Adobe Systems, racing to match surging interest in a new generation of Web standards, is adding today a significant advance for its Edge software for Web design: interactivity.
A third public preview version of the software with the feature is set to debut today on Adobe Labs. The release is timed with Adobe Max, the company's conference for developers and designers, which begins today.
"Interactivity is the most requested functionality thus far," said Mark Anders, the Adobe fellow who leads the Edge project. With it, Edge changes from a tool that essentially spruces up a page as it loads into one that changes as people use it.
Previous versions of Edge let people create Web sites with a variety of animation effects, such as graphical elements that slid into view as a Web page loaded. With interactivity, such actions can be tied to events such as a person clicking a button on the site. Ultimately, it could be used for elaborate operations such as games.
The software is a vivid example of Adobe's attempt to grow beyond its own Flash Player technology for adding elaborate features to Web pages. Much of what Edge can do is in Flash's purview, but browser makers are racing to develop and add new features directly into the browser.
Adobe is working on some of those technologies, including CSS [Cascading Style Sheets] Regions and CSS Exclusions, which lets text flow around objects, be placed inside them, and overflow from one area to another.
Moving beyond Flash is critical for the company. Flash is not directly usable in Apple's fast-growing iOS-powered world of iPhones and iPads, and at the same time programmers are embracing the new ways.
Last week, for example, the document-sharing site SlideShare announced that it uses HTML5 and other Web standards by default, using the Flash-powered version of its site only when the first approach doesn't work. "The site now renders 30% faster; users can view, share, and interact with presentations on any mobile phone or tablet in ways never before possible; and search engines can crawl the mobile version of SlideShare's site," the company said.
Edge can't match Flash for versatility today, but it's growing up steadily. The third preview version brings a major advance: programming.
"We will be expanding this in the future," Anders added. "This is just the first of the interactivity features."
According to Adobe, the new preview version also makes copy and paste operations more powerful; lets people put multiple Edge compositions onto the same Web page; improves "Z-index" manipulation; which governs which objects appear to be in front of others; and lets design elements be duplicated.
Edge 1.0 is set to debut in 2012 for Mac OS X and Windows. Before the final version is done, Adobe plans improvements to shapes, graphics, coding, and "expressivity."
Adobe took some flack for its approach to animation using HTML "div" tags rather than the modern HTML5 method using Canvas drawing technology. But Anders defended it as the best approach given today's constraints.
"We have plans to support more than div. The problem has been that Canvas on iOS has been excruciatingly bad in performance," Anders said. A demonstration with bouncing letters on the screen works well with div on the iPhones. "If you did the same with Canvas, it would be between 2 and 6 frames per second."
Some have fretted that Edge will bring a new era of Web sites with introductions written with Web standards that resemble splashy Flash-based sites that have existed for years. Such sites often sport the words "skip intro" for people who want to get to the content and not bother with the elaborate curtain-raising.
So will Edge usher in a new HTML5-based era of "skip intro"? Maybe, Anders said, but if so, those who don't like it should blame the person creating the site, not the tools used to develop it.
"Do you hate the people, or do you hate the people who use the technology?" Anders asked. "I think Web design as a whole is always moving forward, and there are best practices. You don't really see Flash used as much for 'skip intro' as you did a few years ago. It faded out."