Adobe's Edge HTML5 Web Tool Blazes A Trail To The Post-Flash Internet

Today Adobe is launching a public preview of Edge, its tool for web designers that allows moving, interactive graphics on a website using HTML5, not Flash. Adobe tells Fast Company why it's the tip of the iceberg.


Today Adobe publicly launches the preview of Edge, its Flashless animation tool for web designers. And it's free to download for anyone interested at Adobe's Labs webpage. Adobe's been tinkering with HTML5 tools for a while now, and it actually showed its new Edge authoring tool at the MAX 2010 company conference—but with the public preview comes proof that Adobe's readying itself for a post-Flash Internet.

Fast Company spoke to Adobe senior computer scientist Josh Hatwich about it, and saw a demonstration of Edge in action. Slick as it is, it's missing interactive functionality, the ability for Edge-created objects to react to user clicks and text inputs in the way that advanced Flash code does (in games, adverts, and many a tool on many a website). It's coming soon, Hatwich says. The launch timing begins with the pre-release that enables animation, shortly followed by shapes, expressivity and coding (for truly clever behind-the-scenes website stuff), and then interactivity and graphics will arrive for testing in the public pre-beta before an expected "1.0" product in 2012.

Edge will let web coders "bring animation, similar to that created in Flash Professional, to websites using standards like HTML5, JavaScript and CSS," according to Adobe's press release, which also cautions that there are "rapid changes around HTML5," so it's "adopting an open development methodology for Adobe Edge and is releasing the software on the Adobe Labs site much earlier than normal in the development proces—before it even reaches beta." The bold move allows "user feedback to help shape the final product."

Users of Adobe's professional products like Flash Professional or Lightroom will be familiar with its clean, simple modular panel display, with a "working window" and a timeline. By clicking on objects in a web page, designers can then drag them to the timeline and apply effects on a timed basis, moving graphics around, rotating them, fading them in and out with certain speeds and timings. There's all the usability of a slickly-designed UI here, and all the complexity coders will appreciate like tweening and easing (the gentle "slowing" of an image as it zooms into its place, making the effect more elegant to the eye). The casual observer will also recognize this as the sort of functionality usually delivered by Flash code in websites—if you're not immediately familiar with it, pick almost any photographer's website from Google, as they love the stuff and their websites are infested with Flash because it makes browsing their portfolio more eye-pleasing.

More thoughtful observers will also notice the similarlity with Flash and note the prominence of the words "HTLM5" and "CSS" in the press release. And Adobe says "Edge Preview works natively with HTML," "enables users to add motion to existing HTML documents without hampering design integrity of CSS-based layouts," "create visually rich content from scratch, using familiar drawing tools that produce HTML elements styled with CSS3" and "standard web graphics assets such as SVG, PNG, JPG and GIF"—all signs of a future-facing toolset that utilizes much more open web standards than its proprietary Flash system did.

"Content created with Edge is designed to work on modern browsers including those on Android, BlackBerry, Playbook, iOS, HP webOS, and other smartphone mobile devices as well as Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer," the announcement continues. Essentially Adobe's admitting that it needs to have its presence felt on all of the new mobile browsers (thanks to the explosion in smartphones and tablets) and all modern high-tech web browsers.

The words "iOS" and "Safari" stand out the most, of course. Because Steve Jobs famously insisted Adobe's Flash be left out of the iPhone and iPad user experience since, he argued, Flash is unreliable on the desktop, causes too many browser crashes, and eats too much processor power. On a mobile platform this would all be much worse, because Steve's vision for the iPhone is that "it just works" and a processor-thirsty web browsing experience would dint the battery life and result in unsatsifying performance from the lower-power CPUs in a phone compared to a desktop. Jobs's stance started a cold war with Adobe, inspired a PR campaign for Android phones along the lines they offered Flash compatibility and thus a "full" web experience (despite poor first reviews), and there were even rumblings of legal action due to Apple's alegedly monopolistic position on the matter.

But Jobs is actually winning his battle, and much web video has already been switched from Adobe's proprietary and troubled Flash system to HTML5-friendly versions that run on iPads and iPhones.

