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The State of Flex Rich Internet Application – Part III

Posted by Charles | August 23, 2006 .

After Part I and Part II, let me explore the areas that change the way we develop software and see if Flex is ready.

Mesh-up vs Ground-up

Zillow, a real estate related startup company, recently received $10 millions investment from VCs. This is a typical mesh-up service, that the whole business is built on top of public information and maps. If you pay attention to the startup world and the eco system grows around them, you will find out that mesh-up is a very noticeable theme. As I mentioned in the Widget vs Application section in Part II, the public APIs from the Internet giants are forming a computing platform for new software development and deployment approach.

In enterprise, the marching towards service oriented architecture (SOA) eventually allows the enterprise mesh-up, rather than developing many application ground-up piece by piece.

Flex natively supports all the major network communication protocols and standards such as HTTP and Web Service. It’s a idea mesh-up toolkit for web and enterprise.

Now we are talking about things beyond UI and browser. That means that AJAX is out of the picture. It’s the reason I really don’t want to compare AJAX and Flex. AJAX is a technique. Flex is a technology.

But why didn’t we see a lot of Flex (or flash) based web business? The answer is at the server side. Yes, the hot startup like YouTube is relying on Flash, but it for media display and server side conversion. I’ll continue this discussion at next section.

Framework vs Framework

The Achilles Heel of Flex is at the server. Except Flash and not so popular Java Applet and MS ActiveX, all of the dynamic web content/UI this day are generated at server side. For this matter, there is no different among Microsoft, open source and else. Sun shifted Java’s focus to server with the full J2EE stack. Microsoft has .Net. Opensource has a long list of server side frameworks in Java, PHP, Pearl and the one I love the most, Ruby on Rails.

Adobe has Flex Data Service and ColdFusion. But how many people will buy Flex Data Service when they are many server side data services deployed? And how many web business running on ColdFusion?

I’ve list some Flex(Flash) frameworks in the RIA Product Roundup post. My question is, do we need client frameworks? Will that make different if we have something, say Flex for Rails, and acts as the Rails type of server framework? For the first question, I doubt. For the second, yes.

Free Flex framework is not enough. I’m waiting for a major Flex-able server framework to bring Flex to the mainstream. Actually I can’t wait anymore…

Visualization vs Text Contents

Social networking and viral marketing really downgraded search engine optimization (SEO) needs. MySpace didn’t need any SEO to become the top-one most visited site in the U.S. Thus, the doubts regarding the SEO-bility on Flex is gone.

Data and content visualization is a hot area in both web and enterprise world. Some people are pushing really hard to get AJAX there but that’s pushing limited limit . Not a good solution. In stead, Flex is the most fit candidate for the coming visualization wave. Improving the intractability between Flex SWF and the rest of HTML/XHTML content will gain a lot mileages for Flex.

Mobile vs Desktop

We’ve been saying this for, can’t remember, how many years: The next big thing is mobile computing. It’s getting there. So the next big thing is, good guess, mobile computing, on your connected devices. Today, we call them PDA, cell phone, smartphone, yadeyada.

Java dominates there as the development/deployment platform, for now. But, think about it, the size of connected device won’t be any bigger. Whatever it’ll become, the information can’t carried efficiently by text. Who is delivering most the media content on web? Flash! Those small square animated advertisements fit right on your small screens.

Adobe should work really hard to push Flash and Flex to mobile device. We are all behind it to do something there, right?

Conclusion

To end these lengthy posts, here are my take of the state of Flex Rich Internet Application:

  • AJAX won. Flex doesn’t care.
  • RIA is irrelevant anymore, when everything is Rich.
  • Flex is not trendy but a solid technology.
  • Flex lacks of entrepreneurship behind it.
  • People do Flex love Flex. People don’t do Flex don’t know Flex at all.
  • Framework is irrelevant unless it blends Flex to server the nature way.
  • Flex should be everywhere Flash is but not.
  • Thus, designers are better advocates than developers.
  • We need do more Flex.

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