Archive for the ‘flex’ Category
I was making a presentation to our client on mobile development. It’s a strong Flex-Java IT shop, and our company helps them with Flex development. I was comparing pros and cons of native vs html5. Spoke about the hybrids too. During the Q & A session one person asked me if I was avoiding mentioning Flash Player on purpose?
At this moment I realized, that it was probably the first time when I didn’t even plan to mention it. It happened naturally. I still like the technology, but it would be unfair to lie to the client.
I answered that we are still using the Flex framework and AIR in our own software product that’s being used in insurance industry, and our company will continue helping customers who need help with Flex. The desktop version of our product uses Adobe Flex, and for tablets we use Adobe AIR. But I don’t see commitment from the Adobe to Flex or AIR. The compiled AIR application works slower on tablets. Creating a build with AIR for iOS can take from 30 minutes to an hour. I also said (may sound pathetic, but this is what I honestly feel), that I spent 5 years of my life with Flex, but with tears in my eyes I say “Don’t do it”.
This product was abandoned by Adobe, support for new platforms/SDKs is weak, Flash Player crashes a lot more often than three years ago, eats up all the CPU – it seems that it’s been simply ignored.
Now Adobe has a new pet called PhoneGap. Similarly to Flex, Adobe donated PhoneGap library to Apache Software Foundation. But this time Adobe has a plan to monetize on such a gift – they created a Build PhoneGap cloud service, which can package your HTML5 or Hybrid Web application as a native app. I like PhoneGap, and wish Adobe to succeed with this product. But Flex is going away from the enterprise Web toolbox.
More than a year passed since Adobe decided to stop supporting Flex framework and gave it away to Apache Foundation. This writeup is based on the conversation I had with my colleague Anatole Tartakovsky in January of 2013. In this conversation I’ve been representing the HTML5 community while Anatole fought for Flex framework. I’m trying to find arguments against using FLex framework even though I believe that it remains the best and the most production way for developing Web applications. I’ll be just playing devil’s advocate here. Anatolepoor and ill also believes that Flex is the best framework available today, but in our company we often argue about the tools to use for various projects. We hope that Web developers find this conversation useful and thought provoking.
Yakov. If you read this blog, most likely you know about our company, Farata Systems. Our engineers work on both consulting projects and develop a product for our sister company SuranceBay that creates software for insurance industry. Technology-wise, we have three practices:
1. Rich Internet Applications using Apache Flex and Adobe AIR
3. eCommerce applications (we have about 20 Hybris developers)
On the server side we use nothing but Java. We’re hiring people, but noticed that it’s getting a lot more difficult to find experienced Flex developers. Last week we made an offer to a Flex developer, but before accepting it, he asked me to share my opinion about the future of Flex. He knows about our company and is glad that he’ll be joining our team, but at the same time he’s worried that Flex skills won’t be a useful asset on his resume. I can read his mind, “I’ll waste a couple of years doing Flex, but my classmates, colleagues and the rest of the progressive mankind will be studying HTML5. Is it worth it?” I did my job defending Flex, now it’s your turn, Anatole, and I’ll try to prove you wrong.
Anatole. As I just learned, I’ve been working with useless technologies for 30+ years, and every technology I liked is not in use anymore. In my opinion, Flex framework has no future.
Y. What a nice way to defend Flex! Do you want to say that your programmer’s life was wasted?
A. I want to say that it was extremely interesting, but Flex has no future.
Y. Was this by M.Zhvanetsky who said, “Who cares about the soup if so much is going on in the kitchen“?
A. I’d rather say that Flex has no future, but it has the present. HTML5 has the future, but the present is dark and foggy. First, we need to decide if we live in the present or in the future. Second, it’s very difficult to properly guess the technology worth studying and using. Of course, the tools that are popular on the market will win, but they will also lose by attracting legions of low paid developers. Besides, being unproductive these tools won’t allow timely releases of high quality software. This leads to further degrading of software projects and programmers’ pay. There is a high end market, where more expensive and rare tools are being used by well rounded developers. And there is mainstream that uses various versions of HTML, Visual Basic and the like. These tools were never highly productive, but their better competitors could not attract even a one tenth of the developers community. At some point the psychiatric situation on the market causes people to not pay attention to the good tools, but rather go with the flow.
Y. Our company is not a typical one – each of the owners remains highly technical, and we don’t have any political reasons to select or reject any technology. Sure enough, we are very carefully monitoring the latest trends in the industry to be able to offer help in IT consulting. But we are down to earth people who want to deliver our own software as fast as possible without jeopardizing the quality of the product. You may be surprised, but new Flex projects are being started and the Flex-to-Flex redesigns are happening on the Wall Street – we continue getting requests for help. Such projects are typically run by smart and technically savvy managers who are not afraid to voice an opinion that may differ from the general software policy in their organiation. But an average manager does not want to take a risk and use a non-popular technology with a literally non-existent talent pool. Anatole is running the project where all developers know Flex and Java, and he’s not planning to switch to a different set of technologies any time soon. Why do you prefer Flex and AIR.
