Will Adobe Provide The Edge For DAM?

Following Adobe’s recent preview launch of Adobe Edge, their new HTML5 authoring tool, there has been much speculation as to whether this product release spells the end for Adobe Flash as an interface technology.  The question for DAM vendors and their users, however, is whether this latest trend is a good or bad thing for DAM system development.

Adobe’s acquisition of Macromedia Flash and subsequent release of Adobe Flex as a solution for client-side development was not the success that at first it seemed it might be.  The decision to adapt Actionscript to being a fully Object Orientated Programming (OOP) language and introduce a new mark-up language, MXML, seems to have alienated developers from its original animation scripting tool roots while simultaneously it has been unable to convince ‘serious’ OOP developers used to Java or C# etc that it might be worthy of investigation.  The existence of Silverlight can be partly attributed to Microsoft’s need to have their own answer for every other major vendor’s innovations and that also no doubt limited the progress of Flash and Actionscript as a fully fledged OOP platform despite no serious Java RIA alternative from a major vendor.

Following the release of Adobe Flex 3 in 2007, many DAM vendors made some investment into Flex/Flash, but many also quickly retreated from releasing their full product strategies for Flex due to the spiralling costs and complexities encountered when any atypical use scenario was required (caused in part by the limitations of the development tools provided by Adobe for authoring Flex and Actionscript).  Despite the attractive ‘slide and glide’ interfaces, many were left shaking their heads and wondering if Adobe had simply re-invented the wheel.  Why invest into Flex when AJAX could do the job just as well?

Roll on a few years and Adobe now seems to be hedging its bets also.  Adobe Edge promises to ‘bring animated content to websites using standards like HTML and HTML5, JavaScript and CSS.’  Although Adobe are keen to reassure us that ‘Edge is a new addition to the existing set of Adobe professional web tools’ it is all too clear that rival technologies have taken a foothold where once Flash promised to shine.  The decision by Apple to ban Flash from iPhones and iPads is potentially the critical event in the decline of Flash and even though Flash is still currently more accessible than Apple’s HTML5 implementations, few DAM vendors appear to be retaining exclusively Flash based interfaces for new releases of DAM systems.

All that said, not every DAM interface feature can be readily solved with HTML or HTML5.  As noted, HTML5 still has significant compatibility challenges.  In particular, video delivery in corporate environments and legacy browsers is still only practical with Flash and while it might be in decline, the process will be long, protracted and the pace set more by IT departments than technology vendors (DAM or otherwise).

To answer the question is this good or bad for DAM?  The jury is still out.  While Flash is far from perfect, it does represent some stability and reduce the costs and complexity of multiple video playback technologies (not to mention user interfaces).  What was required was a new HTML5 standard that had the ubiquity of Flash without being controlled by a partial, commercial interest.  That has not happened, instead we have numerous competing video codec implementations (which is of critical importance for DAM) from groups of different vendors., some more open than others.

While some third party tools (such as Kaltura) will help developers solve the compatibility challenges, they will undeniably add to the complexity and cost of development work and this will tend to encourage vendors to limit the sophistication of the solutions they offer.  The result will probably be end users being encouraged (via higher prices or other forms of coercion) to constrain their ambitions for video DAM and rely on existing specialist tools for conventional production tasks.  In the longer term, however, one or more of the HTML5 video codecs will emerge and one would hope that it will be both non-proprietary and open source.  In that event, the replacement of Flash with an open standard will be a positive development, but DAM vendors and users alike should expect some turbulence and difficult decisions before we get there.

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