Edge is strong evidence that Jobs was right, and in fact Adobe has had to release something like Edge so it doesn't get left behind as a champion of old tech. The astute among you will note Edge doesn't quite offer all that Flash does, and Adobe does stress it's currently meant to be a "lightweight professional tool" that complements Adobe's existing web tools, such as Adobe Dreamweaver, Adobe Flash Professional, and Adobe Flash Builder 4.5 software. But remember, Flash wasn't fully featured at first, when it emerged from Macromedia's labs, and it had more features added over time.

But while Adobe in a sense had to launch Edge, to keep a presence in the web design and devlopment game even as the web evolves around it, developers will be pleased because what Adobe's promising is powerful, and is wrappered in Adobe's usual sleek tool design. Other companies have tried to do this already, with the Hype app on the Apple Mac App Store being a particularly good example, but Adobe's tool is most likely to be the definitive one—it's jumped out ahead of the others, after all.

[Image: Flickr user scobleizer]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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  • Hermann

    It was obvious that Adobe won't just do nothing. This was obvious! That's why I always laughed at apple fanboys saying that Adobe lost and so on. In a matter of a couple of years those fanboys will be using the best tools for making animations - Adobe tools. Who's the winner? Apple or Adobe? Or users? Apple AND Adobe, of course!

  • Shiloh

    @Joel Hype is a cool tool but keep in mind that Edge isn't even in beta yet. This is a preview to get feedback while they develop the program. So it's good to critique it but it's premature to be overly critical. 

  • Fred

    No HTML5 editor can actually beat Flash Pro and Flex for rich web animations and applications. Sure we have to wait the final Edge release's features... But for now Edge is ... small.
    Still wondering why all theese peoples want to step back in time on capabilities, productivity, and users comfort. Oh yeah, I remember : Apple devices can't run Flash... My solution : buy Android and a PC instead. And there are differences between navigators with Edge. As there's always some with HTML, and more with HMTL5.
    Think about it and you'll know the obvious fact : Flash is better. 

    Adobe works on Edge only to makes "Flash Haters" happy. But the big majority of Flash users are pleased with it : they stay silent, cause they have nothing to say ! 

    All these blogs articles with expressions like  "Post Flash", "RIP flash", "Adobe turn away from Flash"... Are simply stupids and irrelevants. Flash platform is still on the edge of web technology (Molehill : gpu accelerated 3D, StageVideos, streaming servers, games, webapps). And now with the ability to produce with only one development an app for : Web, PC and Mac, IOS and Android Device, Flash platform will be here for a long, long time. 

  • Eric Matas

    I don't know, @Bud, how much Apple Kool-Aid Kit Eaton is drinking. But Apple-haters need to watch it: being anti-Apple can make you biased when you read true statements about Jobs/Apple. In this case, Jobs is winning the battle, so Eaton is just right. He might be happily so, but that's allowed in journalism.

  • Bud Thompson

    When I got to "But Jobs is actually winning his battle..." I knew it had to be Kit Eaton and his Apple- fanboy juice-box journalism. Why does Fast Company send such a biased writer to review Adobe Edge.? 

  • joel

    I've now used both Edge and Hype and can report that Hype is, today, the vastly better tool.  Your last paragraph is mis-leading.  Far from having "tried to do this already"  - they did it, and they did it better than Adobe has.

    Anyone interested in this functionality should, in my opinion forego Edge altogether or until (if) Edge manages to catch up with Hype.The critical advantage of interactive coding aside (which Edge is utterly void of to date - rendering it largely useless), Hype is quite a lot easier to use than Edge.  Hype's UI is much more obvious and well-designed.  The Edge UI is a mess.  Just coherent if you are used to using other Adobe tools - but very weak in isolation.Further Adobe's animation tools are over thought and confusing (not unlike Flash) - for example, there is a ridiculous multitude of ease-in, ease-out options in Edge most of which which provide questionable results, and unnecessary complication, in a medium that normally limits frame-rate to the point of gracelessness anyway.  Edge is well-intentioned but clearly not ready for prime time.  This product is a sign of desperation for Adobe, who we must assume merely hopes to limit it's blood-letting as better, specialized products like Hype challenge their Flash-lead dominance.

  • Shiloh

    @Joel Hype is a cool tool but keep in mind that Edge isn't even in beta yet. This is a preview to get feedback while they develop the program. So it's good to critique it but it's premature to be overly critical.