A. I’m planning to switch and will do so, when I’ll see a better than FLex technology that meets our needs. I agree to switch, but it’s like “Tomorrow I’ll marry the Queen of England. Half of this plan is accomplished – I agree“. The problem is to find a replacement. IMO, technologies like HTML5 will change the style of programming and the resulting product too.
Y. After making such strong statements, you need to say something to improve your credibility. Please tell the audience what did you work on in the beginning of this century.
– a much more mature JSON that would support the skeleton generation on both sides
– an ability for creation of the finite state machine and CSS (give it another 2-3 years to appear)
Unfortunately, during the last seven years Flex didn’t have competitors. HTML is the future, but it’s a remote one. I don’t see it real in the enterprise applications for at least two years, but more likely till 2016.
A. True. If you want to write HTML5 application you need to seriously reevaluate what your application should be able to do. You’ll need to simplify it. A typical enterprise Web application serves the consumers that don’t use it anyway, and it also serves the professional business users that help consumers.
Y. Please don’t just make such ungrounded statements. Explain, what this means.
A. This means that consumers spend very little time using these Web applications – they they don’t use such applications from 9 to 5. These applications are being used on a weekly or monthly basis. The requirements for such applications are a lot simpler than for heavily used applications for professionals. The back office applications must increase productivity of business users and support a lot more functions. If you need to support wide variety of users, you’ll need environments allowing configurable applications that can be compiled and support quick refactoring for the new class of users or when the business requirements change.
Y. As far as I remember, Flash Player was also blamed for security holes, wasn’t it? Besides, since HTML5 is a mainstream, all major browsers treat security issues very seriously and all security holes will be closed a lot faster than any single vendor like Adobe, Microsoft, or Oracle would do.
A. The roots of Adobe’s security holes are in attempts to merge two incompatible security models of Acrobat and Flash Player. Now you can run Flash code inside PDF, which revealed security holes originated in incompatibility of the sandboxes. Most of these holes can be plugged by changing security settings of Acrobat and not by fixing Flash Player’s errors. But overall, Flash Player has less security issues than infamous cross-scripting of Web browsers and the likes. We are able to create secure Flash applications that would certainly had security issues should they be written in HTML5. What I really miss in Flash Player is the ability to integrate with telephony and work with peripherals that exist in natural environments. Unfortunately, Flash Player is not evolving fast enough to support new technologies for input/output and the voice interface. The main problem of Flash Player is that it was literary frozen since 2008. During the last four years Adobe didn’t do much to bring it up to date.
Y. It’s been more than a year since Adobe announced that their main interests for Flash are games and videos. You can’t expect any improvements in Flash for enterprise applications. Don’t forger that Adobe remains the owner of Flash Player, and no matter how great the Apache Flex contributors are, their hands are tied – the runtime is out of their control. I don’t like the way Adobe handled open sourcing of Flex, but they have business to run, and if they make money elsewhere, no one can force them to allocate proper resources to implement Flex and Flash Player improvements. Do you have any reasons to believe that Flex won’t lag more and more behind HTML5 technically?
A. I don’t have any hopes that Flex won’t lag behind. So far Flex and Flash player is still far ahead – we still live in the future comparing to HTML5. Yes, HTML5 has some features that make it appealing for enterprise and mobile development, and it would be great if Flash Player would continue evolving in these directions too. The main reason why Flash Player is dying is that ten years ago Adobe rejected Apple’s requests to create tools for their platform. Adobe considered this platform unproductive, and Apple had to recreate equivalents for all Adobe’s products themselves. After that, Apple stopped allowing Adobe’s products on their market. You can call it politics or personal vendetta, but unfortunately there is nothing you can do about it. Without Apple’s support Adobe’s tools will always have hard times. Will it change in the next couple of years? Not likely, unless the structure of both Adobe and Apple’s management will change.
Y. Based on what I see, Adobe won’t be willing to make steps toward Apple. Adobe prefers selling expensive and profitable software to corporations, and it’s not likely that they’ll return to Web browser’s plugins that are not welcomed by majority of the developers.
A. This is true for the most part. But historically, there were precedents when spin-offs were created to purchase some of the software products from large companies. Adobe is not the first company specializing in milking old cows (making money from old products). I.e they don’t improve some of their products, but purchase established third party companies and invest in cross-integration with their products charging the newly acquired customers for the new functionality. The chances are that non-profitable Flash platform can become a candidate for such a spin-off. Adobe might sell the Flash Player for a small chunk of cash to people who are interested in improving this technology. Unless this happens, Apache Flex is a still baby. I’ve attended several meetings in Apache Flex community, but I’ve yet to see people who can lead this community.
