Jul 2, 2010

CSS is the new Photoshop? You got it all backwards...

In a recent post on his blog, John Nack remarked on the idea that developers can achieve graphics creation through code (through the use of CSS3 for example), and questioned the potential impact that might have on tools like Photoshop or Illustrator as they are used for web design today. More specifically, John was referring to how much weight would be put on pixel-based graphics vs graphics that were generated directly in code.

John also quoted Michael Slade who said, "What is missing today, is the modern day equivalent of Illustrator and PageMaker for CSS, HTML5 and JavaScript.”

John's comment on that was "Of course, this is far easier said than done. As I noted the other day, “Almost no one would look inside, say, an EPS file and harrumph, ‘Well, that’s not how I’d write PostScript’–but they absolutely do that with HTML.”

While these points all seem valid, they all miss one incredibly important aspect. In fact, this one aspect is so important that it's the single basis for why Adobe exists today in the first place.

I'm referring to PostScript. Adobe PostScript. How easy it is to forget.

Let's go back in time and understand what happened. John Warnock and Chuck Geschke developed a language that would allow printers to display high quality graphics and fonts. This language was called PostScript, and both John and Chuck would make money by licensing PostScript to companies that manufactured printers. The only problem was that back in those days, there was no way for a designer to DRAW art on a computer. To take advantage of PostScript, a designer had to write PostScript code and send that code to the printer. Apple's LaserWriter solved one aspect of this problem in that Macintosh could use PostScript fonts. So a designer could at least set some type. But there was still no way to fully exploit the power of PostScript and draw graphics, logos, etc.

John Warnock's wife was a graphic designer and John really wanted his wife to be able to print her work using PostScript -- but John's wife wasn't interested in learning how to write computer code to design (does any of this sound familiar?). So John wrote a program called Illustrator -- an application that would allow his wife to draw directly on the computer (granted, using the arcane Pen tool). Illustrator was basically the front end to PostScript.

But that isn't the end of the story. You see, in order to print graphics that were created in Illustrator, you had to have a printer with PostScript in it. Now Adobe had a goldmine on their hands. They would license PostScript to all the printer manufactures, and they would sell Illustrator to all the designers. Of course, there were plenty of printer out there that didn't support PostScript, and you were out of luck if you tried to print a PostScript graphic to those devices. In truth, however, printers were really expensive in those days, and high-end imagesetters even more so. Many designers didn't own their own printers and instead used service providers, who invested in the expensive PostScript devices.

The point here is that Adobe owned two parts of the workflow -- the technology to both create AND display PostScript.

Let's move a few years ahead. Adobe could release new versions of Illustrator that had more capabilities. But at the same time, Adobe would be developing and releasing newer versions of PostScript. First there was PostScript Level 2, and then PostScript Level 3. Adobe could only add features to Illustrator if those features existed in PostScript first. But since Adobe could control the output, they could build creation tools towards that target.

If you think this concept was just a one-time thing, think about other parts of the Adobe business. PDF is based on the same premise. There's a PDF language, and apps that Adobe builds to support PDF creation can only be built to create what PDFL can support. The same exists for ActionScript and SWF, and now Flex as well. Adobe can't build a tool into Flash Professional until they first build that capability into the Flash Player.

The same concept exists -- in ALL of these cases, Adobe owns and controls BOTH the display AND the creation of the content.

Now let's look at where we stand today with "standards". Who owns the display of these standards? Who owns how CSS and HTML look when they are rendered? The answer is -- the browser. Today, the concept of the browser is more broad as we have elements like WebKit that allow us to display the content outside of a physical browser. But in that case, WebKit is the owner of the display of that content.

Ultimately, HTML and CSS are just words in a children's book, and we're the kids asking our parents to read it for us, since we don't know how to read. One parent might read the book completely different than another parent. One parent may even skip some content that they deem inappropriate. In this analogy, the parent is the browser.

In reality, Adobe HAS indeed created "Illustrator or PageMaker for the web" -- via a tool called Flash Catalyst. They can do that because they own the display (Flash Player) and they own the creation tool. Flash gives us everything a designer could possible ask for. But it's Flash. It's the devil (at least according to some, anyway).

The only way for Adobe to create an Illustrator for HTML or CSS is if they own HTML and CSS. Otherwise, how could they guarantee that what you create in Illustrator (or any other app for that matter) will display just the way you want it on any device? Adobe may have tried through frameworks like SPRY for example. But even that's a struggle considering it's built on AJAX and JavaScript that isn't owned by Adobe. So it's all a big game of Jenga.

