adobe fights fire with…teddy bears

Adobe launched a new ad campaign today along with a response to Steve Jobs’ declaration that Flash will never be supported on iPhones, iPads, and iPods last week.  (In fact, they’ve added a whole new Freedom of Choice section on Adobe.com.)  There are a few amusing (and somewhat contradictory) statements in Adobe’s open letter (like this one: “If the web fragments into closed systems…their success will come at the expense of the very creativity and innovation that has made the Internet a revolutionary force.” Um, seriously Adobe?  You just said that?  After swallowing your smaller rival Macromedia to become a monopoly in web development and design software and — as a bonus — acquire the very technology we’re having this open/closed argument about, you’re talking about closed systems (hint: Flash is a closed system) coming at the expense of creativity and innovation?  Really?), but you can read it for yourself on Adobe’s site.

What I find most interesting about this new love campaign isn’t even positioning Apple as the bad guy and Adobe as the ones really interested in freedom and openness (while authoring — and trying to save — a patently closed and proprietary system).  (Also note: “open markets“, as described in their letter, is entirely different from “open standards” or “open source“.)  I’m interested in the fact that all of this love is aimed not at consumers — who don’t give a crap what powers the stuff they do on the internet and who will, regardless of what comes of the Adobe vs. Apple feud, still buy iPads, iPods and iPhones — it’s aimed at developers.  It’s aimed at designers.  It’s a desperate we-just-made-massive-improvements-to-authoring-Flash-apps-with-CS5-and-we-don’t-want-to-lose-money plea to not abandon Adobe to open standards and HTML5 and everything else Steve was preaching about in his letter.  Apple is not going to change their stance.  Ever.  This letter was designed to get the people who make Flash apps to not reconsider making those apps with Flash and using something else instead.

What’s also interesting is that, weren’t we just talking about a possible lawsuit against Apple?  Now, “We love Apple”?  Really?  What was that thing that one guy who preached all about love said right before he was carted away…something like “Judas, must you betray me with a kiss?”

[audio:devo_freedom-of-choice.mp3]

signs that Adobe Flash is on the way out

i’ll spare the discussion of how Flash is dead because Steve Jobs says it is.

while i agree with him on all of his points, i’m not really into the all bow to the great and mighty Steve camp, even while the rest of the industry bows to the great and mighty Steve.  (i may think it’s just a tad bit snotty for Steve to simply not support a development platform that’s become so ubiquitous as to be an industry standard, but i can’t deny that it’s his prerogative as a hardware and software manufacturer to support — or not — any platform he wants.  adobe wants to sue apple?  please.  on what possible grounds?  hardware doesn’t support software all the time, even to the point that intel-based Macs don’t run some of the software that non-intel-based Macs can run, and vice versa. what makes this issue any different than apple not supporting windows software?  i would like to wish adobe luck; if they win, it could set a precedent that would lead to the end of OS-specific software, which, in a way, is sort of what adobe is trying to do anyway with Flash and Air.)

i also don’t think the iPad is the be-all end-all technology product.  but there are some interesting trends.  and i do think it will change the way we think of computing and, in particular, how we look at the web.  (i don’t think this because i see apple as being able to single-handedly define our web browsing experience.  remember that little thing that Google announced six months or so ago, the ChromeOS?  and how the OS would only work on specially-designed hardware, about how the operating system, essentially, was the internet, about how the internet would be changing and blah blah blah, remember all that?  and all the people at the official announcement were busily typing into their netbooks thinking that this would be a netbook operating system but how could anyone want to run this netbook operating system when there wasn’t any actual software and had such limited features…kind of sounds like the iPad now, doesn’t it?  one major technology company with their fingers deep into the pot of user experience of the web with the most popular mobile browsing device — the iPhone — does not necessarily define the direction of the industry and the web (although it could).  two major technology companies with their fingers deep into the pot of user experience of the web — one of which is essentially the name brand of search — just might.)

this, however, is the interesting juxtaposition of information that i think is particularly telling about the demise of Flash as a standardized development platform:

the iPad is used, predominantly, by well-to-do men in the 35-44 age bracket.  it’s not the young geeks (like me) probably because we don’t have the cash to throw around to buy one (and are probably spending more time texting and listening to tunes at any rate, things that make the iPhone a better fit, although half of them also have an iPhone).  [source: Mashable — iPad: The Device of the Rich?]