Y. There are lots of excellent Flex software developers in the world who could do it, but they simply can’t afford it. As I said, there is not many companies that can continue using a technology based on its merits. Flex experts need to make a living and feed their families. They can’t spread themselves thin doing both Flex and HTML5. They either work as independent contractors and want to keep their hourly rates high, or work as enterprise employees and don’t want to go against corporate IT policies. Many of them prefer to stay focused on one major technology to keep their skills in demand.
Our company is in minority, but we are not afraid to become known as one of the last Flex shops. We believe in hiring well rounded developers that are open to adding Flex to their skill set understanding that in a couple of years they may need to learn something else. By the way, some of the people are still doing Cobol and dine in Michelin-starred restaurants on a regular basis. The if-statement exists in every programming language. In some cases you’ll need to put a curly brace after if, and in some languages you need to write elseif as one word. Some languages support classical inheritance, and some – prototypal. This doesn’t scare me, but it seems that lots of people are reluctant to accept that learning something new is a way of life of professional software developers.
Y. Did you have a chance to get familiar with the Microsoft’s language TypeScript?
A. No matter what language will win, the conversion from ActionScript will be mechanical more or less. It all comes down to your way of thinking and to the level of complexity you can afford in a compiled environment vs interpreted one. There is a major difference in approaches to programming in ActionScript
A. If this developer would work in my team since 2006, he’d skip lots of frameworks like Mate or Parsley without losing much. People who say that their frameworks help in programming are the same that were promoting the Axe Soup before. One way or the other – good people is the solution. Frameworks rarely help. Tools do. HTML has a number of tools to test UI on different platforms. Similar tools were created for Flex and cross-platform CSS and skinning. But I don’t believe in miracles. I haven’t seen a single-code-base applications that work well on Android, iPhone, and desktop browsers.
A. People who promote the same design for different platforms usually talk about publishing information and not about interactive applications. If you need to publish the information using different layout managers, responsive design will help. But enterprise applications often have more than one target audiences. Consumers need an easily downloadable application and Web browser works fine here. Mobile applications should be compiled either into the native code or into some byte code that performs close to the native one. But UI must be different based on the available screen real estate and use touch interface.
If you’ll take any framework that works on both desktop and mobile devices you’ll get two sets of controls and the need to maintain two different source code.
A. Without frameworks I’ll have less UI controls to chose from. Frameworks may address the need in controls and convenience of UI.
Y. and browsers incompatibilities
A. Maybe. But when I hear that someone has the same codebase for the desktop browser and other devices, I want to see it and make suer that it doesn’t falls into the publishing realm.
Y. Of course, the Boston Globe site is a classical example of responsive design in publishing. But we can even take an application that we use in our book – Save Sick Child http://enterprisewebbook.com/#_responsive_design_one_site_fits_all. We have five areas (div’s) that include forms (a donation form or an online auction), each form is a separately loadable module, and if on the wide screen we could display three of these div’s horizontally and two underneath, on the narrow screen each of these sections will be scaled down and displayed one under another. And this is not just a publishing application.
A. When I’m porting an application to a tablet 800×600 with UI having large controls and fonts, I need to think about this application as a service to minimize the need of data entry. Don’t forget that half of the screen will be taken by a virtual keyboard, and if you ignore this, the user will have to work with your UI via a keyhole, and even these five separate div’s may not fit. So I’ll need to modify the UI and use the set of controls that will require minimal data entry. I don’t want to give the same UI to the consumers and back-office users.
Y. I keep trying to bring the money into our conversation, but you are avoiding this subject. Sure, it’s better to be healthy and wealthy, than poor and ill. But most of the enterprise projects are poor and ill, i.e. have limited budget and developers are not overqualified. Why a modern enterprise employs many low-qualified people is a subject of different conversation – let’s not go there.
Coming back to my five div’s, we can use CSS to hide what has to be hidden in certain devices, fonts can become larger, and we can use so called fluid grids to have our layout float. It may not be perfect, but it’s a compromise.
A. You can’t turn a truck into a car and then into a bike just using styling. I’m for complete redesign to use the features of a particular platform to its fullest. And the reason why IT has so many low qualified people is because these people allowed non-technical people to lower their qualification. We can help them to improve their qualification.
Y. Most people don’t want it. They live comfortably with what they know.
A. You and I are sitting now in a lobby of a fancy hotel that differs from a motel, right? Why? Because we’ve decided that the service has to be well compensated. And people working in this hotel do their job well. There is always market for the high-end things, which were produced better then others of the same type. If you’ll be producing low quality software, you’ll hate your job, which will shorten your life. Why?
