Adobe Riding High on the Flash Wave

Adobe is taking its lead with Flash into the enterprise and beyond. Adobe is expressing confidence that Flash can remain the dominant rich Internet application platform even in the face of competition from Microsoft's Silverlight.

NEW YORK-Adobe's Flash is the dominant rich Internet application platform and the company is counting on its lead there to keep competitors like Microsoft at bay, as the RIA wars heat up.

In a meeting with eWEEK at Adobe's offices here on July 30, Adrian Ludwig, group manager of product marketing in the Adobe Platform and Developer Business Unit, noted that Flash has 98 percent reach on the desktop and also is the dominant animation and interactivity software in the enterprise. Ludwig cited a Forrester Research report that said Flash is on over 97 percent of enterprise desktops.

Ludwig was almost hesitant to acknowledge that by Adobe's tally there are about 10 million downloads of Flash each day. Flash is on more than 500 million devices and 75 percent of the video on the Web uses Flash, he said.

"The best way to do a really compelling application in the browser is with Flash," Ludwig said. And ISVs appear to be aware of this, as companies such as Oracle, SAP and BEA Systems (now owned by Oracle) are using Flash for just that purpose, he said.

However, as much of a lead as Adobe appears to have with Flash, an aggressive Microsoft is chasing after Adobe on several fronts, and Sun Microsystems on July 31 announced the preview of its JavaFX RIA offering based on Java.

Microsoft is not only challenging Adobe with a Flash-like offering in its Silverlight technology, but is also making a play in the designer/developer workflow arena and is providing tools to better enable designers and developers to work together with the Microsoft Expression suite. The Expression suite features tools aimed at professional designers, and Microsoft tapped some former Adobe executives and engineers to help with its bid to compete with Adobe in its own back yard.

"They'll [Microsoft] make a real strong play in tooling with designers, but I don't think they'll be very successful," Ludwig said. "You can't have creativity only on the Windows platform. And I'm not confident that they really understand design."

However, "the flip side of that is, do we really understand developers and development?" Ludwig asked. "We have a lot of developers and we've been doing this for quite a while now."

To that end, Adobe is working on a product known as Thermo, which is a tool for facilitating designer/developer workflow. Thermo is a design-oriented tool based on the Adobe Flex platform that enables developers to "work with graphical assets and treat them as code," Ludwig said. "The key is knowing what the Photoshop file format looks like."

Adobe has said it will deliver a beta release of Thermo by the end of 2008. The company's annual user conference, Adobe Max, will take place in November in San Francisco. Asked if Thermo will appear at the conference, Ludwig said he could not say because it is more a matter of how quickly the Thermo team executes than of trying to get the technology ready for an event.

Meanwhile, Ludwig said Adobe is not feeling much pressure from either Microsoft or Sun at this point.

"I think Microsoft is investing in Silverlight, which is why people are using it; it's 'practical,'" Ludwig said. However, "we haven't seen anybody moving away from Flash and Flex when doing projects-even when they're also using Silverlight. We've even seen people doing prototypes with Flash when they want to build something with Silverlight."

Ludwig also questioned Microsoft's commitment to "making it [Silverlight] fully functional across operating systems." Yet, Microsoft is working with Novell to deliver Silverlight functionality on Linux in a project known as Moonlight.

At the same time, Adobe is having its own struggles with open-sourcing some of its technology. The company open-sourced its Flex SDK (software development kit) and BlazeDS technology, among other moves.

"We are very aligned with the open-source community and we incorporate open source into our products," Ludwig said. But sources say there are internal struggles over what and how much of Adobe's technology to open-source.

"To the people who work on Flash, openness is a really important part of what we're doing," Ludwig said. "For one, because we're working with developers and openness is a big deal to them, and second, because we're in the browser and we have to play nice with all the other people working in the browser."