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Shashank Tiwari

Entrepreneur, Technology Executive.

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After months of build-up, Adobe MAX 2008 (North America) managed to live up to its expectations! Its not unusual for conference organizers to over-promise — after all they want more and more folks to sign-up. However, this year’s MAX was hyped not only by its organizers but the general community ho-hum that something cool and big was coming. People knew Thermo, Flash on the iPhone and Flex 4 with its new workflow were in the oven, but there was the mystery around what the final baked product might look like and if something else was cooking that nobody had a clue of.

So with all this expectation in mind, I landed around midnight on Sunday November 16th in San Francisco. Caught on some sleep and got to the venue (the good old Moscone Center) at 8.00am the next morning. Well in time for breakfast and the opening keynote. The registration process was smooth but the breakfast was a huge disappointment. Hordes of people were gathered around a few tables. There was hardly any place to stand, let alone sit. It was difficult to find coffee in that mess. When I walked towards the rooms at the back I found plenty of coffee. The second day onwards it wasn’t so bad. Guess the bad experience of the first day breakfast had turned some people away. (See every bad problem finds its own solution!) Also, lunch was far better and well organize.

The first big thing of day 1 was the keynote. Of course day 1 wasn’t really day 1. Of late, most conferences are sold on the idea of the zero offset and end up having a pre-conference before the conference. Some believe its the warm-up day, some others believe its the revenue day (because of the paid trainings — beyond the regular conference attendance fee — on that day) and some others believe its the day to mingle with the community. Whatever the reason MAX had a day zero too and from what I heard it was fairly well attended. Ok, back to the keynote.

The keynote followed the format that has become established in almost all one company driven conference keynotes (think JavaOne, Oracle OpenWorld or MacWorld) —

  • Fancy audio, video and images — the eye catchers (Sherly Crow certainly makes the slides look better). There was a funky DJ with his turntable as well.
  • Big announcements — almost always expected
  • Key customers on stage — these folks had the Disney CTO and the Salesforce guy
  • Focus on Charity and changing the world — project RED was talked about (thank god it wasn’t someone like the JavaOne UN guy)
  • Political or Social celebrities on stage — they had Maria Shriver — the California first lady

Look at a few pictures from the keynote address —

(I found this online)

Thermo (now known as “Flash Catalyst” — reinforces the “Flash” brand!) and Alchemy were the two exciting new announcements. Flash Catalyst is the tool that facilitates the new designer-developer workflow, wherein designers create user interface using Photoshop, Illustrator or Fireworks and bring in these designs via Flash Catalyst as ready-to-work-on Flex projects. Sounds cool, right! Especially if you are a designer! Alchemy on the other hand tries to convert all C++ to Gold (sorry, AS3 and therefore Flash!). A significant part of the keynote was spent on Flash on the mobile. Not sure, what exactly is happening there, but I did learn two things — Flash Lite is going to retire and Flash still does not work on the iPhone (and Adobe is desperate to make it work on it and is working actively on it).

After the keynote the technical sessions started. There were plenty of sessions in parallel. Most sessions I attended had a lot of substance. No vaporware, just pure good content. Sessions were targeted at beginners, intermediate and advanced developers/designers. I did not go to a single design or coldfusion session, because that doesn’t interest me much. Most of the sessions I attended were either about Flex, the Flash Player, AIR, LifeCycle Products, PDF or the Flash Catalyst. Over the 3 days I attended enough sessions. By the end of it I was tired! Very Tired!

The first day, which had started at 8.00am in the morning seemed never ending as it carried on way past 10.00pm. I ran the Bird-of-a-Feather (BOF) session on “Camps and Community” that evening. We had some very interesting discussion and we were so engaged in it that it carried on even when we walked out to the halls after the room was locked for the day. In general, it seems like people have difficulty getting user group meetings organized on an ongoing basis and seek help from those who may have figured out how to run this successfully. My friend, Victor, also came up with a very smart idea of peer ranking and rating in the designer/developer community, on the lines of social networking sites like LinkedIn, which follows a subjective recommendation based endorsement by old colleagues, clients, subordinates and business partners. 

Now that I mentioned about the BOF, I am reminded of a horrible expeience with the MAX website. So, I would like to digress the topic a bit. When the BOF(s) were finalized and I was selected to run one of them, I decided to blog about it and get the word out so that many of you from the community could stop by, if you liked to. All I needed was a link to the part of the conference site that had the information. Huh! It took not only me, but folks at Adobe a lot of searching before we finally found it. It was way deep in the “Highlights” tab of the website — practically unreachable by most. The website in general sucked! For example there was no link in place to recover the password if you lost yours. You had to go back to your profile and recover the password from there. There was no hint about this in the Session Builder. In addition the Session Builder had a useless drag-and-drop strategy to enroll to sessions. I wonder why the creators of this website thought it was smarter than simple check-boxes and such. Even if they wanted to build a fancy drag and drop feature, wouldn’t something like a box, folder or calendar be a better place to drop a session into, instead of a horizontal section at the bottom. The best part though was that after making such a useless site, they had the audacity to have sessions speaking about how to make similar pieces of magic. Bravo!