Y. I hear you, but don’t agree with you. It’s great that you and I can afford now (it may change) to work only with interesting projects. But many young programmers have a long way to go before they will establish themselves to pick what they really want to do. Id your message “Just do what you like and the day will come”?
A. If you need to work hard to establish yourself, why doing it where the crowd is? Do it in the unpopular areas.
Y. Most of the people prefer to walk on the paved roads. It’s a reality.
A. Compare software and automotive industries. Some time ago you could have selected any car as long as it was black Ford of a certain model. Then General Motors started mass production of cars where people could select different models of different colors. By dong this they pushed Ford back. The software industry will go through the process of customization. We already reached the point when the software created for a certain enterprise is being replaced by a software-as-a-service (SAAS). The next task is not to create several versions of the same page with CSS, but understand what the user is doing with this page and to make it as convenient for the user as possible. If this will be happening, then software developers will transform into people who belong to service industries.
Y. I may disappoint you, but there were many attempts to cultivate a new creature – a cross of the user experience (UX) specialist and a software developer – it didn’t happen. These are different people with different mindsets.
A. in the end the winning applications will be not the ones that will have nice looking design, but those that will do what the user needs and will do it conveniently.
I have to finish this rather large transcript although our conversation didn’t stop here. Thank you for reading this far. I’m not going to give you a summary with recommendations or predictions of what tool or programming language is the best bet in today’s development of the cross-platform UI. Pick what you like, dig deep, and enjoy your work. It’ll pay off sooner or later.
Our company continues using Flex framework for development of our own product for insurance industry as well as for various consulting engagements. Being responsible for interviewing Flex developers, I see how the situation on the job market of Flex developers is quickly changing. If a year ago finding a senior Flex developer was mission impossible, during the last two weeks I’ve interviewed five applicants for the job, and three of them were seniors.
But all of their resumes have one thing in common – no or very little exposure to the server side technologies. I can foresee that more and more seasoned Flex developers will have to face the same problem: no Java means no job.
That’s why I decided to run an online presentation for the members of the NJ Flex Users Group. This rather long presentation has been recorded and is available as a screencast.
I’ve explained the Java basics comparing this language with ActionScript 3 everywhere I could. This presentation started with a quick HelloWorld in Eclipse, and then quickly progressed to abstract classes, generics, multi-threading and Java servlets. The more time a Flex developer spends with Java the better.
The last three days I spent participating in the QCon conference in New York City. This is one of the small group of conferences catering to software developers. Running a 100-speakers conference around the world is a hugely expensive project, and I hope the organizers broke even, which is very difficult in New York. Long story short – I like this conference. Speakers are well prepared, the crowd is eager to learn, the food is good, and the Wi-Fi works (I kid you not – 20Mbps up and down).
There were six parallel tracks at the event, which were changing each day. This is unusual, but smart. Every morning would start in the main auditorium, where the track chairs would introduce every presentation from their track. This is also something I’ve never seen before at any conference, and I can confess that these short intros changed my personal selection of the talks.The third thing that impressed me were presentation evaluation sheets. This is how they looked like:
The KISS principle in action! Instead of forcing people to fill out these annoying questionnaires from traditional evaluation sheets, the attendees were asked to pick a sheet of the appropriate color and drop it in the bowl. Green, if you like the preso, yellow means the presentation deserved to be a part of the event, and red if it sucked. If you wanted to add some comments, pens were right there – just write whatever you want on this little piece of paper. Smart. Keep it simple stupid.
During these three days I’ve attended a bunch of quality presentations:
Security weaknesses in Java was very practical, and I can apply the new knowledge to one of the projects I’m involved with.
Learning how NASA uses cloud computing to process information from Mars rovers is another fact that may finally push me into the cloud space.
I like presentations by Cameron Purdy. This time he was talking about HTML5, Mobile, and compared the roles of Java’s and C++ in today’s IT. He’s well spoken and always add lots of appropriate jokes to his talks. Cameron listed a couple of reasons of why Java didn’t supplant C++. But IMO, didn’t mention the most importan ones:
1. Apple’s iOS has no Java
2. Microsoft didn’t upgrade JRE in Internet Explorer since ’98 (remember that infamous Sun-Microsoft las suite?)
Peter Bell was showing how to use Spring Data with No SQL databases. While he was talking about a hierarchical databases, I felt like déjà vu. Seasoned (a.k.a. old) software developers knew about how great the hierarchical databases were since the last century. But working with them was not for the faint of hearts. SQL looked simpler, so programmers embraced relational DBMS. The years went by, and an average programmer became a little dumber, and SQL became a tough language to learn. This resulted in the flourishing of the Object-Relational Mapping frameworks. You know Java, but don’t know SQL? Not a problem. You’ll survive on our project – just write Java and XML. It’s going to be long, painful and non-performing, but ORM will allow us to bring juniors on board. Now, it seems that Spring Data can hide the complexities of dealing with hierarchical databases and even juniors will be able to work with them. Good luck, guys!
