ‘might’ be coming in ColdFusion Builder 2 aka Storm. Ray Camden has a great summary of the things that Ram showed us and I tweeted that I was “crying with joy” over the new features. It really looks awesome and I can’t wait for the upgrade to become available!


And that was the end of MAX for me. A strange event in some ways. I have no current plans to develop for multiple screens or publish digital editions of anything like a magazine so most of what Adobe showed was interesting but not relevant to me as a developer (exciting for me as a consumer to see what should be coming my way in terms of experiences tho’). The ColdFusion Unconference was great (of course) and combined with the exhibits and the general sessions – and the networking! – it was definitely worth $200 so I expect to be back in Los Angeles for MAX 2012.

By Sean Corfield

Sean is currently Chief Technology Officer for Railo Technologies US. He has worked in IT for over twenty five years, starting out writing database systems and compilers then moving into mobile telecoms and finally into web development in 1997. Along the way, he worked on the ISO and ANSI C++ Standards committees for eight years and is a staunch advocate of software standards and best practice. Sean has championed and contributed to a number of CFML frameworks and was lead developer on Fusebox for two years.

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