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Adobe's Mike Downey Talks Flash

Five questions for Flash's Senior Product Manager By Kevin Schmitt

As my regular readers (who most assuredly now number in at least the high single digits) know, I'm a big Flash guy, at least from a designer's point of view (those programmer folks are nuts with their Eclipses and Flexes and what have you). I'm also a somewhat big After Effects guy, so naturally I'm curious about how the two products will influence each other now that they're both living under the Adobe roof. I'm also curious about where Flash is going in general, so I was quite pleased to be able to pose a few questions recently to Mike Downey, Adobe's Senior Product manager for Flash. And while the responses are about as tight-lipped as one might expect considering that we're discussing a product in the middle of its development cycle, there are nonetheless some tantalizing nuggets about where things may be heading over there in Flash-land.

KEVIN SCHMITT, DMN: It's been several months since the acquisition went final, but it's worth asking how the former Macromedians on the Flash team have settled in at Adobe.

MIKE DOWNEY, ADOBE: It was a very smooth transition for the Flash team. In fact, shortly after the acquisition closed the Flash team had a significant increase in resources which effectively doubled the size of our team. It's also been very useful to have access to expertise on other product teams like Photoshop and Illustrator as we work on suite integration features for our next release. Our two companies shared the same DNA so integrating the teams felt natural.

Adobe's Mike Downey
Adobe's Mike Downey

KS: I'm really interested to see how Flash will fit in as an Adobe product, and especially curious about how future versions of After Effects and Flash will work together. Can you comment on how you all are approaching the integration of Flash into the existing Adobe product lineup in general, and how After Effects in particular fits into the mix?

MD: We determine our features for each release by spending a lot of time with our customers. Better integration with other Adobe products like Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects, for example, has always been a high priority for our customers. Now that we're a part of the Adobe family we can finally deliver the level of integration that our customers have been asking us for. Doing so will happen over a series of releases starting with our next one.

KS: It's not a stretch to say that Flash Video has taken off (YouTube, Google Video, ABC, ESPN, etc.), which is great news for the Flash community. For some, however, the Flash development environment might appear unapproachable as a dedicated tool for creating video content, and for the videographer who may not have the time or inclination to pick up Flash, even previewing (not to mention deploying) FLVs exported from a program like After Effects can be problematic. Now, I know Dreamweaver has a component to help ease the FLV deployment process, but are there other measures you may evaluating to help make creating and deploying Flash Video as simple as, say, a technology like QuickTime?

MD: I think we made tremendous progress with making it easy for any new user to be successful with video with the release of Flash Professional 8. We spent a lot of time researching how people work with video in Flash and, as a result, we completely re-worked the video import process. In just a few easy steps users can now import and publish interactive video content in Flash - whether they're delivering the video via progressive download or via our Flash Media Server. Being able to preview FLV files by just clicking on them is something that we're looking at for upcoming releases.

KS: I may be showing my age here, but I remember (with a bit of fondness, I might add) some of the great advances the late Adobe LiveMotion made in how Flash-based animation was done, owing mostly to the After Effects-like timeline and keyframing. Might we see the current interface from After Effects (or other Adobe programs, for that matter) influencing future Flash versions in a similar fashion?

MD: One of the great things about Adobe is the wealth of brilliant engineers and designers—and a long-established culture of sharing that expertise across product teams. I think there were some great ideas introduced in LiveMotion, borrowed from After Effects, and it is not out of the question that lessons learned from both products will influence the decisions that we make about the Flash authoring tool in the future. At the same time, Flash has over two million developers and we can't introduce dramatic changes to so many users. Any significant architectural changes will be introduced over time and will respect existing workflows and preferences.

KS: Lastly, if I may switch gears a bit, many Mac users (namely myself) were no doubt very pleased with the release of the Flash 9 Player as a Universal Binary, and of course we want more. Can you offer any information on how the transition process is going with regards to a Universal Binary version of the Flash authoring environment itself?

MD: Well, as you know, Flash Player 9 for MacTel is currently in beta. The switch to universal binary was a different experience for each product team, depending on their existing code base. In the case of the Flash authoring tool, it has been a significant amount of work. That said, it is coming along quite nicely and I think the performance improvements will be quite welcomed among our Mac-based customers. I will add that both myself and my counterpart who runs the development team, Doug Benson, are avid Mac users and have been very pleased with our new MacBook Pros. I'm especially happy with the performance and capabilities of Parallels running Win XP. I no longer need to carry two laptops with me when I travel.

KS: Thanks for joining us!

So there you have it. I always expect great things from upcoming Flash versions, but the bar is set sky high for me this time. For one, Flash 8 is an outstanding version, and is arguably the best upgrade to Flash the product has ever seen, so the expectation level is already (perhaps grossly over)inflated. Then there's the whole "both products are now from Adobe" thing, where I'll be looking for Flash and After Effects to seamlessly complement each other (shameless plug alert: watch for some forthcoming tutorials on going back and forth between the current versions of each program). Sure, I'm expecting more than a little from Photoshop and Illustrator in this regard as well, but I think After Effects and Flash in particular have the potential to be incredibly complementary. Finally, I'm looking for the Universal Binary version of Flash to be a screamer on Intel Macs, and I hope that the excellent performance I've seen from the Flash Player 9 Beta is a good omen. In any event, thanks to Mike Downey for his time and for the food for thought to chew on until official information on the next version of Flash surfaces.

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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:flash, after effects, adobe, macromedia

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