the top 10 luxury brands (as reported by Forbes in 2009) fail to work on iDevices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch) because they use Flash.  some of them — most notably Gucci — have some functionality, but 6 out of 10 die when faced with a Flash-less browser, and of the broken 4, only Gucci has any real functionality.  [source: PSFK — Top 10 Luxury Brands’ Sites Fail To Work On iPad]

it doesn’t take a genius to do the math.  rich, older guys (older than me at any rate) — guys who probably largely resemble jon stewart, pictured above — are the ones buying iPads, but the top 10 luxury brands (read: stuff that rich guys — and gals — like to buy) can’t be viewed on iPads because they use Flash.  the makers of luxury products want the rich guys and gals with disposable incomes (the ones that buy iPads) to buy their stuff, so they are going to have to redesign their sites to use HTML5 or at least provide a non-Flash alternative.  more will follow.  eventually, whether Adobe likes it or not, whether HTML5 skeptics and detractors like it or not, whether HTML5 is really ready or not, HTML5 will become the de facto standard because people want their sites to be viewable on more platforms.

that’s why adobe is pissed off, and they have a point.  but so does Jobs.  HTML5 is an open platform.  Flash is not; Flash is owned by Adobe and, as such, developers need to wait for Adobe to add new features to be able to expand and innovate their software.  That is not the case with an open platform.  in the end, i think Jobs’ points trump Adobe’s.  even if Google makes a tablet, and HP makes a tablet, and Amazon upgrades the Kindle to be more tablet-like, and they all support Flash, the very fact that Jobs has put his foot down in a “not gonna do it” sort of way means that brands and developers will need to decide whether to build a site that can be viewed on a mobile Apple product or…not.  i think the one million iPads sold in the first month and the most popular mobile phone crowns can suggest what direction that will go.

How I broke a javascript gallery script to make a Flash-like slideshow

This is a story about a site redesign.  The site was for the mother of a client we’ve worked with on other projects.  It was a kind of site we don’t normally do, but we took the gig because it was a referral and someone we know and like working with.  The original site was built in WordPress, and our job would be to fix it up, make it more SEO-friendly and just generally take what they did and make it better.

When I got access to the WordPress backend and found that, rather than building a new theme, the previous designers just added styles to the WordPress Default theme, I figured just how right I was to just take what they did and make it better.  They also controlled the layout via tables and built no custom page templates, all of which told me that they didn’t understand the possibilities and/or were not very skilled WordPress designers or they were just really lazy.

One of the first things I noticed on the site was that there was a lot of graphics that were mostly text.  Search engines can’t read images, so this text – much of it was the sort of keywords that would be valuable for search engines to crawl – was useless (at least from a search engine standpoint).  In addition, said text was, in many cases, jaggy and ugly.  My question: why bother making text into an image if it doesn’t look smooth and clean?  Either use a unique font you can’t get with available web fonts and make it look nice, or just use regular text.  So the first step was taking several graphics like this and removing all the text, and then adding the text to the code and styling it with CSS.  To get a more unique and attractive look (i.e. to make it look more visual and like the graphic it was replacing) I added subtle text-shadows and styled the font using @font-face.

There was also one of those Flash slideshows as a major feature of the home page.  You know, the Flash slideshows with an image and some text.  None of it is interactive; you can’t click on anything to link to a page or anything, and those images, too, had text buried in them that would be relevant for search engines, using the sorts of phrases that I would expect users to actually use in search queries.   My next question: why use a Flash slideshow when you could have the exact same effect, and make the text searchable, by using available javascript-based technologies like AJAX?  The next task, then, was to find some jQuery slideshow script similar to Dynamic Content Gallery or Featured Content Gallery.  In fact, since it was WordPress, I considered building one of those into the theme and using a redirect to point them all to the same page, but ultimately, this would be a bit of a lame hack and I found a better solution.

First, I found a simple jQuery image slide show that I could customize the code for (demo here).  Like Featured/Dynamic Content Gallery and a multitude of other slideshows like them, there was a caption that would rise up from the bottom and then slide back down when the image transitioned.  But up and down didn’t really work for the layout I was using.  I really needed it to either be there all the time (like it would be if it were a static image in a Flash slideshow) or come in from the right side.  Here’s the relevant javascript code:

//Display the caption
$('#slideshow-caption').css({opacity: 0.7, bottom:0});

And…

//Hide the caption first, and then set and display the caption
$('#slideshow-caption').animate({bottom:-70}, 300,() {

//Display the content
$('#slideshow-caption h3').html(title);
$('#slideshow-caption p').html(desc);
$('#slideshow-caption').animate({bottom:0}, 500);
});

The above lines of code control the captions displaying/hiding, the height of said caption area, opacity, etc.  In both cases, I replaced “bottom” with “right” just to see what happened.  What happened was the text didn’t slide at all – it just stayed there until the next slide – precisely what I really wanted to do anyway.  Some styling with @font-face for the captions and, voila, a working alternative to the Flash slideshow.