Bottom line is this -- Adobe could build their own browser and then build creative apps that target that specific browser. But then everyone needs to be using an Adobe browser. In reality, that's what Adobe AIR is all about -- a platform that guarantees a consistent user experience and graphics display on any device or platform. Well, any device or platform that choose to allow it to.

In other words, Flash is PostScript. The irony here is that Apple, the first to push PostScript into the mainstream is also the first to try to push Flash out of the mainstream.

Sep 18, 2009

3 Things: Awards for Everyone!

This week's theme is about awards! Yay! Awards for everyone!

Have you ever won an award? I can't remember if I've ever won an official award. I was once named a "Champion of Graphic Design", but I'm not sure if that's really an "award". While I was on the Illustrator team, we won numerous awards for Illustrator, but those were awarded to the team, not me specifically. I won the American Airlines Road Warrior MVP contest, but that was a contest, not an award. I have a friend who used to be in the die-casting business and he once gave me an extra award he built for some advertising agency event (it's a solid brass "A" and looks cool sitting on my shelf) - but I didn't win that award. I did win several trophies in my teenage years for sporting events, but again, those aren't "awards". I guess I'll have to keep trying harder and one day, I too will win some kind of award :)

But there are some legitimate awards out there - which brings me to this week's 3 Things:

1. Chuck Geschke and John Warnock -- founders of Adobe -- are being honored with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation award by President Obama at the White House. How cool is that? Read more at the White House website.

2. Last night, I attended the AIGA Design Legends Gala event at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC. I was a guest of Lynda Weinman of Lynda.com fame who was a Presenting Sponsor at the event. It was really a wonderful evening, and both JetBLue and Patagonia were presented with awards for Corporate Leadership. What was most interesting to me was that both of these companies do all of their design in-house. It's obviously apparent that these companies look at design as a major part of their business, and it's refreshing to see that. Even though most people know I love American Airlines, I will admit that I've always loved JetBlue's designs and attention to detail -- not just in print, but across their entire brand and experience.

3. Everyone knows about the Kanye West incident where he grabbed the mic from award-winner Taylor Swift. And while I could care less about the celebrity scene, Ze Frank made an interesting comparison between this incident and some other things that have happened recently. I've always been a huge fan Ze's "The Show" and am thrilled to see that he's been recording videos for Time now. Here's his clip on the subject of Respect.

Sep 11, 2009

Studying for the ACE exams

While I've posted about my own personal feelings on Adobe's ACE exams (Adobe Certified Expert), I came across a helpful resource for those who are planning on taking the exams. Check out AceQuestions for a good "sample run" to see if you are ready for the exam. While there is no affiliation with the actual exams, the questions are good at testing your knowledge (in my opinion, the questions are written better than what appear on the actual Adobe exams), and it also gives you a simulated setting so your comfortable with the multiple-choice style of answering questions.

Sep 10, 2009

3 Things: Free online services from Adobe

This week's "3 Things" focuses on online services currently provided, FREE, from Adobe. As internet-based technology has matured, the advent of "cloud computing" has taken the world by storm. Google's services like Docs and Gmail are good examples, as is Apple's Mobile Me service. I use a service from 37Signals called Basecamp which brings powerful project management and collaboration to my fingertips whether I'm at my desk, at someone else's computer, or even on my iPhone.

But more than just the hosting of data, online services also bring new capabilities - and Adobe is beginning to do that with services that appeal to creatives. Adobe launched Acrobat.com a while back, but I wanted to list three services that are all in public beta form and as such, are currently available free.

1. Adobe BrowserLab. As a web designer, one of the challenges you face is ensuring that your site design looks great across multiple browsers. Especially with CSS, you often have to employ countless hacks or code work arounds to achieve a similar experience whether your site is being viewed with Safari, Firefox, Explorer, on Mac or Windows -- it seems as if the variables never end. Many professional web design studios have various computers set up so that a designer can actually view a site design on different systems and on different browsers. But most designers don't have the budget to upgrade their own computers let alone set aside cash for purchasing computers just to view websites. Adobe BrowserLab is a web-based service that allows you to preview what a website looks like on a variety of different operating systems and browsers. You can use it to see any site and it's totally cool and easy to use. Check it out here.