Charlie Hunt did a great job explaining the internals of Java garbage collector. Check out his recent book “Java Performance”.
Steve Souders is THE web performance guy. This time he was talking about performance of high performance in the mobile. Not sure if you are thinking about moving your application or a Web site to mobile, but you definitely should be.
Adobe Flex framework remains a touchy-feely subject for me regardless of my own principle “Don’t fall in love with the Phillips screwdriver”. Any tool is just a tool, but I really enjoyed working with this framework. I understand that corporations exists to make profits. I understand that if a software product doesn’t bring money to the firm, one of the solutions is to nuke it. But it shouldn’t be done in such a cynical way. Last year, at Adobe MAX conference they said that the future of Flex is rosy, a month later they announced, “We donate Flex to Apache Foundation” explaining that Adobe’s changing the direction. That’s fine. A month later, they applied a hit man technique – an additional shot in the forehead – to make sure the body is dead for real. Adobe said that the Flash Player, the runtime required for Flex won’t go to Apache, and they won’t support new versions of Apache Flex. It’s as if Oracle would donate Java to open source, but the future version of JVM wouldn’t support future version of Java. I doubt Oracle would ever do something like this. Adobe won’t run the MAX conference in 2012 – are they ashamed of themselves?
I’ve attended two sessions on the agile methodologies, and have to admit that I’m still not sold. Sure enough, if a prospective client will ask if our company runs the project in agile mode, I’ll answer, “Sure thing!” And, most likely, what we do is agile. But we don’t do it as a religion with all paraphernalia that comes with agile methodologies. We work in a highly virtualized world. A bunch of VMs runs on our servers. But let alone VM’s – in some cases our developers are virtualized. They work from different countries and some of them never saw each other. Yeah, yeah, yeah…You put and shuffle the stickers on the board daily. Stand up meetings? I don’t care if our developers work in horizontal or vertical position, if they work in the morning, evening, or after midnights. As long as they get the work done, have good communication skills, speak English, and don’t behave as prima donnas, they are super agile. Please don’t show this blog to any of our customers or we can loose the project.
Good luck QCon! Hope to see you next year.
Today Adobe released another document that brought tears into my eyes. Why they think that people are dumb? Why not just say, “We couldn’t figure out how to monetize Flex and we’re getting rid of the ballast”? Adobe is a public company, and, beside developers they have investors and their stock went more than 10% up since last (infamous) November. They’ve chosen investors over developers. This is understandable, but why keep lying to developers?
Today’s doc contains lots of words, but the most important section is this:
Adobe runtime support of Flex
Flash Player 11.2 and Adobe AIR 3.2, which are anticipated to ship in the first quarter of 2012, will be tested
with applications built using Adobe Flex 4.6. Adobe will test future releases of Flash Player and AIR against the
Adobe Flex 4.6 SDK and maintain backwards compatibility for five years.
While Adobe will ensure that the Adobe Flex SDK 4.6 and prior will be supported in future versions of Flash
Player and AIR, it will be the responsibility of the Apache Flex Project to test future versions of the Apache Flex
SDK against released Adobe runtimes to ensure compatibility and proper functioning.
In the past, features were added to Flash Player and AIR specifically to support the needs of Flex applications.
Going forward, features will be added to the runtimes to support Adobe’s vision for the Flash Platform. The
Apache Flex Project may choose to take advantage of those features; however, new features will not be added
to the runtimes specifically to support the Apache project’s efforts.
Let me re-write it in plain English:”We’ll release the new version of Flash Player, and we ‘ll test our past versions of Flex against it. We love (kinda) Apache Flex, but we don’t give a shit about what these guys will come up with. Flash Player is OUR runtime, and you’d better make sure that your smart-ass next generation Flex works with it, or else… In the past, every release of Flash Player would accommodate for the new features of Flex. From now on, ” We are not adding new features to Flash Player to support whatever you come up with”. Or as we say it in New York City, “Fuggeddaboudid.”
Keep reading Adobe’s doc. Their version states, “Flash Catalyst CS5.5 is the last release of Flash® Catalyst®“. BTW, why do they even add these ® signs to Catalyst? Anyone wants to reuse this lousy brand? OK, maybe. Let me translate it into simplified Chinese: “It was stupid in the first place to work on such a tool, and we wasted two years of our Flex team re-writing the FLex Halo components into Spark architecture just to accomodate the need of this still born baby – Flash Catalyst” .