See the final product here: The Art of Eyebrows

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2e6c0a0ecb51c9d67263485a1713294d How I broke a javascript gallery script to make a Flash like slideshowChris Reynolds is one half of Arcane Palette and writes the majority of the blog posts on this site. He also has a personal blog, jazzsequence, where he shares links, videos, thoughts about music, technology and gaming, and posts various personal music and writing projects.

unbox pandora

openpandorai’ve been using Pandora for a long time, and i’ve always been a big fan.  when Tim Westergren came to Salt Lake City on his speaking tour, i went to see him at the SLC Main Library and i have the raglan-style Pandora tshirt to prove it.  the unique recommendation engine — powered by humans who actually analyze characteristics of each track individually for the Music Genome Project, rather than by computers and a centralized database of similar or related artists, or users who purchased other albums at the same time — makes Pandora’s recommendations unlike any other music streaming service on the ‘net.  the Muse Radio channel i made transformed from being a lot of Muse and early Radiohead-sounding stuff, into a more generalized brit-rock when it threw in some Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles into the mix based on my likes/dislikes and the station doesn’t miss a beat.  With other systems — even WinAmp‘s Advanced Playlist Generator and iTunes’ Genius (both powered by Gracenote) are limited in their artist database, and always throw in at least one left-field unrelated track that throws the whole mix off.

being a DJ, i’m all about the flow of a mix.  throwing in something unexpected or different is fine, but you have to prep your audience for it a little bit, otherwise the set is disrupted.  i’m equally (albeit unfairly) discriminating in randomly-generated playlists, and no system has fully been able to satisfy me.  that is, except for Pandora.  it’s also the single most accurate system for recommending new music that i’m likely to really like.  it’s rare (or an underdeveloped station) that Pandora gives me a track that i outright hate, although it has happened.  however, it nothing like getting Gloria Gaynor in an Amanda Palmer playlist like what iTunes Genius did to me.  wtf?

but the biggest reason i don’t just listen to Pandora 24/7 is because it’s a web-app.  it’s powered by a flash application that sucks up resources in already resource-sucking browsers.  and as a designer, i can’t have my computer compromised by limited resources while i’m building a website.  that’s solved with OpenPandora. (note: OpenPandora is just for windows. mac users…uh…come back later when i’m not talking about software.)

pandorafmfor a long time, i’ve used PandoraFM; it’s a mashup of Pandora and last.fm that streams Pandora (although it can also stream last.fm playlists) and scrobbles the tracks to last.fm.  and last.fm is cool because of their analysis of the stuff you’re listening to compared with your friends and provides charts and graphs of your most listened-to artists and recently listened-to tracks.  plus, thanks to a last.fm/twitter mashup, whenever i “love” a track on last.fm, it automatically tweets that with a link to the track (if it exists) on last.fm (or the artist if the track doesn’t exist).  it doesn’t solve the problem with CPU and memory resources, but there are other benefits by adding in the last.fm stuff.  but it’s a solution i can’t use all the time.

there are a few different standalone Pandora clients out there, but my favorite part of OpenPandora is that it has built-in last.fm integration.  i can’t “love” tracks like i can with PandoraFM, but it scrobbles everything i play (which you’ll see on my frontpage and lifestream if i’m listening to something).  and it’s a standalone app — from what i can tell, little more than a Flash player with a few extra options for additional settings — so it doesn’t consume all the resources of a new browser window, or suck more memory into a separate browser tab in an already bloated browser.

sometimes, i just want to listen to the music that i have on my external hard drive, and for that, i’m still shopping for a good playlist generator (WinAmp’s Advanced Playlist Generator is the current favorite, but the database often gets corrupted for me, forcing me to rebuild the database from scratch, which, with my collection, can take a full day and lots of memory; the other option is Genius, but that requires, um, iTunes, and their Library management leaves much to be desired, it’s an even bigger resource hog than all of the other solutions in this post combined, and they don’t offer full support for all filetypes).  i’d love to see a Pandora plugin for WinAmp (something i suggested to them on twitter a while back), but until that happens, OpenPandora is an awesome way to experience Pandora outside of a browser (sidenote: they also have an iPhone app, a mobile app for non-iPhones, and a standalone receiver, so you’re not just limited to experiencing the Music Genome Project in a browser).

go check it out and leave a comment if you think it’s as cool as i do (or if you hate it and need to vent, i’m here for that, too).