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Adobe Announces Previews of CSS Advisor and Updated Spry Framework

Web tools promise assistance with cross-browser CSS issues and AJAX development By Kevin Schmitt

While the public beta of Photoshop CS3 has been getting all the headlines of late, Adobe hasn't stopped there. By the time you read this, Adobe will have officially announced preview versions of CSS Advisor and Spry, two Web development tools focused on making certain Web design and development tasks easier. The former is a community-driven Web site, while the latter is a framework designed to simplify the creation of AJAX (or Asynchronous JavaScript and XML)-driven sites. Let's take a brief look at what's in store.

CSS Advisor

CSS Advisor was hatched to address what Adobe perceived as a gaping hole in Web design and development: the lack of a central repository for cross-browser/cross-platform CSS issues and solutions. CSS Advisor isn't software; it's "nothing more" (quoted because I don't really want to trivialize it) than a Web site, but one that is designed from the ground up to be community-driven. It's free to use, even if you don't own a single piece of Adobe software, and requires an Adobe ID in order to participate (though anonymous browsing of the site's content is permitted). If you've ever registered software at Adobe.com or posted a question in the Adobe forums, you should already be set up with an Adobe ID.

Here's a quick example of how CSS Advisor works: let's say that you have a bullet list with a background color specified, but you notice that the background doesn't show up in Internet Explorer 6 (go figure, right?). So, you head over to CSS Advisor, do a search on lists, backgrounds, ul, li, or whatever other relevant keyword you think might be relevant to the situation, and a page akin to what is shown in Figure 1 comes back:


Figure 1

In the interest of full disclosure, Figure 1 is an official screenshot provided by Adobe, but that perhaps-irrelevant tidbit notwithstanding, you'll see a description of the problem, associated tags, affected browsers, and, most importantly, a solution with an accompanying CSS example. So that's it in a nutshell?it's a simple concept, but it's nice to see an attempt to aggregate solutions in a single place.

Of course, the folks at Adobe are not simply doing this out of the goodness of their collective hearts; CSS Advisor will also have hooks in the next version of Dreamweaver. The CSS Advisor feature there will automatically detect CSS compatibility issues in your code and take you to the proper page on the CSS Advisor site. However, it's worth repeating that CSS Advisor is free to use for anyone, regardless of whether or not the user owns Dreamweaver.

So that's CSS Advisor. Let's take a gander at the second announcement du jour.

Spry

The Spry AJAX framework has actually been around since April of this year; this most recent announcement is actually for the Beta 1.4 version of Spry. So what is Spry? Spry is a framework for AJAX development that is supposed to take a lot of the tedium out of creating AJAX-based sites. Spry is mostly geared towards designers who may be put off by the steep learning curve of AJAX development.

The way Spry works, as least as explained to me by Adobe's Product Manager for Dreamweaver, Kenneth Berger, is like this: Spry is a library that, basically, sits somewhere on a server. What you do as the designer is "talk" to the library using HTML/CSS-like markup in your regular ol' HTML page, which will then, in turn, translate your markup into honest-to-goodness AJAX yumminess. So basically, Spry allows you to use a simpler and more familiar syntax that serves as an interface to the referenced Spry framework, which then does all the heavy lifting for you.

The Beta 1.4 release of Spry is being touted by Adobe as sporting three main components:

  • Spry data, which helps you embed data from an RSS feed or database into your pages.
  • Spry widgets, a library of interface components useful for Web-based applications.
  • Spry effects, which enables a bunch of live JavaScript-based transitions (eye candy).

As with the CSS Advisor site, Spry is free for all to use, but also as with CSS Advisor, Spry will be integrated with Dreamweaver as an incentive to adopt an Adobe product.

And there you have it. Let's get to the analysis, such as it is.

What it all means

If I may editorialize for a moment, it's extremely heartening to see such open and community-driven initiatives coming out of Adobe. Especially since the acquisition of Macromedia, many creative professionals find themselves dependent on Adobe for a large portion of their toolset, so it's at the very least reassuring to see some of the openness that was one of Macromedia's hallmarks "infect" (for lack of a better word) Adobe's corporate culture. In addition to CSS Advisor and Spry, Adobe has already put public betas of new software (Lightroom and Soundbooth come immediately to mind) and upgrades (the aforementioned Photoshop CS3) on their Labs site, and one certainly hopes this will extend to some of Adobe's other heavy hitters such as Flash and After Effects (among others). In any event, I'm definitely looking forward to more of these types of initiatives in the future.

In the case of these particular announcements, however, both CSS Advisor and Spry bear watching to see how their respective user bases react. In particular, CSS Advisor (and perhaps any future such efforts by extension) will live or die through community involvement (or lack thereof), so I'll definitely be following the growth of CSS Advisor as more people have a chance to participate. As for Spry, not having had a chance to evaluate it yet (though I have seen it demonstrated), I'll be taking a closer look at it in the coming weeks (seeing as I'm in the target audience of frightened designers and all), so stay tuned to this space for a follow-up piece. In the meantime, both CSS Advisor and Spry are publicly available now, so by all means, head over to the CSS Advisor site or Adobe Labs to download Spry and take them for a spin.


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Though the fame, riches, and notoriety of being a DMN contributor are both tantalizing and substantial, Kevin Schmitt still stubbornly insists on continuing his work as the Director of Interactive Services at EFX Media, a production house located just outside of Washington, D.C. Feel free to follow his updates and contact him through Twitter if you have something to share - he's ready to believe you!
Related Keywords:adobe, dreamweaver, spry, css advisor, css

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