Adobe is emerging to an enterprise application platform through the backdoor.

Just coming back from Adobe’s Max conference, I’d like to share a major impression. Adobe is actually maturing to a vendor of software development tools. Having the roots in creative tools like Photoshop and Illustrator, their main target group was and continues to be the creative people working on cool design. However, the product portfolio goes far beyond this. More and more developers of serious business applications like ERP apps and custom apps, share the same pain. Their original vendor thought that business apps have nothing to do with fun.

Originally published on Forrester’s blog for vendor strategy.

Forrester explored with several reports the phenomena of “Tech Populisms” where people adopt IT in a new form of social media and Web 2.0 experience in their private life. This significantly raised the expectations of UI experience for business applications and is part of the upcoming Dynamic Business Applications paradigm as a new trend for enterprise applications at work.

Adobe realizes this increased interest of Java and .Net developer and appreciates their requests with many new features recently announced on their annual conference.

The flash programming model is still different

While most traditional programming environments have a clear separation of Run time and design time experience, Adobe’s flash development is a pretty visually driven creative approach, where you can deep dive into code, but in more a more case you don’t have to any more. This blurs the design time / runtime seperation significantly. A creative media asset like an Illustrator file is handled similarly to an interaction mapping in an business application user interface. Adobe dedicated even a new product in the creative suite called Catalyst (former codename Thermo) to codeless interaction design.

Adobe Realized Productivity as a key to mass adoption.

Adobe Realized Productivity as a key to mass adoption.

Personal creativity is the major differentiator of traditional users of Adobe’s tools. In contrast productivity drives today’s application developer’s success. Adobe improved significantly in this area with much better interoperability between the Adobe tools and the major other IDEs. Even the long time hidden coldfusion server-side product is ready for its revival with an IDE in Eclipse and a Java-byte-code based runtime deployment. Adobe talks about a workflow of creative assets between tools and different developer roles. Developer with a code driven background would understand this import message much easier, if the vendor would talk about application life cycle management (ALM).

Adobe is not there with a full ALM capability, but is moving with amazing speed under the radar of the major app dev platform vendors. Some of the exciting new capabilities are for example roundtrip engineering between interactions “designed” by a graphics focused person (Catalyst) and “coded” by a traditional flash developer. Further on, unit tests and debugging capabilities are a “must have” capabilities of real application development and will be shipped soon.

Diversity Acknowledged

Gambo, the next generation of flex builder, has even some PHP support, talks to backend connections created in Visual Studio and will support data-grids with default interactions not only to coldfusion. Developer’s big mash-up center today is Eclipse and Adobe is not afraid of developers who install the Adobe plug-in side by side with other UI paradigms. They also realize that AJAX RIAs are more appropriate to certain user personas than flash or AIR and continue to develop AJAX support in Dreamweaver.

Bottom Line

The Macromedia acquisition changed the corporate culture significantly and is now fully unfold. Adobe is pretty open. Developer can look in upcoming specs or vote in a public bug base for higher priority on certain fixes based on their individual benefit.

What it means for software vendors:

The organic growth will not be enough to win the fight against Microsoft. While Redmond tries to be the new challenger in the creative arena, Adobe is now ready for business applications. They realized that people with a code development background rather than a creative background are looking at different capabilities of the development IDE. The announced features will attract more Java and .Net developer to check this platform out as an alternative or even as their new home. It is even a new option as an exclusive UI for ERP vendors. As long as SAP restricts their use of Adobe to some areas like forms management and Business Object’s BI dashboards but still continue their traditional GUI for the mainstream, such a move is a strong differentiator for every medium size vendor.