Hold On, I Have to Give Up "What"?

What Happened With Flash and Edge Animate

The name and logo changes from SmartSketch to Adobe Animate CC are shown.
Change of name and logo is nothing new. Animate CC is still an animation tool.

A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking at a Conference in San Francisco. The subject was Prototyping Motion and one of the examples I demonstrated was created in the newly branded  Adobe Animate CC. At the end of the presentation, one of the attendees asked what had happened to Flash, where Edge Animate fits in the general scheme of things and when one should use Edge Animate and Adobe Animate CC.  This is something I overlooked when I wrote about the mythical death of Flash a couple of months ago.

Let’s now turn our attention to this subject because there seems to be an awful lot of confusion out there about how this all came about.

To start, part of the confusion can be clearly traced back to Adobe’s seeming inability to clearly communicate the reasoning behind the change. Even so, a lot of that communication has had to pass through the “Flash Is Dead” distortion field. This field is populated with “pundits” who rarely waste the opportunity to drown out any rational discussion of where animation fits in our graphics workflow with their shrill voices of doom and destruction. In fact, most animators and graphics artists couldn't care less about their work not appearing on mobile devices - I'll get to that later on in this piece- and concern themselves with creating content.

To understand the repositioning and renaming of Flash to Adobe Animate CC and to avoid the “Distortion Field”, you need to have a bit of historical knowledge around Flash.

Hello SmartSketch

In 1993, Johnathan Gay and Charlie Jackson formed a company named FutureWave Software. The company was formed, primarily,  to get in on the emerging market for graphics software applications that used an electronic stylus – not a mouse – to create vector drawings. The product they developed was developed for the PenPoint OS and was named SmartSketch.

This application never really made it to market because  AT&T which had purchased the GO corporation (the company that developed the PenPoint OS)  pulled the plug. This presented Johnathan and Charlie with a huge issue because developing SmartSketch for both the Windows and Macintosh operating systems would force them to go head-to-head with Adobe  Illustrator and Macromedia Freehand.

The turning point for Johnathan and Charlie was the 1995 SIGGRAPH conference. A lot of the people who had tried SmartSketch suggested they should turn the application into an animation product that could put graphics and animation into web pages. The result was SmartSketch was renamed  CelAnimator which was then renamed FutureSplash Animator (Are you picking up a theme here?).

As well, in the very early days of the web, the only way to play web animations was through the use of Java. Johnathan and Charlie wrote a simple player for FutureSplash Animator that used Java and, to be gentle, it was incredibly slow. In many respects, this Java player is the Flash Player’s great grandfather.

Yet another repositioning and name change.

The year 1996 is an important milestone in this history. Microsoft used FutureSplash quite a bit with its MSN effort and another company, Disney Online, used FutureSplash for its animations while at the same time working with Macromedia to develop the Shockwave Player which was developed to allow web playback of Macromedia Director movies.

It was in November of that year that Macromedia approached Johnathan and Charlie regarding the purchase of FutureSplash. When the deal was completed a month later FutureSplash Animator was renamed Macromedia Flash 1.0. (Are you picking up a theme here?)

Between 1996 and 2004 Flash was constantly updated and the name changed from Flash 5 to Flash MX and then Flash MX 2004.

In 1995, Adobe acquired Macromedia and Flash MX xxxx became Adobe Flash which became Flash Professional.

Throughout all of this Flash’s heart and soul remained as a “Web Animation Tool”.

With the introduction of Actionscript, Flash’s coding language, coding interactivity started to take hold and the uses of Flash exploded across the internet. The introduction of Actionscript 3 was also the start of Flash losing its way as updates were aimed more at developers than the creatives.

This is not to discount the importance of Actionscript 3. It pointed the way for software development on the web. In many respects, it was the precursor, if not impetus, for the rise of HTML 5 and JavaScript that are so integral to the web as we know it today. For example, the rapid adoption of video in today's web environment has its roots in Actionscript 3.

Flash applications, which made extensive use of Actionscript, really started to dominate and coders- I always regarded them as Actionscript Wizards – introduced the use of dynamic data and programmatic animation to name just two uses. It was also at this time that the designers started noticing – and grumbling about –how the developers were now overshadowing the designers. This reached the breaking point in 2011 when there was a common perception that Adobe was more interested in developers than designers. This was also the year that the wheels really fell off the cart.

Mobile arrives.

