FlashForward Austin Days 1 & 2

I arrived in Austin on Sunday for FlashForward and had a great time presenting my Head Start Flex 2 workshop yesterday.

Right now I'm sitting in on Kevin Lynch's keynote and they're showing a couple of firsts. Big Spaceship just demoed their latest site for Nike using the Flash 9 Player on Linux. The site contains heavy alpha channel video and animation and the player ran it without a glitch. I can't wait to get my hands on that baby. It's going to be great to be able to create Flex applications on Linux and run them in Flash Player 9 on Linux.

Mark Anders has taken the stage and he's currently creating a small Flickr-based application on Flex Builder 2 on OS X. Once this baby and CS3 are released, I don't think I'll have much to do in Windows under Parallels anymore and, as good as Parallels is, I did switch to a Mac to get away from Windows!

Now Mark's talking about Apollo. How it will support HTML, Flash and PDF and integrate them. You can build a Flash based application using Flash Professional or Flex and it gives you access to ActionScript and all of the capabilities of the Flash player. Beyond that you can integrate HTML and PDF into Flash. You can render HTML inside Flash. Or, you can approach it from an HTML perspective. You can build an HTML application that uses SWF and PDF. You have access to operating system APIs, cross-platform (Mac, Windows, Linux.)

Now he's showing, for the first time ever, how to build an application in Apollo on OS X. It's a very early build and it doesn't have all the integration with Flex Builder in the version that he's showing us.

He selects the Apollo Debug Launcher from the Web Browsers preference in Flex Builder 2. He is also changing the tag to (he is changing the same Flickr application that he built a few moments ago.) Apollo gives you complete control over the chrome. You have System Chrome, Window Chrome and Transparent Chrome. He's giving it an icon too. He did all this with a tiny XML configuration file. And now he's running the application as an OS X application. It's cool but the Window control buttons are on the right (they should be on the left.)

They want to have a developer release this year with version 1.0 in 2007.

Kevin's returned to the stage and now he's inviting Justin Everett-Church and Mike Downey to the stage to talk about the Flash Authoring Tool. Justin is demoing the Flash 9 Public Alpha. He mentions the performance difference between AS2 and AS3 applications using a particle demo.

Now Mike's going to show us what they're working on next. A sneak preview of the next version of Flash (this is the first public presentation of the tool, codename Blaze.)

One of the new features is importing Photoshop PSD files. Import -> Import to stage. There is precise control over every layer. He chooses a PSD file and you can see all the layers, layer groups, layer comps and you can make choices about each layer separately. The options include "Make text editable" (so that text imported from PSD files is editable in Flash). He selects a Folder. And asks everything in that folder to be made into a MovieClip and he gives it an instance name and sets is registration point (the crowd loves it - claps!) They're also supporting layer modes -- drop shadows, blurs, etc. -- and covert them to the Flash format.

Also, Photoshop JPEG format looks better so they swapped out the compression engine in Flash to use the one in the next version of Photoshop.

You can convert layers to keyframes. You can set the Flash stage to the same size as your photoshop document window. (This is all still in the Photoshop import wizard.)

Looks like this is the first step towards much tighter integration with Photoshop.

He's going to show one other thing. An innovative feature. In a lot of Flash teams, there is a workflow where a designer will prototype the site on the timeline and then the developer would rip it all apart and then recreate the animations, etc., in ActionScript, optimize, etc. There is an inherent loss of fidelity as you go through the process. Breeding discontent between "designers" and "developers". Code-based animation. So they hired Robert Penner (who now works on the Flash team and he's working on the feature Mike's showing now.)

There is a traditional timeline animation of a bug moving around the stage, following a motion path, changing size, alpha, etc. So it's a complex timeline animation. Select any span of animation, right-click, Copy Motion as ActionScript 3. So the feature walks the timeline and converts the timeline-based animation into an XML structure using E4X and then copies it to the clipboard.

He creates a copy of the first movie clip and then adds the code. The timeline-based animation and the coded animation are identical.

You can also that this animation code into Flex Builder and it will work in Flex.

This is quite an amazing feature and they're still refining it and working on the interface.

The last thing he's going to mention is components. People want smaller components. And components that are very easy to skin. So they decided to build that and base it on the same architecture as Flex but very lightweight. Instead of Adobe building them, they hired Flash developers to build them. So they hired Metallic and Beau Amber and Grant Skinner. (Beau's going to give a sneak peek of the components.)