[Interview] Danny Winokur, VP and GM, Platforms, Adobe

By Nash David Published Date
01 - Jul - 2012
| Last Updated
01 - Jul - 2012
[Interview] Danny Winokur, VP and GM, Platforms, Adobe

We spoke to Danny Winokur, VP and GM, Platform, Adobe Inc. a while ago. (Edit: Post this insightful interaction, there were a couple of developments we've been closely following. Among them, Adobe Flash support would cease from Jelly Bean beginning August 15. The rationale behind these decisions have been explained in the conversation below.)

Danny Winokur, VP and GM, Platforms, Adobe
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the future of Flash. Tell us a bit about the transition from Flash to HTML5.

Realizing the growing presence of HTML5 in the web, Adobe has pulled back on its Flash development slightly. Rather than focussing on developing Flash for multiple platforms, Adobe is trying to better integrate Flash with desktop web browsers. Flash development though cannot be ignored completely in favour of HTML5, as there still are a few things that can be done better and faster with Flash. However, two areas where Flash is seeing an increased adoption is in the areas of advanced gaming and premium video. Many Chinese gaming companies have invested heavily to create Flash-based games that run inside browsers, and these games are just as stunning in terms of their visual quality and graphics as a native game on a console like the XBox.

At Max 2011, we had communicated that we were focusing from an interactive and platform perspective around both Flash and HTML5, and enabling choice for the developer-designer work flow. In the time that followed, we've made a number of changes as a follow up on that. We announced the acquisition of Nitobi and TypeKit and brought them to the Adobe portfolio. We made some changes on what we were doing on Flash, pulled back from the focus we had on the Flash player on devices. This was to enable us to focus instead on the in-browser experience with the PC and the application experience on mobile devices using AIR as the packaging technology. Also, from a future investment perspective, we also have really begun to focus our innovation with Flash around two particular areas that we believe Flash has the greatest opportunity to innovate out ahead of the natural pace of the browser and the HTML ecosystem. These are in the areas of advanced gaming and premium video!

So, those are the two innovation themes in which we are continuing to invest with Flash because we believe that there are a number of reasons why with even our best efforts and the best efforts of the rest of the web community and the browser vendors, it is going to naturally take a quite a while before HTML5 and associated technologies are able to do all that can be done with Flash. So we are focusing Flash more narrowly than we were in the past, on specific opportunities and at the same time we are working very aggressively with HTML5 across a number of different areas in order to make it the richest possible and most capable top form for both developers and designers.

For all kind of other general purpose use cases, Flash used to be the only way to do things. Now HTML5 is able to do some of these tasks just as well. However, there is still a small gap left to polish in order to finish up and so we're seeking to really accelerate that last little bit of work across many different areas in HTML5 to really make it as rich, expressive and capable as possible and also to make sure that there is world class tooling, and services integrations capabilities explored as well. So, we've been doing that across a number of fronts. We have been doing it at the base platform level, meaning the run time itself (WebKit) and also to standards of W3C. We have invested significant engineering resources into both of those open efforts: W3C and associate standards into the web project and we have been focusing on three themes of our work and our standards and our WebKit to really enhance the core platform itself. One of those is around expressivity, making the web able to as expressive as the imagination of the designer which is something that really goes into the core competence that we as a company have throughout our history and we wanted to bring that to the web and contribute that to the web community.

We have had a lot of early success with some of the things we showcased at Max 2011 around CSS Regions and CSS Exclusions, CSS Shaders and some other work we were doing in that area with which we’re delivering magazine such as layout cinematic visual effect in a beautiful and expressive way. On the web, the area that we are naturally focusing on is around applications. So we obviously have a lot of experience as a company in designing-cum-application capabilities. These, not just relate to content but richly programmed, logic expressive and interactive application which can be in the browser or out of the browser. The other area is one that may not be as visible to the end user in terms of features, but is very important to the web developer community, which is around testing infrastructure and testing frameworks. We want to make it easier for browser vendors and the WebKit community to test compliance with W3C and other standards as they go through the development process. We are doing some work around testing frameworks at run time layer. We ventured to go up a layer from that and have also of course been doing a number of things with respect to frameworks and other associated framework technologies. We continue to contribute to jQuery, and jQuery Mobile in particular.

We obviously are continuing to drive forth our investments in PhoneGap which we have opened source through the Apache foundation, (now called Apache Cordova). We continue to invest significantly to improve those tools. We’ve also been doing some interesting work around some JavaScript frameworks that we think are quite promising. One of them is the CreateJS framework. This helps bridge the gap between the HTML5 and Flash communities. CreateJS provides a Flash-like set of interface that allows traditional designers, who are comfortable with Flash Pro, to target the HTML5 browser runtime instead of the Flash player runtime using familiar tools and animation capabilities that they already have in Flash Pro. In fact, with the tool kit that we have introduced for Create JS and CS6 with Flash Pro, you are already familiar with and can explicitly target the browser and write little snippets of JavaScript code in Flash Pro. As expected, we're continuing to invest in Flex at the framework level more on the Flash side than on the HTML5 side. And we're doing that through Apache similar to PhoneGap. It’s open source and we're continuing to work in the community and driving private and open source contributions to Flex.

