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WebDU 2008 - Day 2

WebDU 2008 - Day 2

The second day at WebDU came with beautiful weather. The about 330 attendees was treated to a fun keynote by Tim Buntel and a series of more advanced sessions than the day before.

Tim Buntel has always delivered one of the WebDU keynotes and as the ColdFusion Product Manager, CF has always been his topic. Recently, Tim changed roles inside Adobe and he's now the Flex Product Manager so this year he did a twist to the keynote, talking about some of the current web trends and how Adobe responds to them. Cloud computing, Software as a service, moving data, Tim Buntel offered a good list of trends and his thoughts on how successful they'd become. He was also joined by a guest speaker from Google's map department that is located in Sydney that talked a bit about the Google Maps API and the new Actionscript 3 API. This is probably also the only keynote that Tim has ever done where he didn't slip any company secrets as he is notoriously know for doing just that. (Mike Downey showed the Flash CS4 IDE on day 1)




Hardware fun

My first session of the day was Michael Wise and his "Hooking Flash up to Stuff, Just Because You Can". This was a fun run through of cool stuff you can use with Flash such as Multi-touch, RFID chips, the Wii Remote and GPS. Based on resources off the web, he'd built his own low budget multi-touch table that can do most of the stuff that the way more expensive Microsoft surface. Navigating fancy interfaces, making artsy graphics and scaling an zooming images. He then went on to show the Phidgets RFID reader and some possible uses. The next toy Michael showed was the $120 Qstarz GPS recorder, a small GPS device that communicates via Bluetooth (no ports). The device also has an offline mode that can record about 200.000 positions that you then can download and see where the device have been - a small James Bond like tracker? Michael actually strapped this device to his cat (!) but he made a lot of fun of this as his cat's apparently really lazy so he didn't get much out of the experiment. He also wanted to show how this could be used with Google Maps to display your position in realtime. Unfortunatly, the wireless setup on the event failed so we didn't get to see this working.




Last toy hooked up to Flash was the Wiimote, the affordable and fun controller for the Wii gaming system. Using the Wii Flash Server written by Joa Ebert and Thibault Imbert and the WiiFlash AS3 API, Michael had a fun 3D lightsabre demo where you could see a Papervision3D model of a lightsabre on screen that he controlled with the Wiimote while walking around on stage. He finished off with a good and fun Q&A session that was really popular and informative.


Michael Labriolas session on Flex internals was indeed Dense and Hot as announced. At breakneck speed, he walked us through exactly what happens inside Flex when an application launches. From the SWF starts to load, to the applicationComplete event is dispatched, every little bit happening in the framework was laid out such as when and how to create a custom preloader, when components are added to stage, how the invaildation works and why you'll run into trouble if you start doing things when Flex dispatches the creationComplete event. What to do and not to do at what times, this session was a real eyeopener for most of the attendees.



Flex internals at 200mph


Next up was Peter Hall talking about the Slide Framework for Flex. Just before the session, Peter came by and asked if somebody had a mini-DVI to DVI converter plug... (Note to conference organizers: I've seen this on virtually every conference I've been to the last two years. Having a spare or two of these is a good idea). Peter had to move his presentation to a different machine but he was unable to install all his example files, so the presentation didn't go exactly as planned, but he got the core ideas across. I don't do much application development myself and I've not had the need for something like Cairngorm yet. Slide is an alternative/supplement to the Cairngorm MVC framework that is easier to use and test. It fully separates the views from the model, making cleaner applications. The framework is not yet released, but it'll be released on quite soon and it's worth looking into for those looking for Cairngorm alternatives.



Australian lunch? Barbecued meat of course!

History of 3D on the web

Having recently worked a lot with 3D in Flash, this next session with Rob Bateman a given. Rob talk was a historic rundown with examples of the technologies that have enabled 3D on the web up until now. Starting with VRML and then up until 3D in Flash today. What is the most interesting is that the former technologies never really took off due to a lack of adoption. With Flash being able to do 3D, this is about to change.

VRML was the first 3D technology for the web. It was driven by SGI and it got up to a certain point and then just kind of died. The VRML community then regrouped and formed X3D, but due to the lack of support from Microsoft, the project also faded away. These solutions required special plugins and offerend hardware acceleration, but the never really became widespread in use. Next came Java3D. It was popular for a while, but then Sun backed out of it. The project still exists and the Open GL parts are used in Processing, so it's still around. Java3D offered hardware acceleration, but the widespread use of Java back then has partially prevented due to deploment issues and incompatabilites.

