The Canto Flight InDesign Plugin

The Flight InDesign Plugin that we developed a year ago is getting renewed attention recently, including an update for 2017 and new, easier, installers. I spoke at the Canto DAM Summit last week, and in preparation I explored a new cool feature that we're slating for the next release, made possible thanks to the gradual evolution of Adobe CC Extension technology. Related to that is a better way of expressing the value of our core Silicon Connector technology, which can be seen by looking in a bit more detail at the other, bad alternatives to it. Below is my presentation from the Canto DAM Summit Americas 2017.


Three bad ways to access cloud DAMs from Adobe InDesign

As I said in the presentation, the challenge that the Flight InDesign Plugin tackles is the old school approach of default InDesign asset linking. If you don't have a plugin with direct URL linking, you are left with three bad ways to talk to cloud-based assets, all of which are dependent on the file system.


The most obvious, no-tech approach to integrating InDesign and cloud DAMs like Flight is to simply download the assets to your local file system (or a location on a network share) and link to them. If you simply have Canto Flight, InDesign, and no other tool, this is what you have to do.


However, this demands duplication of assets and it definitely requires significant added time. I wonder at this moment how many InDesign users consider this "normal" in their "workflow" with cloud DAMs. It is amazing what people can get used to, especially designers.


Many cloud DAMs and storage platforms offer syncing from the file system to assets in the cloud, yet this depends on duplication of cloud files on the local system, and it often requires re-linking, packaging, or other processes that can take time and introduce risk.


Sounds great, yet in some sense sync inevitably defeats the purpose of a DAM in the first place. It is a poor man's approach to InDesign/Cloud workflow, because it introduces the file system as a dumb intermediary, adding cycles to the URL resolution that Connector solved in 2010.


WebDAV is a technology for impersonating a file system by communicating behind the scenes with assets over HTTP. So you still depend on the InDesign/local file system connection, but you talk slowly to those same file-system assets to their files across the "Web".


WebDAV and approaches based on that sort of tactic (such as Adobe Drive) are known to have serious performance issues.

The solution: direct URL-based links

The Flight InDesign Plugin does away with file system approaches, instead letting you link directly from InDesign to assets in the cloud DAM, instantiating these links by simple drag-and-drop from the Flight interface.

Flight InDesign Plugin

Because the links are truly URL-based, Adobe InDesign reaches for direct URLs without any sort of redundant copying or other intermediary steps that simply waste time. The result is that the core technology has been well-proven to perform much more efficiently, often by orders of magnitude. There are numerous benefits to this URL-based approach:

Drag-and-drop direct links

With the Flight InDesign Plugin, dragging from Flight into InDesign instantiates a direct link over HTTP: it is that simple and that efficient.

No intermediary file system, no redundant assets, no re-linking, no need to package up assets when exchanging files within your organization.

Automatic updates


Because the links point to true URLs, the Flight InDesign Plugin notifies you immediately if an asset has been updated, whether by you or anyone else in your organization. This is the essence of single-source asset management at work: this lets you rest assured that the latest version of your logo, for example, is used across all published content.

High-res/Low-res workflows

"For Placement Only" (FPO) image renditions have been common in the print industry for decades. By using a low-resolution variant of the main asset, low-bandwidth users can still work to place, crop, and scale assets in "proxy" form (much smaller file size), only invoking the high-resolution assets when absolutely needed.

Drag and drop

The Flight InDesign Plugin lets you swap the variant renditions from the Links panel. You can do this either one-asset-at-a-time, or all-at-once (by holding down option/alt while double-clicking on the resolution icon).

Taking it to the next level: Flight inside of InDesign

As I prepared to present at the Canto DAM Summit, I asked my co-founder Alissa (currently one of the lead engineers on Silicon Connector) if she could do a simple experiment, to see if the Adobe CC Extension technology had advanced sufficiently to accomplish what we tried many years back. I asked her "Can you load a simple iFrame with the Flight interface, and will drag-and-drop then work?"

This may sound really simple, and it really should be. However, CC Extensions are still evolving with regard to the HTML functionality in InDesign. Behind the scenes they are using the Chromium Embedded Framework (CEF) and that internal component is updated periodically: older versions of CC Extensions did not do so well with drag-and-drop, specifically, when we first tried putting the entire DAM UI into InDesign.

The bottom line: just try it

This time, it worked!

Canto Flight in InDesign

We put the Flight interface into InDesign with no effort AND the drag-and-drop worked on first try. Really it is cool to have all the functionality of Flight right there in InDesign, so users no longer have to toggle between InDesign and the browser. It is exciting to see this Connector move forward.

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