Enough about the website and back to the conference notes. MAX sessions were great (especially the once on Flex Internals, LCDS, Large Applications, Flash Catalyst, Flash Player 10 and the SWFs in PDF) but that wasn’t the end of it. MAX had a few very vibrant unconference sessions as well. There were four sets of unconference sessions that ran morning to evening, all three days. I was mostly interested in the one run by the 360 folks. 360 MAX had some amazing sessions. Elad and I presented on Flex Mashups (from the stuff that we have written about in our book — Advanced Flex 3). Elad created an FXG (Flex 4 and Flash Catalyst format) output from an iPhone PSD and mashed it up with the Ribbit Service to make a virtual iPhone within a Flex application. It made a good demo. That Mashup session of ours was a phenomenal success and we had a lot of people show up for it early in the morning of day 3. I also spoke on Comet style push within BlazeDS in a separate session a day earlier. In addition to my sessions, I sat through Yakov‘s session on frameworks, the session on Merapi (with their walking robot Nathan), the session by Jeff Houser on what happens behind the scenes at the Flex Show and the one on the Charity Code Jam. The 360 folks as always manage to put together a bunch of fantastic sessions. Way to go guys and all the best for 360|Flex Indy.

I didn’t go to the ColdFusion unconference but it was surely well attended. The other two were also busy.

In addition to the sessions, a lot of time was spent catching up with friends at Adobe and fellow community members. Some I had spoken to before but never met. Some others I meet regularly and it was once again a time to meet and mingle.

Come to think of it, I haven’t spoken of the day 2 general sessions yet, so let me do that now.

The day 2 also had a general session, sort of the keynote # 2. In “Return of the Jedi” format it was walkthrough of many a tool sets and the improved workflow. Ben Forta was entertaining with his deliberate over emphasis on productivity gains. It was good and entertaining but Kevin Lynch (Adobe CTO) had stolen all the punch the day before. There was also the awards ceremony that I didn’t quite enjoy that much. We do a lot of the enterprise RIA development at Saven so I was keen to see the wonders in that segment. Unfortunately, all three finalists in that category didn’t seem attractive to me. Almost all applications we build for our customers in the financial services sector is as complicated or more. Maybe look at our advanced flex charts, the risk portal and postTradeRx and then see if MarketReplay or IQ Web still stand a chance :)

On day 2, there was a very cool trip to the Academy of Sciences and the Aquarium after the show but I skipped that one. Was too tired for it. However, I heard from others that it was good fun.

Day 3 was also full of sessions and the conference did not loose the buzz till 6.00pm, which is commendable, because more often than not conferences start winding up almost around lunch on the last day. I sat through a couple of post lunch session that afternoon. The one that I liked the most was on Web to Print, which showed how one could use the InDesign sever with Flex/Flash applications. Very impressive! I certainly am going to try it out.

Adobe’s merger with Macromedia has been one of the best mergers/buyouts in the last few years. Its a marriage made in heaven. This MAX it was clear that the tools from the two sides are now coming together well and spanning the entire developer-designer space in a smooth and uniform way. Flash Catalyst itself is one case where the design tool and developer tools work together well.

In the 3 days at MAX there is so much I did that I could keep writing about it for another few pages but I will stop right now. However, before I wrap up and say goodbye for now, I may want to talk about two more things — (1) the exhibits and (2) feedback.

The exibits could do better the next time. There were very few participants and apart from Adobe themselves and a handful others like Yahoo or Zend, there was little to look forward to. Cynergy was hawking its services, a new online video creating software was pimping its software and a user group was trying to sign up more users. The most striking oddity was Sun, who was trying to push JavaFX (in a Flex/AIR/Flash conference — they really need some help!).

Talking about feedback, it was a good idea to tie in the book raffles with the feedback. Hopefully more people participated. It may be a good idea for Adobe to rank its speakers and initiate a rock star program to recognize those who shine above the rest. For example Ely Greenfield is a definite rock star and needs to be identified as such. Also, I think there were far too many people from Adobe alone (I know its an Adobe conference). There are plenty of people in the community who are doing amazing things with Adobe technologies and many of them speak at other venues like 360 Flex and such events and its only good for Adobe to bring such folks to speak at MAX as well.

Alright, finally time to wrap up and say goodbye. I hope you enjoyed reading about my experiences at and viewpoint of MAX. Chime in with yours and let me know where you agree/diagree with me. And finally MAX was so good this time, I am going again next year, when it comes to LA.