Keep reading – it’ll get even funnier: “Development of Flash Builder continues. Adobe plans to maintain support for Flex projects in updates to Flash Builder 4.x, including additional work to ensure Apache Flex based SDKs can work within Flash Builder“. This is what it means in Bengali language, “During six years we tried hard, but couldn’t create a stable and performant version of Flash Builder for our own Flex SDK. For some weird reason, Flex developers would spend half of their time waiting for Flash Builder’s workspace to finish rebuilding itself. Design mode never really worked for Spark components. We are off the hook now, yay! Noone would even expect us to fix this for some Apache product. Just use IntelliJ Idea, will you? ”
The only product that was not mentioned in this doc was LiveCycle Data Services. What’s the fate of this highly overpriced monster? Is it dead in the water? I don’t really care about this one. During the last six years I ran into one client who bought its licenses. On multiple ocasions I was trying to convey to Adobe that they should lower LCDS price, but they didn’t give a damn.
Adobe has inspired these T-shirts. Still, it’s sad. I’m going to miss Adobe Max conferences. They knew how to put up great events, really.
This article is a transcript from a recorded conversation I had with Anatole Tartakovsky and Victor Rasputnis – my business partners at Farata Systems. This conversation took place on the mountain after the day of skiing.
Yakov. There are many ways of creating Web applications and creating them for the enterprises is not the same as developing a Web site for a pizzeria in your neighborhood. During the last five years we’ve been using mainly Adobe Flex for development of the front end of Web applications. Flex applications work in a well known and predictable run-time environment called Flash Player. The code is compiled and you have convenient tools for development.
Anatole, we did it in the past and it seems that we’re entering the same waters again. Is it still the same river 7-8 years after?
Anatole. DHTML has been introduced in the Internet Explorer 5, and several years later it was renamed to AJAX.
Y. Back in 1999 Microsoft created XMLHttpRequest object to allow their Web version of the mail client Outlook to update the browser’s window without the need to refresh the entire page. Is this right?
A. Partially. IE5 also had the XSL transformation tool for HTML generation and sopported development of custom plugins. The market share of IE5 was about 90%, but in enterprises it was literally the only approved browser.
Victor. At the same time, IE5 supported the model of HTML components called HTC. It allowed you to create htc files containing your own custom components with properties and methods, which were visible in the Web browser’s DOM with all these properties.
V. If you ask me what has changed the most – it’s perception. In the beginning of this century we worked in the DHTML environment. Only a small number of developers was involved with this “suspicious” development. Enterprise architects had hard time adopting this pre-AJAX model and often asked the same question, “This is not J2EE, right?” We’d answer, “No, it’s not”. Then it was clear to the architects that it’s some amateurish offering that could be ignored.
During the last six years, development with Flex slowly became an approved enterprise technology – it’s compiled and controlled environment with good performance, testing tools, and internationalization support. Then, Adobe turned its back on Flex.
Y. And the way they did it could be included in the Bad PR section in textbooks. Instead of starting Adobe MAX conference in October of 2011 with a proud announcement that Adobe is donating Flex to Apache Foundation, which would get a standing ovation, they waited a month and made the same announcement right after declaring that they wouldn’t support Flash Player (Flex runtime) on the mobile devices. This sounded as if they wanted to kill Flex. But we know that Flex is alive!
V. Yes, it’s alive. Technically it remains the best environment for development of Web application, but politically it became the product of the past.
V. It depends on the type of the person who’ll be managing this project. Is it a corporate or a startup manager? A corporate manager is a temporary person. He works 6-12 months and the either gets transferred to another position or leaves the company. He’s not really interested in the end result. He can stay within the budget during specific period of time, but the project may fail in the long run.
Y. Yes, the main goal of the corporate managers is to climb up the corporate ladder and earn good bonuses and pensions rather than creating advanced applications.
V. They don’t always climb up the ladder. Sometimes they move sideways to another firm, where the same position brings more money or other career opportunities. That’s why the success of a specific project may have a lower priority to these managers.
A. If you want to develop two identical projects in Flex and HTML5, there is a high probability that the HTML5 project will be more expensive. But I doubt that anyone will even try to reach the Flex-level quality in an HTML5 project. Any HTML5 enterprise project will have lower requirements in the first place. From the very beginning parameters like reliability, ability to adapt to different the screen sizes and densities will be simplified. Instead of implementing these features, the functional specification will include testing under seven browsers, and developers will spend most of their time in the debugger.
But often the HTML part this is just a tip of the iceberg. The base functionality is usually developed in Java or .Net, and back-office applications should be using Flex for UI anyway.
