Deal With It

May 7, 2012 in Community, Tech

Adobe Flash 3My love affair with Flash goes back to 1998 and Flash 3. I was a hard-core Director user and teacher and, frankly, I didn’t think it could get any better than that. Of course what I didn’t expect was to have my Course Coordinator toss a box with a red swirl on the cover on my desk at the College and ask, “You know anything about this application?”

I gave the standard Director-centric response. “It’s a wind up toy.” I said.

“Get over it,” he said, “You are teaching it next semester.”

I installed the app – Flash 3– opened it and, 15 years later, I finally closed Flash CS 5.5 and walked away.

For me, the five years between 1998 and 2003, were the absolute best years. Nobody really had a clue what the app could do and, as is so typical in this business, we made it up as we went along. Branden Hall, some kid out on the East Coast, was doing amazing stuff with ActionScript. Eric Natzke was exploring Flash as an artistic medium. FlashForwardHillman Curtis was quietly using it as a story-telling medium. Joe Cartoon put frogs in a blender and showed Flash could be a serious animation tool. Todd Purgason was moving Flash into the corporate market. Lynda Weinman was running FlashForward, which became the Flash equivalent of Woodstock. Local Flash User groups were springing up like weeds and the Flash Player was being installed at an astounding rate.

For me, my move away from Flash started, slowly, when Flash tried to go mobile.

In spite of all of the “Whiz Bang Smoke and Mirrors” presentations Adobe dropped on its Fanboyz at Max and elsewhere, they just never seemed to get it right.

My moment of clarity around that point happened in, of all places, Adobe’s Head Office in San Jose, California in 2009. I had just finished a presentation to the Adobe Education Leaders crew and someone in the audience asked me why I didn’t teach mobile to my students. My response? “I would rather drive chop sticks into my eyeballs.”

I went through my reasoning for that statement in typical academic fashion but the bottom line was something I had been feeling for over a year: There was no consistency of the experience. It changed from device to device and trying to develop a Flash movie that did that was futile.

When Adobe announced it was suspending mobile development of the Flash Player it was greeted with the usual storm of hair pulling, teeth gnashing and self-righteous sputtering. The way it was announced was “bone headed” but for me it was something I had sort of expected and I used my Google + page to explain my ambivalence and how I saw it as an opportunity to learn and teach something new. I also felt, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, that this was “déjà vu all over again”. As I wrote:

“… A good example is the rise of devices and smartphones and, in a certain way, the death of Flash on these devices. Having lived through, and taught through, a few of these things – the rise of the internet, the decline of print publishing and the rise of Desktop Publishing, the rise and death of the Interactive CD, and the rise of web interactivity and motion graphics – the common factor behind this disruption is not a “new way of doing things”. It is a “new way of talking about it.”

That something “new” crossed my radar in the oddest place … a Flash Conference.

FITC 2011Doug Winnie, former Adobe Edge Product Manager, corralled me at FITC 2011 in Toronto, and asked if I was interested in looking at a new product – code name “Helium” – that was in the process of being developed. He sat me down in a corner, flamed up Helium and, as he handed me the laptop, said, “Tell me what you think.”

When I finished, all I could think was, “The magic is back.”

With the rapid pace of technological change within our industry we tend to have a short-term perspective on new technology. We focus on the immediate and the short-term future, which is dangerous but understandable, considering the pace of change we experience and embrace.

What we don’t tend to have is an historical view of this change. This sort of thing tends to arrive quietly, explode across the industry and disruption takes hold until we get a collective handle on the technology. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s Digital Publishing literally wiped out art departments, type houses, printing shops, highly skilled trades (Film Strippers, PrePress, Typesetting) and, once the dust settled, a funny thing happened – these guys mostly went back to work once they discovered the computer was a tool and that nothing had really changed other than how we talk about it.

Are you seeing a trend here?

The current debate about HTML 5 and Flash, on this site and elsewhere, is nothing more than our dealing with disruption. Edge, through its use of Adobe EdgeHTML5, CSS3, JavaScript and so on, gives us a consistent experience across platforms ranging from the 32’ monitor on my desk to touch screen devices mounted in the back of taxis in Beijing to the smartphone in my pocket. How can this be a “bad thing”? The other point I have discovered is moving to Edge or other interactive motion graphics technology from Flash is not hard. The Flash skills developed over the years are easily transferrable to Edge. It is the same way of doing what we have always done. It is just a different way of talking about it.

Still Edge is a hammer . Flash is a wrench. HTML 5 is a screwdriver. They are just tools. This is something the HTML 5 zealots seem to overlook. Whenever one of those guys tells me HTML 5 is the way to go I simply flip them a video and ask them to get it to run it in a touch screen mounted on the back seat of a Beijing taxi crashing around the city. You use the tool best suited to the job at hand and if it is Flash … so be it. If it is Edge … then use it. Something else? Knock yourself out because the bottom line hasn’t changed: “Does it work?”

As I tell my students, nobody cares how you did it. They just care that it works.

So where’s the magic I was talking about? We are back where we were with Flash 3. We have a technology that is disrupting our lives and businesses and, this early in the game, we really don’t have a clue how to use it. Standards are in flux . Clients are confused. We are making it up as we go along and that is fine. It’s the way it worked in the past and is the way it will always work.

Deal with it because, in the final analysis, you have to admit …. Damn this is fun.

 

About the Author: Tom Green has been teaching with the Interactive Multimedia Program at Humber College since 1995. He was appointed to his current full-time faculty position in 2004. He is also the author of over a dozen books published by Pearson Education and Friends of Ed, including such best-sellers as Foundation Flash CS5 for Designers, Foundation Flash CS3 Video, and From After Effects to Flash: Poetry in Motion Graphics, and has produced an online and DVD video training series on Fireworks CS3.

Tom is an Adobe Community Professional, a member of Adobe’s Higher Education Leader Program in the post-secondary area, and a member of the Product Advisory Boards for Flash Media Server, Edge and Fireworks at the Adobe Corporation and the Camtasia Studio Advisory Board at TechSmith Corporation. He is also in great demand as a speaker and regularly does presentations at major industry conferences around the world, including D2WC, FlashintheCan, Spark Europe, TODCON, FITC, Adobe Max, Web Design World, and Digital Design World. He has conducted expert lectures at such post-secondary institutions as the Rochester Institute of Technology, Pasadena Community College, the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, the University of Wisconsin, the Sloan Merlot Consortium, the EMMA Foundation Master Classes for Post Secondary students in Hamburg, Germany and Toronto, and Red River Community College in Winnipeg.

Along with these industry efforts, Tom regularly contributes articles and tutorials to Layersmagazine.com, webdesign.tutsplus, the Adobe Design Center, and the Adobe Developer Center. His personal site is http://www.tomontheweb.ca.