Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Apollo - bringing all the web goodness to the desktop

Apollo has been getting alot of buzz lately. For those of you who doesn't know, Apollo is the code name for a project from Adobe that allows developers to build Rich Internet Application for the desktop using their existing skillsets in HTML, Action Script, Flex, Java Script and PDF. Apollo's run time will be freely available to download (much like the flash player). And the run time engine supported out of the box is very attractive to any web developer who wants to create a desktop version of their application.

In my talk given at Adobe MAX 2006 in Las Vegas, my colleague and I showcased an Apollo-ified version of the flex application that we were building for the telecom industry. Total time spent to "build" the apollo version? 10 minutes. This includes 5 minutes to find an icon we want to use on the desktop. Alot of details of Apollo isn't cant be released yet, however the vision is clear. Bring the best of breed of the web technology onto the desktop.

Imagine supporting PDF documents natively in the development and run time environment, such that incorporating PDF based work flows into your application is seamless. Kevin Lynch, Senior VP at Adobe, showcased a scenario where user is filling in details and applying for a mortgage on the desktop using Flash and HTML, and sign the PDF document directly within the Apollo application, and finally sent to the mortgage broker / banker in a single package containing all the necessary information. The integration was seamless and the UI was attractive, and easy to use.

Many has compared Apollo to the Java Web Start, and predicts it's inevitable doom. However, personally I think Adobe has a few things in their favor that will turn things around:

  1. Distribution Channels: Adobe (and Macromedia) have excellent distribution channel. The ubiquity of the flash player, the Acrobat Reader is an indication of this.
  2. Speed and Version Control: One of the big down fall of Java Web Start, is that the Java Run Time is a beast, and slow to start up. The Apollo run time is currently standing at approximately, 5.5 mbs. I can not tell the difference between the launch speed of an Apollo application versus a native windows/mac app.
  3. Developers: There are already communities of developers embracing the technologies behind Apollo: HTML/Ajax, Flash/Flex, and PDF. Transition for them over to Apollo is seamless.
  4. Technology: The level of interactivity and interaction that can be accomplished through AJAX/ Flash is unparalleled. A whole breed of desktop RIA is waiting to be created and embraced by the user.
I can't wait to see what's coming up next.

David in Vancouver

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Next Generation Consoles United

All 3 consoles (XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, and the PS3) are sitting on top of my pool table and connected to a projector right now. Friends and I just had a session of a few hours trying out various games and compare the next generation consoles. Each has its pros and cons, but at the end of the day, only one console was able to draw the most laughter, and smiles from people's faces. Here are some initial thoughts about the battle of the next generation gaming platform.

The xbox 360, released their consoles last year in an attempt to secure a foot hold in the market place before any of their competitors (Sony, and Nintendo) are ready. The end result is that Microsoft enjoyed an entire year of zero competition, while consumers purchased whatever consoles they can get their hands on. This also resulted in additional revenue streamed from XBox360 Live and game sales. The number of launch titles were fairly impressive, utilize realistic graphics and sound to draw their audience.

Now, fast forward a year. Sony will launch it's much anticipated console on November 17th, and Nintendo with it's wii on November 19th. I am sure you have heard your share of horror stories associated with the ps3 launch, due to the limited supply of PS3 available world wide. The limited quantities of PS3 helped Nintendo and Microsoft significantly, as consumers purchase whatever next generation consoles they could laid their hands on. We tried out a few genre of games, from sports game (NHL 2K7), racing game (Ridge Racer) to first person shooters (Resistance). The graphics is truly stunning, with unparalleled amount of details. However, the PS3 are better suited for certain types of games and players. Sports and Racing games are pretty impressive on the PS3, however, the improvement over the XBOX360, and/or the PS2 doesn't justify the price tag IMO. The game play is similar, the controllers is familiar, with slightly better graphics.

Now, Nintendo decided to change the battle ground for the console wars, by focusing on game play, and fully integrating the revolutionary controllers into its games and focus on the fun aspects of the games, instead of processing power, and graphical displays. A lot of the games available on the WII are targeted for group play and VERY interactive. The control for the games are intuitive, and easy to pick up. What Nintendo did, was to lower the barrier to entry, such that everyone can have fun playing the games on the Wii. The Wii sports that comes bundled with the console can provide hours and hours of fun for a small group.