Coming to tooling, which is the HTML side, we're doing a number of things. We obviously have continued to invest and brought further innovations into Dreamweaver CS6. Things such as Fluid grid layouts and other capabilities that are kind of equipped with responsive design, integration or application packaging – PhoneGap in particular support for, the new PhoneGap build service which makes it very easy to have application packaging from multiple different mobile target which occurred in the cloud. So you don’t have to set up all the different tool chains on your local machine and go through that process. We invest there. We have seen that Dreamweaver continues to be the leading product and very well positioned for a class of web developers who are really sort of producers who prefer a complete all in one tool. It lets them do much of all what they want to do in the all in context of that single Dreamweaver tool.


What is Edge and Shadow all about?

Adobe Edge is very focused on animation and design capabilities for HTML5. We have also released another tool/service called Adobe Shadow which is also the same product category of certain light weight, put-your-own-together kind of developers that allows you to from a desktop machine to connect up to 25 different individual devices that can now be supported and connected over the Wi-Fi network to your machine and then you get a console on the machine that allows you to remotely control the web browser on all of those devices for testing. So as your working on a modern web page, that is designed on responsive design principles so that it would reform or reflow for different screens and aspect ratios, you’d want to be able to test it across all the different devices and browser variations, with different screen sizes. That has, until now, been an extremely tedious process because you now do many things on 25-30 different devices. This gives you a way that you can, from a console on the machine that you are developing on, actually control all of these devices which have those load pages, synchronize all of them, and you can actually get a data back from each one as to where any problems are occurring. So that you can start to use that to introspect on how each device is rendering and you can also see the processes on the screen of the devices themselves. It dramatically accelerates the productivity of the modern web designer which is hard giving across multiple devices of trade, that’s another example. We are doing some interesting work right now but we haven’t released yet publicly. You’ll start to see them over the remainder of the year. So you know we are looking at ways in which we can bring some of the DNA and core competencies that we have around development and design into other tools which are of similar nature where they are small, that come out quickly, some of them will be done totally in the open source. Many of the tools will actually themselves be written using HTML, CSS and JavaScript so that the tool will actually work in the browser. We’re also looking to do some innovating work in areas of code editing with visual support. This would be modern code editing and includes the ability to actually see the visual expression of your code while editing code. Things around further enabling the ease of designing with this responsive design principles and using the very latest capability of CSS and a number of other ideas that we are pursuing as well. So, we just made available a new micro site called html.adobe.com. We believe in the fast moving world of the web, it would be really beneficial to integrate much more quickly the smaller, lighter weight tools given the way things are working and what developers really prefer to do.

We believe that we will compliment what we are doing with Dreamweaver for a different cost of designer and developers apps. So that’s a good sort of overview on what’s going on with respect to flash and HTML and just a summary of that we are continuing to go deeply with Flash and invest in areas where HTML is naturally going to take more time which is advanced gaming and video and for the broad general purpose cases that are beyond that and we’re investing very heavily in HTML5 and polishing it and improving it and making it richest and most capable, most expressive application capable platform that it can be as well.


Ever since the announcements at Max happened about the whole shift and focus on HTML5 and then a couple of months later when it kind of became official, there was a lot of hue and cry regarding Adobe coming down and shaky grounds around Flash. How did Adobe view that and what has been the trends you have seen on one of the developer circles after that?


It’s been interesting. There was a definitely as you said a lot of hue and cry for a period of time that created a lot of noise in the conversation and as is typically the case when there’s a lot of noise like that, it creates distortions and misunderstandings which is frustrating, and unfortunate but what’s been gratifying to see is that as a little bit of time passed we continued to focus on executing against what we laid out as our strategy, the noise has begun to die down and settle and we’re beginning to now see people in the developer community (both the Flash and HTML communities) understand better what it is they were doing and why. And one of the things that have been great as evident is that we are seeing them actually engage in the areas of whatever we said we were focusing. So they are not just understanding and expressing, they are actually getting excited and beginning to work using the technology in exactly the areas where we are investing. I recently did this trip to China. And you know the level of energy and enthusiasm, excitement and the quality of work that is being done in gaming using Flash in China is absolutely mind blowing. I saw major investments from all of the major Chinese gaming companies and it’s quite a big industry in China as you may know. All investing in creating world class Flash games. Games that to me had no differentiation in terms of their visual quality and their production values from what you would expect on the high end consoles like the Xbox, Play Station level consoles, but running inside browsers and running completely on Flash and these are new investments as they are pouring in new resources in different games and there is going to be a launch in this summer and this fall. We see the same thing happening in the US. A lot of the leading game developers there, especially those who have understood the importance of bringing higher production values into the opportunity that exist for social and casual gaming on the web.




