Today Adobe announced release 10.5 of their Adobe Connect web conferencing software. It will probably be available to customers within the next few months. I got a sneak peek of the current beta test version from Alistair Lee (Senior Enablement Manager for Adobe Connect) and Peter Ryce (Adobe Connect Product Evangelist).
In many ways, this upgrade will be transparent to long-time end users. That's by design. The goal is not to introduce major changes in functionality or the user interface. Instead, Adobe wants to reproduce the extensive functionality and flexibility already present in Adobe Connect, but with far less reliance on Flash. The entire product needs to be Flash-free by the announced end-of-life for that platform at the end of 2020.
Flash offered spectacular power for developers, with universal access to all kinds of communication and display interfaces across different hardware and software implementations. Adobe Connect always took more advantage of that power than just about any other web conferencing product. But the very power built into Flash made it vulnerable to misuse by malicious hackers, and vendors have been scrambling to move to alternate technologies. The most popular choice is HTML5, and that's the route Adobe is pursuing as well.
Release 10 of Adobe Connect had introduced an HTML5 attendee interface, but presentation content was limited to screen sharing. That would have put Connect on a competitive footing with products much more limited in scope (and lower in price!) than wanted for Adobe's target use cases and customer profiles. Release 10.5 expands the functionality that can be achieved in the attendee console to get very close to the previous Flash capabilities, but without the security concerns.
Presenters can once again upload PowerPoint files to enable direct access to individual slides and speaker notes inside the conferencing console. PDF documents and other multimedia content formats are also supported as pieces of library content that can be stored online, ready for use in different conference sessions. Hyperlinks embedded in PowerPoint slides are once again active for participants to click and visit from within a conference (something that screen share cannot provide). And advanced learning course authors can still upload and run fully interactive courses created in Adobe Captivate.
As before, hosts can create a variety of layout configurations that are reproduced on attendee screens, with the ability to switch back and forth between layouts as the presenter desires. I watched a very stable, high quality video clip play in our demo session, with fully synchronized playback so that the presenter could pause it and know that I was looking at the same frame on my computer. The presenter can even add annotation drawings on top of the video to highlight things in the picture.
Although HTML5 conversion was the primary point of the release, Adobe managed to slip in some operational improvements to Connect as well. My favorite was integration between browser zoom settings and web conference content. In other words, if you zoom your browser to 150%, it doesn't just expand the entire image, pushing the edges of windows off the screen… Instead, it expands the text within each pod to 150% of the base font size. Very snazzy.
Other improvements will only be visible to account administrators and hosts working behind the scenes. There are new options for account branding and color selections, new usage reports, and improvements to data searches within an account. At the current time, presenters still need to use the downloaded and installed client software for Adobe Connect… Moving the presentation environment to an HTML5 browser implementation will be coming in a future release.
I don't envy Adobe's task in trying to recapture in HTML5 all the things they had spent years developing in Flash. Release 10.5 reassures me that it can actually be done… something I wouldn't have bet the farm on in the past!