2. Adobe InContext Editing (ICE). Another thing that web designers struggle with is making updates to websites. Sure, you want your content to be fresh and relevant, but it's also a pain to have to go through the updating on your computer and then updating the files on your web server. This is especially true of clients who are always requesting small type changes and the like. Wouldn't it be easier if you could tell your client to just do those type changes themselves? Adobe InContext Editing (ICE for short) is a service that allows you to enable an HTML web page to be updated from any web browser. That means a client could log into their own site and make their own text changes. It means you can update your own website in seconds instead of minutes or hours. And the best part is that you can control what can or what can't be changed. Get the details here.

3. Adobe Story. If you're in the film industry (or want to be), you know that getting the script right before you start shooting can not only save time, it can save money. Like any project, if you start out with a great script, you only stand to benefit from it later. In fact, there are plenty of things that you might think of when writing a script that you either forget or miss later in the workflow -- especially if you're writing a script with others, or if you're getting lots of feedback on your script as work on it. To better manage the entire scripting process, Adobe has created a new service called Adobe Story -- it's an online service that assists you in writing a film script. Find out more here.

Sep 4, 2009

3 Things: Email on the iPhone

I've decided to try and start something new, which I'm calling "3 Things" - something I intend to do each Friday. The concept is that each week, I will pick a topic and write 3 things about that topic. It can be about anything really - just something that catches my attention. It might be 3 tips, 3 gripes, 3 thoughts - you get the point - all on a different topic each week.

For this inaugural post, my 3 Things are about using email on the iPhone.

There are 3 Things I really wish I could do on the iPhone when it comes to email. And the sad thing is, I was able to do each of these things back when I was using a Treo. But enough with the past -- here are 3 things that I wish I could do with email on my iPhone:

1. Put a limit on the size of attachments. Sometimes, people will send me emails with either single large attachments, or multiple smaller attachments. There was a time when I put a cap on file size in my email through my service provider, but on my main account, I don't want to do that because - well, even though people shouldn't send large attachments in emails, they do. SIGH. In any case, on my Treo, there was a setting that allowed you to dial in how many MB you allowed the phone to download by default (and there'd be a note at the bottom of the email telling you it was only partially downloaded). But I'm finding that now on the iPhone, my emails with large attachments are crashing the mail app. Being there's no way to delete the problematic message with the large attachments, my email app is always crashing. The only recourse when this happens is to reset the iPhone back to factory defaults and then re-sync -- UGH.

2. Let me "select all" to delete a bunch of emails at once. Sometimes I just want to delete all the emails in an inbox. That might happen if I choose to catch up on email on my laptop instead of on my phone. I appreciate that you can select more than one email at a time to delete them all at once -- but you still have to select each of them. So if I have 25 emails to delete, I have to press Edit, and then I have to touch each of the 25 emails, scrolling as I do so, just to press delete. Sure would be nice if I could just click Edit, Select All, and Delete.

3. Let me copy attachments to my iDisk. When someone sends me a file as an attachment, it would be really nice if I could then "save" the attachment to my iDisk app. This would make it a lot easier for me to quickly access the documents I want without having to search for the emails that contain them. It also means I'd be able to instantly make documents available to others, if required.

So there you have it -- my 3 Things for this week. Do you have your own 3 Things? Post them!

Jun 1, 2009

Adobe posts free public beta of Flash Catalyst

In late 2007, I posted about a new application that Adobe was developing, code-named Thermo, which they previewed at the Adobe MAX conference (in Chicago) that year. At the 2008 Adobe MAX conference (in San Francisco), Adobe revealed the name of this exciting application – Adobe Flash Catalyst – and even released a preview version of the application to Adobe MAX attendees.

Now, you can give Adobe Flash Catalyst a try yourself – it’s available as a free public at Adobe Labs.

What is Flash Catalyst? In short, it’s a design interaction tool built to help designers create interactive Flash content and rich internet applications without having to learn to write computer code. There’s a whole lot more, which I’ll cover in more detail in future posts, but for now, you can do the following:

- Download the free public beta of Adobe Flash Catalyst from Adobe Labs.
- Head to Lynda.com for my newest title, Adobe Flash Catalyst Beta Preview. The entire video title (15 movies comprising of over an hour of video training). The entire training title is FREE to all – no lynda.com subscription is required.

May 6, 2009

Getting Started with Gridiron Flow



My latest video training title, Getting Started with Gridiron Flow is now available at Lynda.com. If you're not familiar with Flow, it's a file-tracking utility that enables you to visually track files, versions, track time, package files automatically. You can find out more about the software at Gridiron's site.

If you don't have a subscription to Lynda.com, you can get a free 7-day trial membership.
 
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