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The State of Flex Rich Internet Application – Part I

Posted by Charles | August 21, 2006 .

Since the introduction of the term “Rich Internet Application ” in March 2002 by Macromedia(now Adobe), we’ve seen constant changes and shifting in technologies, tools and implementations. It was obvious that Macromedia tied RIA to the Flash technology as the original intention. We all give credits to Macromedia for pushing Java Applet out of our browsers. But is the RIA space the same as what Macromedia envisioned four years ago? Does the term RIA or Rich Internet Application is still relevant, under the shadow of Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0 clouds? Where is our beloved Flex fit in?

The state change is usually caused by competitions or conflictings. To sort out the state of RIA, I’ll do it pair by pair.


AJAX vs Flex

AJAX is a clear winner in the RIA space. The AJAX is a mainstream RIA skill that every coder Joe and his brothers and sisters used a piece here and there. We Flexers should get over with this fact and go above beyond. The best way for us Flexers to recover from this state is to accept that we shouldn’t put them together and compare them in the first place. If we really want to do the comparison, here are why AJAX wins:

  • AJAX has Google scratching on the back, Flex doesn’t.
  • AJAX is small and agile. You can easily add a bit of AJAX on your existing web application and get the WOW in minutes. Flex can’t. You use Flex to replace something, not to play along with the rest of existing contents.
  • AJAX is not a new technology at all so that you barely have any learning curve to get it start. You need to learn Flex.
  • Scripting people and GUI developers are two different kinds of animals. AJAX is a god given tool to scripters and Flex is a alien-ware. THE WEB is the most influential place nowadays and it’s developed by the scripters in many way.
  • AJAX owns Web 2.0, or verse verso. Flex doesn’t own any trending icon. Web 2.0 stuffs are all built on open source tools. Macromedia didn’t open up Flex soon enough to ride the Web 2.0 train. You had to pay to get a license to put a example Flex application on your site. Flex888 did complained about it here and there. Flex 2.0 framework is free now, though.
    There could be a long article to discuss the AJAX vs Flex. Same lengthy article can declare Flex is still a winner too. My point is that let’s don’t. Once you missed a flight, the best thing you can do is to catch the next one. Flex has bright future and broad usage, but not in the same world AJAX in. Go check out Backbase Explorer Flex Explorer if you are interested in what AJAX and Flex can do.

    Browser vs Desktop

    Going desktop is the trend. Where is the desktop, that’s the battle.

    Personal computer, PC or Mac, won’t go away. Desktop is the portal of everything computing, either surfing internet, communicating or running business applications. The big guys take the cue and act upon it. Microsoft owns most of the desktops, in the traditional way, in the world. The new Vista Windows will take big advantage of it. Google is expanding its Google Desktop at very fast pace. Yahoo bought a company this year and pushing the Yahoo Widget for PC desktop. Of cause, MAC desktop is still the model of all the contenders.

    But, once we boot up our computer, the next thing we do, usually, is to bring up the browser. Therefore, the battle for the homepage based desktop started. It started with personalized home page. Yahoo has that as their original business model. Google goes personalization too, against their original model. Then, the Web 2.0 train brought us a bunch of homepage startups (AJAX page of cause). Last week, a Paris/London based company, NetVibes, received another $15 millions VC funding. NetVibes is an AJAX based homepage desktop. And there are more of them: Eskobo, favoor, Goowy (Flash, not Ajax, will review it in details), HomePortalsPageflakes, Protopage, Zoozio.

    Trending or battle, where Flex fits in? I think it’s an opportunity for Flex.

    First, Adobe should release Flex stand alone application model earlier, the new Central or Apollo project. Platform neutral Flash gives Flex a great advantage to capture space at the traditional desktop. I’ll talk about it more at Widget vs Application and OS vs Web post later. AJAX has no play in this area.

    Second. For intensive user interactive and media rich browser based start page, aka browser desktop, AJAX is getting too starched for it. Certainly Flex can do better job here. Here Adobe can’t do too much about it. Mainly It’s really up to Flex developers to conquer the browser desktop. Again, seems scripters built most of the startups. Um… we flexers need some entrepreneur spirits.

    Stay tune for part two …

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