We spent more than six years in DHTML. We wrote our own framework and implemented DHTML enterprise applications for the Fortune 100 companies. We know all the loopholes in these environments and which ones still remain unpatched. As of today, you can’t compare Flex and DHTML. But there are some narrow fields, where you must complement Flex applications with DHTML.
Most enterprise applications have front end, back end, and back office (support, error fixes, et al.). The front end tier can consist of DHTML and Flex parts because today it’s hard to develop front and back office application in the same environment.
a) Those that allow you to take an existing Web site and, by a magic wand, add new attributes to all
b) The frameworks that are similar to Flex in that they offer high-level components, which may be based on
After further analysis I’ve learned that the framework Ext JS by Sencha is close to what Flex offers, but without compilation, data binding, and with less control.
Y. Would your example work the same way for developers who have dogs?
V. Yes, but the number of errors will increase.
A. Today I lead projects that use both frameworks. JQuery is a light framework (code wise) and it can be used to program about 80% of a Web site. You should use it for the look and feel support, which is what it’s meant for. But you can’t use it for building your application component model. The component model of Ext JS is applicable in about 20% of a Web site, which includes an application piece rather than just being a set of Web pages. Typically it’s a serious view navigator or a wizard to implement a serious business process or a workflow that includes a client’s part.
Y. Data grid, of course…
A. Yes, high-level components and a workflow because often the user needs to perform several steps to complete a business process. And these 20% of an application will require 80% of the project time of complex development. So you won’t need to choose between these two frameworks. My main problem with AJAX projects is not how to pick THE best framework for development, but finding the right software developers. It’s hard to find people who don’t have cats around and can concentrate.
V. Absolutely, an extreme concentration and attention is a must.
Y. Or you can use one more framework that will take care of testing.
Y. Plus Java doesn’t support dynamic programming…
A. These questions were raised many years ago – remember the languages like curl? These languages were in R&D…
V. But they never became standardized for the use in Web browsers.
A. Partially this is correct. If you want to create a real dynamic or static language with the error checking and runtime compilation, you’ll have to substitute their constructors with the strongly-type ones that can throw exceptions.
C++ supports operator overloading and people used this feature for some time. But it didn’t last long – they realized that it’s hard to read and understand their own code. If a language allows you to write a code fragment that’s hard to understand – it’s better to remove this code.
In the compiled environment I’d always known each type and if an object still had certain properties or they were removed. But there is nothing like this in interpreted environment.
A. You can research the code, open each base class and check the references and find out what the properties are – the language will help you with this. I liked dynamic languages when I was 26 years old. A development manager will also have to hire young and very enthusiastic but inexperienced developers.
V. Today’s labor market consists of such people – inexpensive, enthusiastic, and inexperienced.
A. On AJAX projects such a developer will spend the first two months studying, on the third month he’ll start working, and in six months he quits for a simple reason – development is hard and the project arrived to a dead end. When the code base of such project reaches critical mass, the development process gets stuck.
V. The developer will quit not necessarily because the project got stuck. This developer will get more rewarding offers on the job market.
A. In other words, the project stops in 5-6 months – it becomes unmanageable because of its size. That’s why I’d like to stress that there is big difference between AJAX projects and those that are being developed in a compiled environment like ActionScript.
V. The core part of frameworks try to address browser compatibility. They try to ensure that the page works as good as possible in every browser within its limit. But the script will work.
A. I don’t agree. In my opinion you can achieve browser compatibility not on the framework level, but by testing and adjustment of your application in different browsers. The statement that it’ll work somehow is an exaggeration. The chances are that you’ll have to fix the framework.
V. True. I already started making some changes in the framework even without developing overly complicated code. Maintaining compatibility is a huge challenge for any vendor that supports a framework. I remember our XMLSP framework that we created in the beginning of this century. We had a client form Great Britain who said, “This product is bigger than your company”. If I’m not mistaken, there were five of us who worked on XMLSP.
I’m sure, Sencha has more developers who work on Ext JS, but the framework is a lot bigger than we had. Most likely the code base and the task they are trying to achieve are comparable to Adobe Flex. No wonder that any such framework will always need some fixes and improvements.
A. To rephrase what Victor said, either work with the simplest framework components that don’t give you compatibility problems or get ready to roll up your sleeves, learn what’s under the framework’s hood and staff your project with not not only application developers, but with systems engineers too who will spend half of their time on customizing the framework.
V. At this point the framework becomes your product too. I wouldn’t agree that half of the time should be spent on customization of the framework. It all depends on the long term plans. If you bet on a particular framework and plan to use it for years, than invest into its improvements But if this framework just had to address the needs of one project, just apply some patches and move on. In most projects patching a framework will suffice.
– Reliability of communications. What if the data never arrive from/to the server? Is it possible to recover the lost data? Where they got lost? Can we re-send the lost data? What to do with duplicates?