I invited a few friends over the past weekend to try out the wii, and the ps3. The common consensus is that the wii is much more fun and enjoyable. We tried Rayman Raving Rabbids, wii sports, Need for Speed Carbon, etc for the wii. The games are very intuitive, and interactive. The only exception is Need for Speed - Carbon, as the lack of high resolution graphical display actually took some points away from the game.

I know I will be playing a lot of Wii over the coming weeks. Have you picked your winner yet, for the next console war? I know I have.

David in Vancouver

Acrobat 8 or LiveCycle?

I was browsing through messages of the Adobe Community Expert program forum and saw that a question was raised about what is appropriate for their scenario. To assess this, answer the following questions:

On the existing paper based documents:
- How many of these form processing occur on a daily basis, weekly, and/or monthly? This will dictate whether a server based solution is appropriate, or an Acrobat solution.
- What portion of the process does your client wish to automate? (in our scenarios, they tend want to automate as much as possible to save time, reduce error rate, reduce cost, better manageability, etc).

The decision to go with LiveCycle or Acrobat, really depends on the needs of your client. If they don't anticipate a lot of these forms / data capture, Acrobat 8 can do the trick. As you know, Acrobat 8 incorporate some of the essential server based products' capabilities out of the box. Limitation with Acrobat 8 is that each of the form instance you sent out for data capture from different parities can only support up to a maximum of 500 users. And there is still a decent amount of manual work (importing data specifically) that still has to occur. In the case of a custom solution using livecycle, any repetitive work can be automated, but comes at a higher cost. Another factor to consider, is cost. Each of the LiveCycle servers is tens of thousands per cpu (for specific pricing, please contact your Adobe sales representative.), whereas Acrobat is approximately 500 USD per seat.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Mars project on Adobe labs

Adobe announced the mars project on labs . What is Mars? An XML implementation of the PDF syntax, including extensions for industry standards such as SVG, PNG, JPG, Xpath, etc into a zip file. There is a plug-in for acrobat that will support creation of Mars document in Acrobat 8. To view mars document, there is also a plug-in for Reader 8. (p.s., reader 8 is available for download now on Adobe's website.)

What does this mean?

One simple scenario I can think of, is to easily support xml data merging and extracting using commonly available tools then distribute as PDF after it has been converted from a Mars format. I suspect that somewhere down the road, Reader and Acrobat will support the Mars format natively, without requiring a plug-in.

More to come after i experiment more with the Mar's pre-release build.

David in Vancouver

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Welcome to my blog!

What is LiveCycle?

Since most of my work involves crafting solutions based on LiveCycle, I figure my first post will be a short summary of what it is.

LiveCycle is a set of J2EE based document services from Adobe. It's all about a PDF. Services around a PDF that is. There are 8 products each provide a very specific functionality. For e.g., LiveCycle Forms allows templates created in LiveCycle Designer (WYSIWYG form design tool), to be rendered as HTML, PDF, PDF Form, for Print, etc, as well as merging / prepopulating the forms with XML data. LiveCycle Forms (known as Form Server in its previous live), also has the capabilities of extracting XML data out from a PDF based form. Policy Server allows PDF document (in the latest release, also word and excel documents) to be protected with a digital certificate, such that only authorized personnels are allowed to have access to its content. There's too much to go through in one post, but one of the way to think about LiveCycle is providing various capabilities for a PDF document on the server side while leveraging the performance, scalability and security of the J2EE platform.

For those who are interested, the LiveCycle Server lineup are as follows:

LiveCycle Forms
LiveCycle Reader Extensions
LiveCycle Policy Server
LiveCycle Security Server
LiveCycle Workflow Server
LiveCycle PDF Generator
LiveCycle Assembler
LiveCycle Forms Manager

My coming posts will include some detail dive in of the LiveCycle server stacks, and how it's used in the market place. As well as some of my thoughts around flex, apollo, and pretty much anything else I can think of.

Oh yeah, for the lawyers, whatever is expressed in my blog are my thoughts only, and do not represent views of any company I am associated with.

Thanks for reading!

David in Vancouver