If you do a Google Trends search using "Flash Player," you will see a most interesting chart. The interest in the Flash Player has a rather steep decline between December 2011 and today. The peak, in many respects, is the arrival of the smartphone. Not only that, the Flash Player was not supported on a lot of those devices which sort of relegated Flash to the desktop. The upshot of Flash being relegated to the desktop was somewhat unnoticed at the time but the rise of devices reduced the demand for Flash developers along with a corresponding decline of the ubiquity of the Flash Player.

What makes this decline so fascinating was the fact that Adobe's AIR runtime actually picked up the slack and very few people noticed. Based on Adobe's Flash Player, AIR  was responsible for the creation of over a billion application installs on practically everything that had a screen. If you look at the chart in that link, Android and iOS are rather prominent which sort of negates the negativity around Flash technologies.

Enter Edge Animate.

Realizing the Flash Player was, for all intents and purposes, dead in the mobile web space, Adobe came to the realization that, to remain relevant in both the mobile and web space it had to develop tools that utilized HTML5, Javascript, and CSS3 functionality. The result, in 2012,  was a series of Edge Tools and Services such as Edge Animate, Edge Reflow, Edge Code and so on. By going this route, applications and websites created using these tools could breach the walls of “Apple’s Walled Garden” and appear on a multitude of mobile devices.

At the same time, Adobe started repositioning Flash as a game platform and a lot of really great games such as Machinarium from Amanita Design and practically every popular game on Facebook started appearing in the Apple Store and elsewhere. Still, this was a rather limited use of Flash’s power and it always struck me as being more of a stop-gap measure than anything else.

While this repositioning was underway and the bulk of the hoopla was from the Edge collection, Flash quietly started adopting the HTML 5 Canvas and WebGL technologies.

This was all very interesting and important but the graphics community looked at these changes and wondered what was in it for them. What was overlooked in all of this “fog” was that Flash was stealthily repositioning itself as an animation tool in the platform-agnostic HTML5 ecosystem.

Hello Adobe Animate CC

Last year, 2015, was when Adobe seemed to finally get its “Flash Ducks In Line”. The Bone Tool was reintroduced and Sprite Sheet export with canvas became a feature and animators and graphic designers started paying attention. Which brings us to Animate CC.

As I pointed out in that review, there was a lot of “goodness” added to the application. In fact, the volume of Graphic/Animation features added to the application overwhelm the Developer features which, until this year, tended to dominate the updates. These included:

  • Typekit integration for HTML5 Canvas docs
  • Tagged color swatches linked to documents. Change a color in a tagged swatch and all assets using the color are changed.
  • Creative Cloud Libraries access.
  • Vector brushes.
  • The ability to output to 4K video.
  • Export to the.OAM format for easy inclusion in Dreamweaver CC and Muse CC, InDesign and the Digital Publishing Suite.
  • Improved Onion Skinning.

… and to hammer home the point that it was a whole new game, the application that started life in 1995 as SmartSketch was renamed, yet again, as Adobe Animate CC.

So where does this leave Edge Animate?

Edge Animate is not dead. It is still around. What Adobe has clearly stated is this application is no longer under active development. All this means is there will be no future updates or features added to Edge Animate. Eventually, it will be deprecated and removed from the product line but that is not going to happen anytime soon.

This makes sense because having two applications that do, essentially, the same thing – move things from here to there in the HTML5 ecosystem – strikes me as duplication of effort. Still, if you are using Edge Animate to create web animations, there is no compelling reason right now to switch over to Animate CC.

For me, the inclusion of the ability to output an Animate CC file to the .OAM format means the animations I used to create in Edge Animate can still be added to InDesign, Dreamweaver, and Muse which is no big change for me but, to me, is a “compelling” reason to switch. Not to mention the robust tool and feature set in Animate CC which far outstrips those found in Edge Animate. Then again, as I tell anyone that will listen: “Nobody cares how you did it. They just care that you did it.

Still, Adobe, in typical fashion, by having two products with the similar names in the product lineup, seems to have a systemic inability to clearly explain their reasoning and to respond when confusion raises its ugly head or has to pass through the “Flash Is Dead” distortion field.

As you have seen, though, constantly changing names is not new with this tool. What is “new” is that the tool is rediscovering and embracing its roots as an animation tool and for this, I commend Adobe for this move. It was long overdue.

Now I just wish Adobe would get a handle on its messaging.

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Green, Tom. "Hold On, I Have to Give Up "What"?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 24, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-happened-flash-and-edge-animate-3876495. Green, Tom. (2017, February 24). Hold On, I Have to Give Up "What"? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-happened-flash-and-edge-animate-3876495 Green, Tom. "Hold On, I Have to Give Up "What"?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-happened-flash-and-edge-animate-3876495 (accessed December 14, 2017).