Events Past and Future: Adobe Max North America and CFCAMP Australia

Kay Smoljak
Kay Smoljak

Most ColdFusion programmers have heard of Ben Forta -the leading CF “guru” since the Allaire days. The author of no less than six editions of the definitive “ColdFusion Web Application Programming Kit” books, affectionately known as CFWACK or “the bible” around many a CF shop’s office, Ben travels the world as Adobe’s Senior Technical Evangelist speaking and writing about ColdFusion. Having just got back from the Adobe MAX Europe conference (held in Spain), he’s next headed to Adobe Max Japan, then to Australia for a series of events on ColdFusion 8, Flex and AIR in late November. Called CFCAMP, the Australian events will be part formal presentation and part unconference, barcamp-style, so if you’re down under they should be worth getting along to – registration is now open.

Before Europe, MAX kicked off in Chicago at the end of October. Kai Koenig, New Zealand-based developer, blogger, trainer and director of Ventego Creative, was there and was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the event.

Kay: Attending Adobe MAX 2007 must have been pretty exciting. Have you been to MAX in previous years, and if so was it any different under the Adobe banner?
Kai: Yes, the first major (at that time) Macromedia conference I’ve attended was the Macromedia DevCon 2002. From then on, the MAX conferences have become a must-be-there event for me.

Some people avoided the MAX conferences during the last few years (and particularly in 2006) as they felt it was too much of a corporate, purely marketing-driven event. To a certain extent I have to agree with that, Macromedia and Adobe are obviously putting in a lot of effort to show off their technologies and to convince people to adopt more products of the Adobe platform. But I recommend not to overestimate this effect – by far most of the speakers are highly motivated and love the technologies as much as you and I do and there’s an overwhelming choice of sessions and stuff to learn.

Kay: According to the web site, there were over 200 sessions organised into five tracks. Adobe obviously have a lot of products to cover – how well was ColdFusion represented? Was it hard to decide which sessions to go to?
Kai: I’ll answer the second question first: Yes, it was bloody hard to make a call what to attend :) Luckily I’ve been attending with another person, so that Diane and I were able to cover a whole set of different sessions/technologies.

When it comes to ColdFusion – you would be surprised how many CF-related sessions were available. Besides talks focussed on particular CF features such as CFCs, custom tags, printing etc. there were also a lot of sessions showing how to use ColdFusion as an integration platform, i.e. as a backend for Ajax- and/or Flex-based rich clients, hooking up CF with the PDF workflow engine LiveCycle, etc.

In terms of the attendees – the majority of attendees described themselves as ColdFusion developers during the registration process. You came across people who actually work with CF one way or the other all the time.

Kay: What was the highlight for you?
Kai: Well, really hard to say. In regards to new products and stuff that was shown – my highlight was one part of the sneak peek session. Scott Petersen, one of the Adobe-internal computer scientists showed a tool to convert C and C++ code libraries into ActionScript to use them (with a particular toolkit to hook them into SWF) for basically any AS 3 coding. He showed an example of running Doom within the Flash Player using Flash-based overlay messages within Doom, i.e. when the player picks up a weapon. Most of the people didn’t get the idea though how powerful the Flash Platform suddenly becomes if this type of integration becomes publically available and he didn’t get the standing ovations and cheering he should have earned.

My other non-technical highlight is the networking aspect of the MAX conference. Being involved in a lot of community activities and travelling to conferences all of the place during the last few years, you “pick up” a lot of friends along the way that you can’t see that often – just because they live on a different continent or at the other end of the world. MAX is always a nice opportunity to catch up, have a few beers, watch “weird” American sport events (sorry, US folks – but with being brought up in Germany (Soccer) and living in NZ now (Cricket, Rugby), it’s hard for me to get all of the excitement :-)

Oh yes, a whole bunch of stuff. Besides the C/C++-2-AS converter, Adobe showed great integration efforts when it comes to bringing the Flash platform and the Acrobat Reader together. One example they demonstrated was executing a Flex application in the Adobe Reader and additionally using Connect collaboration technologies that actually allowed you to work IN the document. We’ve also been shown a very nice and transparent integration of ColdFusion and AIR using an experimental library (which might at some point hopefully become part of a CF 8 updater or part of CF 9).

Also – Adobe’s swing towards hosted services is pretty amazing. The acquisition of the Buzzword guys was awesome enough, but Adobe also work on a hosted Photoshop Express solution (it’s based on Flex) and huge improvements to their VoIP layer of the Connect platform.

Kay: We always hear about the parties at conferences – got any great stories for us?
Kai: Parties? Ehhhhh – no idea what you’re talking about here. Obviously I’m not going to got into personal details here, but the official conference party was some sort of a retro-futuristic geek-fest with all the stuff from the 80s, 90s and this decade we love – talking about arcade games and other stuff. So – there might have been a few “non work” events :)

Kay: Finally, we keep hearing this rumour that ColdFusion is dead. As a ColdFusion developer, are you worried?
Kai: Yeah, right. This seems to be the rumour that never dies. I’m pretty much aware that a lot of people have stopped following the evolution of the technology since CF 4 or 5 and not even closely aware what CF 8 is able to deliver. Large parts of my own business are based on ColdFusion and I’m pretty happy with doing so – which doesn’t mean that we don’t look into other technologies, i.e. Ruby on Rails is very interesting, so is the Java-based scripting language Groovy.

At MAX, I had a very interesting talk with Tim Buntel (Tim just moved into the role of being the Flex Builder Product Manager) and Kristen Schofield (who is taking over Tim’s former role as the Product Marketing Manager in the CF team) about the situation of ColdFusion internally in Adobe as well as externally and I’m very confident that we’re going to see a few more major releases of ColdFusion. Particularly when it comes to a deeper integration of CF with other Adobe platforms, I’d expect a bunch of very cool things to happen within the next few years.

An argument that always comes up when people opt against CF is the price and the fact that it’s not open-source. As you’ve correctly mentioned in one of your last posts – get CF hosting for projects with an extremely small budget or look into using an alternative CFML engine – Railo, IgniteFusion, BlueDragon just to name a few. You might not be able to the exactly identical functionalities as in Adobe’s ColdFusion server, but it might perfectly suit you for straight forward and standard web apps.

To make a point: No, I’m not worried at all about CF dying. I notice though, that the ColdFusion (sales) figures here in Australia and New Zealand (based on my experience it would be very similar in Europe) are below what they could be, whereas CF 8 is breaking all sales records in the USA. That’s a problem that Adobe has to tackle rather sooner than later as I feel they didn’t look after those markets well enough during the last few years, but as far as I can say for us antipodeans, I’ve noticed that things started to move and I hope to see more of those improvements in the future.

Kay: That’s good to hear! Thanks Kai – and hopefully I can come along too next year.