– Modularization of your application. If a user never clicked on a certain menu item on the main screen, don’t even load the code that should process this menu.
– How quickly the main window of your application is loaded to the user’s computer? How heavy is the framework’s code base?
– Where to store the application state – on the server or on the client?
– Does the framework offer a rich library of components?
– Does the framework support creation of loosely coupled application components? Is the event model well designed?
– Does the framework of your choice cover most of the needs of your application or you’ll need to use several frameworks?
– Is well written documentation available?
– Is there an active community that can help you with technical questions?
Disclaimer. Everything posted on this blog is my personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of my employer.
Part 1. Emotions.
Three days ago I’ve received the following email from an enterprise architect of one of our former clients (we’ve conducted two Flex training classes there):
“Adobe has been in the news lately with Flash not being developed for mobile devices and then the Flex SDK being donated to Apache. With all these things going on I was thinking if it still makes sense to develop using Adobe Flex for RIA applications. There are several opinions out there on the web but would like your take on the future of Flex and Flash. Is it still a safe bet to develop in Flash for RIA applications. Does HTML5+CSS+jQuery come close in terms of functionality that Flex offers? Please let me know.”
I’ve quoted this email because it described well what many of enterprise IT shops are talking about after Adobe simply decided to change their priorities. It started with that infamous blog of November 9th stating that Adobe didn’t care about Flash Player in mobile devices. But they didn’t stop there. Now they’re donating Flex framework as well as BlazeDS to Apache Software Foundation. Flash Catalyst was a mistake. It seems that Adobe decided that enterprise IT shops extinct. Apparently someone invited Adobe’s executives to a wild orgy, and the morning after one of Adobe leaders said, “How about changing our vision? I clearly see us in digital marketing and digital media! Enterprises are soooo boring, right hun?” Then Adobe went berserk.
Five years ago no one in the enterprise IT considered Adobe capable of anything but making nice tools for designers. They put tremendous effort into getting their foot in the door and be treated seriously by most (if not all) Fortune 100 companies. Back in 2006 enterprise developers didn’t want to hear about Flex framework. It changed. Very serious applications were developed and deployed into production using Adobe Flex and AIR as a front end tool. Will Adobe respect their existing support contracts with all these customers? For how long? Who’s going to provide such support if Adobe laying off hundreds of people second year in a row? As of today (Dec 14, 2011) Adobe didn’t care to make a clear statement about support of their enterprise customers.
Adobe’s executives keep silence. Santanu Narayen, the CEO was always the man of few words. But is Kevin Lynch, the CTO, in town? On Earth?
A couple of technical managers and evangelists are trying to fix the ugliness of the situation, but there is not much they can do. They can’t speak up for executives. Their words like “we’re absolutely committed to…” can’t be trusted anymore. These nice professional people are not being invited to decision-making orgies.
One of the very respected software engineers (a former Adobe employee) twitted, “Watching Adobe remove engines, wings, drop fuel, seats while in midair flight with customers aboard is truly fascinating.”
I see the situation similarly: today’s Adobe is a plane driven by pilots who lost control and are trying to press random buttons hoping to find the way home.
Part 2. Business.
Coming back to the original question, “Is it still a safe bet to develop in Flash for RIA applications?” This was the question of an enterprise architect of a mid-size IT shop, who’s not into politics and honestly tries to make the right technical decision.
The short answer is yes, you have nowhere else to go if you’re planning to deploy applications in production in 2012-2013. Flex is the best Web framework available today, and the fact that Adobe is donating it to Apache is better for everyone. The same applies to BlazeDS. As a matter of fact, Adobe stopped supporting BlazeDS two years ago, anyway.
I’m sure, under Apache Flex framework will go strong. My main concern is if Adobe will be willing to keep their future releases of Flash Player in sink with the future releases of Apache Flex?
If you are planning to go mobile, the most cost-effective platform is Adobe AIR. Can you afford to hire three teams with three sets of skills to develop for desktop, Android, and iOS? If you can’t, stick to AIR.
Part 3. Political stuff in the large enterprises.
Back in 2006, enterprise architecture groups of large enterprises were the main obstacles for making Adobe Flex an approved tool for development of the Web applications. Now, because of those drunk pilots, it’s their “Told’ya!” time.
Part 4. What to read next on the subject?
I like this post by Adam Flatter from Roundarch.
Part 5. Summary
1. Flex remains my first choice framework for developing RIA and AIR for developing desktop and mobile applications.
3. Our company, Farata Systems will offer commercial technical support for Flex, AIR and BlazeDS both on the desktops and on tablets. We’ll make an official announcement about it shortly.
5. Under such management Adobe won’t last long and will have to be acquired by another company.
Happy New Year, everyone! It’s going to be fun.