We speak to leading developers about the newly released web animation tool, and discover concerns over HTML5 branding and absence of SVG and canvas, although Adobe stresses it’s still early days
Developers have now had a day to explore and evaluate the first preview of Adobe's new web animation software, Edge. In general people are appreciative that Adobe is putting the software out there in its early stages of development so that it can be built based on feedback, but some concerns have been raised.
The main area of controversy surrounds the use of divs for animated elements instead of SVG or canvas. It's important to remember that this is an early prototype, but it's being marketed as an HTML5 tool, so people are surprised to find there's not actually much in the way of HTML5.
"Right now I compare this situation to the way tables were used for layout before CSS saved the day. In this situation div-based animation represent tables, and the newer technologies like canvas and SVG represent CSS. We must adopt and promote the right tools for the job.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how Edge progresses, but Adobe need to be careful that they don't take us a step in the wrong direction; that could cause headaches for the developer community for years.
Hawkes put his concerns to Adobe on the Edge forum, to which Josh Hatwich, senior computer scientist at Adobe, responded: “We started with DIVs because we wanted to get something out there quickly that folks could play with. I say we ‘started’ there because Edge will be evolving rapidly — the product is by no means feature complete.
“We expect to add support for more and more of the HTML universe over time. The good news is that our JS runtime is capable of animations that include all sorts of HTML Elements, SVG elements and even Canvas graphics, so we have not boxed ourselves in."
Mark Anders, a Fellow at Adobe, expanded on the reasons for excluding canvas and SVG from the first preview: "We seriously considered Canvas, but current performance on mobile browsers (especially iOS) is very bad. We didn't want to have the first experience produce content that couldn't run acceptably. Note that this may be changing in iOS 5, so that's good. Finally, SVG can be a little slow, though we do support bringing in SVG elements and animating them — just not reach into them."
You can follow the full discussion over on the Edge Forum.
Consultant Seb Lee-Delisle wonders why there aren't more features at this stage, and who exactly Edge is aimed at. "Adobe announced their newfound love for HTML at last year's MAX in October, so nearly a year later I would expect a much more mature tool,” he told .net.
"It uses jQuery to move DIV elements around, which is a very backwards compatible method. Having said that, jQuery doesn't enable rotation and scaling in IE8, so Edge is not compatible with that browser. And if it's not going to work on IE8 they should probably look at more modern ways of doing this.
"I personally would prefer to see SVG elements rather than divs, although that would depend on what the use case for this would be.
"And that's the big question: who and what is this for? It's going to be impossible to create a quality targeted tool until you define exactly what this tool should be used for and by whom. And right now it feels unfocused and it's not at all clear what problems this tool is supposed to solve."
Front end developer Anna Debenham echoed this last point in her blog post: "I'm left wondering what sort of things people will find Edge useful for. I hope not just as a selling point by web agencies as an alternative to Flash ads."
She also expressed disappointment that it's being marketed as an HTML5 tool: "The only thing I can see in the code that is HTML5 is the doctype."
The suspicion that Edge might be aimed mostly at advertisers was also mentioned in Rob Hawkes's forum posts, and he too was displeased by the HTML5 marketing. But both are happy about Adobe's efforts to engage with developer feedback.
"It's early days yet, and it remains to be seen how cross-browser and lightweight the resulting code will be in the final release, but I tentatively declare it a win for the open web stack and a win for designers (and developers like me) who find scripting animations in a text editor keeps them awake at night in a cold sweat."
Asked about the marketing tactics, Lawson replied: "It's marketing-speak-HTML5 rather than real HTML5. Many companies' marketing people have realised that if I call my dog ‘HTML5’, it's more likely to win Crufts than if I call it ‘CSS3’ or ‘Open Web Standards’. So everything is ‘HTML5’. It's a shame, but there we are.
In response to questions about the features in Edge, Mark Anders of Adobe emphasised: "The big thing to keep in mind is that this is a Preview 1, not a Version 1, and we will be looking to expand support in future releases.”
Adobe also underlined their commitment to working with the developer community: "We welcome all suggestions and actively encourage people to contribute to the forum."