Then came ShockWave3D. As opposed to Java, it worked on more than 50% of all machines, but it also had it's problems with both adoption and the odd LINGO language. ShockWave is still going strong, but Flash is taking over more and more. The first Flash 3D engine was Sandy. Since most users already had Flash installed, 3D was suddenly available to everyone. Sandy was an Actionscript 2 based engine, so when Papervision3D arrived with AS3 support, Sandy lost popularity.

Papervision3D allowed designers to combine their existing design skills to build new and rich interfaces that combined 3D with 2D, video and user interaction in ways formerly not possible. Papervision is still by far the most popular 3D engine with Flash users, but there are others as well. In March 2007, the Away3D team branched out the Papervision3D code base and it has now evolved into it's own 3D engine with quite different features, but some semantics left. This was possible thanks to the use of the MIT license and both PaperVision and Away3D thrive in the Flash community today. Sandy is also getting a "second wind" and now also has AS3 support.

These all have their limitations. Even though you can work around some of this (for instance by combining 3D and 2D sprites) there are indeed limits to how fast it can become with both the current and next Flash Player.  Rob outlined how the new Pixel Bender and 3D matrix features will enhance the Flash engines, but he also mentioned the OpenGL ES plugin for FireFox 3 beta and the Unity plugin as solutions that can offer higher fidelity. While none of these offer a distribution similar to Flash, they're certainly worth checking out.



Swapping cards and building decks was done during all the breaks


Speakers roundtable

The last session at WebDU was the speakers roundtable. The Adobe team took stage and Geoff Bowers walked about the room with a microphone to let the attendees ask questions. Formerly, these sessions have offered a lot of "no comment" answers, but with Adobe opening up the answers get more interesting as well. I didn't type fast enough to get it all but here's my notes (not really quotes) for the things relating to Flash and AIR:

Q: What about executing applications from AIR?

Mike Downey: Most asked feature. Goes against the crossplatform nature of AIR. Not ruled out for the future, but want to ensure that all apps work on all platforms.

Q: What about Flash on the iPhone?

Mike Downey: You'll have to talk to Apple, but given Adobes Open Screen Project initiative, they could easily make one now.

Q: What about Flex on Linux?

Tim Buntel: It's moving along, but slowly. Some of the required supporting code libs are lacking and Adobe are looking for ways to solve this. They won`t release commercial Linux software that is not as good as the Mac/PC version

Q: In the keynote, Mike said that Pixel Bender was GPU accelerated. On Tinic Uro's blog it says the opposite?

Mike Downey: Tinic is the engineer for Pixel Bender so don't take my word for it. Listen to what Tinic writes on his blog, don't trust me. (laughter)

(Here's a more detailed writeup of this Q&A session)

Troughout the the discussion, all of a sudden there'd be a PacMan-like fanfare announcing who had the best score in the card competition. This happened at random times, while the Adobe officials were responding to questions from the room. A fun and entertaining prank alltogether though it took the speakers a little while to get used to.


Summing up

After the roundtable discussion, the winner of the card competition was announced. She had gotten almost 600 points by combining the right cards and took home the first prize, the full Adobe Web Collection. Second and third price winners got tablets from Wacom. A bunch of books were also raffled away as well.

I'd say this years WebDU was a great success. The location was better than last year, food was good, the A/V side of the event ran smoother and the exhibitors area was actually worth visiting. Adobe had brought with them fussball, airhockey and a MAME machine. There were also a couple of WII game consoles connected to projectors and the organizer Daemon Internet offered the sweetest branded giveaways ever (sugar coated apples, fudge and cotton candy!).



Adobe stand with fussball and airhockey in front. They also had a competition where the winner got a 2Gb Flash drive

All the exhibitors also had trading cards, so by talking to them you could get more cards. These cards were maybe the coolest new idea I'v seen in quite a while. Each card featured one of the speakers and a rule. To fully succeed in the game, you needed a copy of every card available (to know the rules) and then you'd put together ten cards in a certain order to achieve the maximum possible score. The cards and the game was created by Nectarine, the company that makes the awesome WebDU intros every year. Click here to see Andrew Mullers pictures of some of the cards and you'll understand why this was fun. The most die-hard fans of the game even made the speakers sign their cards, making the speakers feel like celebrities!




About Jens C Brynildsen

Jens has been working with Flash since version 3 came out. Since then, he's been an active member of the Flash community. He's created more than a hundred Flash games (thus the name of his blog) but he also creates web/standalone applications, does workshops and other consulting. He loves playing with new technology and he is convinced that the moment you stop learning you die (creatively speaking). Jens is also the Editor of this website.

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