People have been talking of running Flash running on set top boxes. So do you see a device with good hardware but running using flash technology on devices serving the purpose of running games with good experience?

Yes, I do think it’s about time; but I won’t like to call it a console in a traditional sense like I would as an Xbox and a PlayStation. I can imagine a TV, typically like the ones fixed on a wall having Flash built into it with modern hardware. So, for example, a strong GPU in a tablet, you put the GPU of this device, into the TV and put the Flash run time in there and you have a social-casual console-quality graphics capability in the TV. That, I do think, we will see over time. But the first wave of what we are seeing is the social-casual trend still really blossoming on PC class machines where there continues to be really rapid and exciting move of focus, investment, revenue, and energy in the gaming industry into these web-based games.

As that movement occurs into the browser or gaming there is a naturally a segmentation that begins to occur for different kinds of gamers and one of the opportunity where there’s a lot of attraction is the ability to bring in some of the traditional gamers, and also to expand the base of gamers by upping the quality of productive values. So we saw sort of a first generation of casual games on the web that have been enormously successful and inarguably in games such as Farmville. Now the second generation of that trend is beginning where Zynga and many others are now all looking to read the production values with the new class of games that begin to introduce sport for hardware acceleration, richer 2d and 2d isometric games and increasingly we see a move now and a lot of early work going on to bring 3d into the browser and deliver a visual richness and not always for hard core gamers like the traditional console 3d games with all the camera angles and the first person and those are for gamers and don’t see them on web as well. But also 3d have been used more selectively by games that are easier to use and more approachable to more a mass market audience and not hard core gamers but gives you the level of the visual richness of the world that you’re operating in. I saw one of the games earlier that I mentioned on the trip to China was a game on development that was sort of like a traditional exciting game, two characters that are fighting with one another not complicated, but made it so compelling was that the world that was around the fighting was just stunning. It was rendered inside a European cathedral, the stained glass windows and you come down and you see the rough edges of stone floor, tiles and the grout between the tiles, reflection of light bouncing off, statues from the Renaissance, the world was visually rich and amazing world and it creates an appeal and a differentiation of that game and I think kinda tracts you know even less than sophisticated gamers.


Overall, as I see and understand the emphasis is gaming, graphics, and premium video. As of now, the most significant web delivery mechanism for video on the web such as YouTube are still relying on flash (heavily). So was the move to pull out and focus on HTML too early or just decided to focus on HTML5. Could you have just let Flash enjoy the status it has in terms of web delivery and video consumptions.


We are doing that, and I want to caution in terms of reaching a conclusion is we have not pulled back from Flash! What we’ve done is we’re gonna focus on Flash in those areas (mentioned in the question) where it is enjoying great popularity and continues to enjoy some significant differentiation and advantages that make it so popular in areas that you just mentioned like video and gaming. Those are the areas where we are not pulling back where we are actually investing where we are putting in more resources into those areas and are continuing to come up with new releases and introduce new capabilities. For example, recently we released Flash player 11.2 and AIR 3.2 in those releases, we brought new capabilities for both gaming and video and to both mobile runtime and AIR and to browser plug-in run time with Flash. The only pull back was only in browser experience on mobile devices. We decided that just makes sense in delivery vehicle. AIR make perfect sense because with mobile devices, especially when you narrow the focus with respect to video and gaming those are two content types where the end user naturally installs applications like for games you like to come back to them frequently, you want them to be available to you, you are playing repeatedly so you want the convenience of the installed application. The thing with video, you want to attend the video. There you have lot of options to pause, come back to it an hour later continue to watch it. You want the local capabilities and convenience of installed application library. That need a very natural fit and then you combine that it with the reality that on the iPad and iPhone there was no Flash and we cannot put it there. Those are important devices clearly. It does not make sense to push the in-browser delivery in the ecosystem where A) it is not possible and B) the content areas that you are focusing naturally lend themselves with end user behavior with application world, so that was only pull back with out of the browser focus on application user stage. And then go deep on PC capabilities around gaming and video as well so that very much focus there.

In addition to that as I said it is about enriching HTML platform at all levels you know that run time, framework, the tools for different classes of developers and designers of three areas that we talked about. So that everybody has full access in a way that are aligned with respective skill sets to the richest possible and most expressive platform of all kinds of general purpose context of application. We see those as two platform capabilities that naturally co-exist and complement one another and we don’t see as you have to stop doing one in order to do other. You can do both.

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