Review: Adobe’s Edge Offers Web Animation Sans Flash

Adobe has released a preview version of a new HTML animation tool dubbed Edge. Together with Wallaby, Adobe’s Flash-to-HTML conversion app, Edge is part of Adobe’s push to remind the web that the company is more than just its much-maligned Flash plugin.

Edge has been released as a free, beta public preview and is available for download through the Adobe Labs website.

Edge is not intended to replace Adobe Flash. At least not in the short term. Instead Edge is aimed at Flash animators looking for a visual way into the world of HTML, CSS and JavaScript-based animations, particularly the relatively simple animations often currently found in Flash-based advertisements.

HTML, especially some of the new elements in HTML5, combined with CSS 3′s animation syntax offers web designers a way to create sophisticated animations without requiring users to have the Flash plugin installed. That’s a good thing since no iOS user is going to have the Flash plugin.

Unfortunately, HTML, CSS and JavaScript don’t offer any easy way to create animations. Developers comfortable writing raw code in text editors have, thus far, been the driving force behind web standards-based animation. Designers and animators accustomed to development tools like Flash, which offers visual layouts and drag-and-drop animation, have been left out of the web standards animation trend.

Edge is Adobe’s attempt to bring the good parts of the Flash development app — visual animation tools, keyframe-based timelines and a stage where you can drag-and-drop objects — to the world of web standards-based animation. But of course, instead of publishing your animations as Flash files, Edge publishes them as web standard HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Like Hype (see our review) and other HTML animation apps out there, Edge looks and behaves much like Adobe’s Flash development environment with a timeline, keyframes and editing tools that will look familiar to Flash developers. If you know how to use Flash, you’ll be up to speed with Edge in no time.

The Edge interface should look familiar to anyone who has used Flash.

Despite Adobe’s marketing efforts, there’s almost nothing about Edge that is HTML5. Adobe is hardly alone in its misleading use of the HTML5 moniker. Both Hype and Sencha Animator claim to be “HTML5″ animation apps and, like Adobe, neither generates much of anything that isn’t in the HTML4 spec.

In its current form Edge will export your animations using div tags, some CSS animations, a fair bit of JSON and a combination of jQuery and some custom JavaScript to hold everything together.

Why go with div and CSS-based animations when there’s Canvas and SVG? Well, for one thing, this is a very early preview and Adobe claims that eventually Edge will support canvas and SVG (in fact Edge already has some support for importing SVG file). A Mozilla developer raised this question in the Adobe forums and Adobe’s Mark Anders chimed in to say that, “we seriously considered canvas, but current performance on mobile browsers (especially iOS) is very bad.”

Anders goes on to note that iOS 5 will remedy much of iOS’s canvas performance woes, and Adobe is clearly looking for developer feedback on where to go with Edge. If you’ve got strong feelings about where Edge should focus its efforts, head over to the forums and let Adobe know.

While Edge is a long way from a finished product, this early release shows considerable promise. If you’re a Flash developer looking to expand your repertoire to include HTML, CSS and JavaScript animations, Edge just might help. For a nice overview of how to use Edge be sure to check out Mark Anders’ Edge overview movie on Adobe TV.

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