Adobe looks to bring Ajax to designers

Seeking to add graphic designers to the Ajax community now made up largely of Java programmers, Adobe offers a preview edition of Spry, a free open source downloadable Ajax framework.

While there may be Java coders who also bring graphic design talents to Ajax applications, there probably aren't too many, posits Kevin Lynch, chief software architect for Adobe Systems Inc. And the same probably holds true for graphic designers working on the Web, who may be skilled at HTML and even Cascading Style Sheets, but may not be great JavaScript coders.

 You have to be pretty good at knowing code to use the frameworks. So what we worked on here [in Spry] is how can we get designers more involved in Ajax?
Kevin Lynch
Chief Software ArchitectAdobe Systems Inc.

Speaking of the skill gap between developers and graphic designers, Lynch said, "It's a little rare to have somebody with complete breadth on both."

This was the rationale behind Adobe's venture into Ajax with the Spry framework, which aims at graphic designers who make up the company's core constituency. It is designed to provide a tool for designers who want to do rich Internet application (RIA) interfaces with a minimum of JavaScripting, Lynch said.

Spry is currently in a preview release, downloadable for free from the Adobe Labs Web site, said Todd Hay, director, platform marketing at Adobe.

Where developers seeking to avoid the well-known pain points of working with JavaScript are now able to use tools such as the recently released ICEfaces 1.0 Community Edition from ICESoft Technologies Inc., Lynch said Adobe didn't see comparable tools for designers.

Lynch, known in the past for being a conciliator on behalf of Adobe's Flash technology, which is not universally beloved by the Java community, previewed Spry at the recent Ajax Experience conference in San Francisco. His lunchtime keynote on behalf of Adobe/Java co-existence was characteristically titled "Who put chocolate in my peanut butter?" as he attempted to say the issues are not so much either/or as both/and.

"What we're seeing in all the different Ajax frameworks that are out right now – there's a lot of them, there's a lot of innovations happening, which is awesome – there's been a lot of focus on developers, Ajax developers," he said. "But you have to be pretty good at knowing code to use the frameworks. So what we worked on here [in Spry] is how can we get designers more involved in Ajax?"

The goal, he told the audience of mostly Java programmers, is to expand the Ajax community. "We're hoping it will bring more people into using Ajax than can even do it now," he said.

Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst with ZapThink LLC, said there are positives to Adobe getting involved in Ajax.

"It's definitely good news that Adobe is entering the Ajax side of the Rich Internet Application market," he said.

He noted that Spry may fit into Web applications where Flash is not needed or wanted.

"Flash will always serve a role in Web-based applications," Schmelzer said, "but end users are now increasingly looking for browser-native technologies such as Ajax to fill the gaps where Flash may not necessarily be appropriate. Or at the very least, where developers seem to be finding a space for Ajax that they didn't see for Flash. By introducing Spry, Adobe is now playing both sides of the Rich Internet App fence: The Flash-based apps for high-powered, graphic and visualization-intensive experiences and Ajax-based solutions for lighter weight, but broader applications where Flash or Flex didn't necessarily reach. They are giving their customers choice, and that's what they want."

From Adobe's perspective, Hay said the downloadable release of Spry is "part of a shift at Adobe to work with our community."

Jen Taylor, senior product manager, noted that the Web site for Spry features a wiki and a team blog and other features encouraging users to provide feedback in the tradition of an open source community.

For more information

Ajax is the talk of JavaOne

How Ajax conquered the Web

In an introduction to Spry on the Web site, Paul Gubbay, director of engineering for Adobe's (formerly Macromedia's) popular Dreamweaver Web authoring tool, encouraged that participation. "Our goal of putting out Spry now is to get your feedback," he writes. "Please feel free to use Spry and share your thoughts, ideas and samples with us on the forums so that we can learn how to make the framework better."

ZapThink's Schmelzer said having a major software vendor like Adobe taking a major role in Ajax tool development is a positive for the fledgling technology and may help build the market for tools that support development in it.

"The Ajax marketplace is littered with a wide array of tiny widget/component solution companies, open source efforts and emerging startups," the analyst noted. "While there are some serious and significant startups solving some of the real challenges of making Ajax work for developers, notably ICESoft, JackBe, and Nexaweb, Adobe's entry serves to bring their designer/creative market into the fold of Ajax. Rather than pushing at the developer community, Adobe hopes to capture the capabilities of their creative audience with the power of RIAs, deployable either in the Flash-based Flex environment or the browser technology-based Ajax environment."

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