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Is the Proprietary Nature of the Flash Player Keeping You From Using Flex?

| by Jon Rose Follow 0 Followers on Jan 16, 2008. Estimated reading time: 1 minute |
Per Olesen published a blog recently entitled, Flash is Still Closed Source and Proprietary Technology, where he argues that Flash is still a proprietary platform.
We can easily be mislead by all the sudden openness from Adobe. But please remember, that the Flash Player, which is the key enabler for all of Flex, is still closed source and even a very closed community.
Olesen starts out by pointing out that that the Flex SDK is Open Sourced, but notes:
Flex is “just” a library of classes and components, that one can use to build flash applications with, combined with an SDK and an IDE based on Eclipse.
Olesen does continue on the proprietary issues:
Another problem is the fact that all the flex applications in the world are nothing, without the Flash Player being available in its newest version on the needed platform.
InfoQ.com recently ran a piece on the Top 10 Flex Misconceptions, where Adobe’s James Ward attempted to address this concern:
The core of Flash Player is the Tamarin Virtual Machine, which is an open source project under Mozilla. While the SWF file format is not fully open, it is documented by the community on osflash.org. There are numerous open source products that read and write SWF files. The Flash Player's product direction has traditionally been heavily influenced by the community and their needs. The core language for Flash Player is an implementation of ECMAScript 262, which is the specification for JavaScript. Flex also uses CSS for styling of components / applications. Adobe AIR uses web standards as the basis for desktop applications as well as Open Source technologies like Tamarin, Webkit, and SQLite.
Is the proprietary nature of the Flash Player keeping you or your company from using Adobe Flex for application development? If you currently think of the Flash Player as a closed platform, do the thoughts from the Adobe team impact your perception?

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What keeps me from using Flex? by Joao Pedrosa

It's relative dependency on a good IDE like FlexBuilder. It's like, if the Web depended on DreamWeaver, it would be at most 1% of what it has become. :-)

The application packaging is very unnatural when compared to the Web. Even with dynamic linking of code at runtime it just doesn't fit right. Imagine if JavaScript could be used in Flex, and the JavaScript could be downloaded just like it normally is with the Web browser. Compiling and deploying Flex applications is just to its own detriment when it comes to universal adoption.

The programming model is not competitive enough. As it is, the false sense of security by using Flex can be dangerous even. By opening the server back end too much applications developers could cause problems down the hill.

Re: What keeps me from using Flex? by Christopher Brind

1) you don't need to use FlexBuilder, you can compile everything from the command line for free.

2) JavaScript can be called by Flex applications. For instance, in order to "mesh" Google maps, you create a web page with your Googlemap on it and you create your rich application in Flex which calls the JavaScript to control the Googlemap.

3) What do you mean by false sense of security? Flex and LiveCycleDS has a security mechanism. When you create a RemoteObject on the server you can specify that a Flex session has to have particular security credentials. The flex "session" can only be manipulated on the server so Flex apps are not able to "spoof" security. Of course, if you're not using LiveCycleDS (or BlazeDS for that matter) then you are at the mercy of whatever back end framework you have chosen to use.

Flex's apparently shallow learning curve intices developers like me only to reveal something much more deep than is immediately apparent. I'm sure if you looked deeper in to the documentation or went on a training course you would see the power and security of Flex applications.

Also remember, that until recently Java wasn't "open" either, that didn't stop people using it.

Cheers,
Chris

for the average developer... by Matt Poole

... the only thing that persuades them to use a technology is a critical mass of peers also using it - in other words reluctance to invest learning time in something that becomes defunct. The technology will only get better through use, so any arguments regarding familiarity of Run Time / Compilation / Dev Environment are irrelevant.

Following this idea through to its logical conclusion, Open Source or Proprietary, the only thing that really matters is whether or not the technology is achieving what the market demands.

Re: What keeps me from using Flex? by Mikael Gueck

It's so hilarious how some people tell us that it's open since the build tools are open, as if someone was really simple enough to think that you could really do Flex projects without buying the proprietary tools for which there is only one major vendor.

The market has progressed past the point where technology lock-in goes unnoticed and is tolerated.

Re: What keeps me from using Flex? by Joao Pedrosa

Fine. I'm going to hope for something like Flex but that works like I prefer to come up on the scene in the future. Who knows where it's going to come from? As being proprietary is not a problem necessarily, it could come from Microsoft or Sun again. Or maybe from a little startup in the sea of startups out there. As far as replacing the browsers, it's difficult to imagine that. But I figure something simple and efficient could come from anywhere, even from Adobe.

Re: What keeps me from using Flex? by Michael Neale

Partly, yes it does. But things seem to be going in the right direction, so I am not so worried now. For the mainstream, I think people think its open enough, so what I think probably doesn't matter.

Re: What keeps me from using Flex? by c zhang

Who cares if it is open sourced! To think why so many people are using .Net and are ready to use Silverlight, you'll know your questions are so naive. Most developers don't care if a technology is open source or not, otherwise, M$ would not be so lucky to have so many developers using their Visual Studio, .NET, Silverlight, and applaused for them.

Flex is like the Java Desktop by Russell Leggett

Also remember, that until recently Java wasn't "open" either, that didn't stop people using it.


But where are they using it? Not on the client side. Let's do a comparison. I wouldn't even begin to compare Flex/Flash to applets, because Flex was executed about a thousand times better. Instead, I would compare it to Java on the desktop. In its current state, Java Swing is good enough for mainstream. If done by a competent developer, swing apps can look good, run fast, and run cross-platform. But it still isn't used for much more than internal apps. There are a couple of really good reasons for that - startup time is slow, it requires that the client has the right Java runtime, and despite best efforts, it doesn't always look,feel, or interact the same way as native apps. To a certain extent, I think there's also just a bad name for java out there on the client (the fault of applets once again?).

Flex/Flash has a similar reputation on the web. Even if they're fast when running, they can be slow to start up. How many flash load screens have you seen? Most computers now have a Java runtime, but is it the right version? Same with flash. And when creating something for the public end user, do you really want to make them worry about plugins, downloads, or installers? Like Java on the desktop, Flex may fit in the browser, and it may interact with the native web standards, but the fact is that it's not html, and users can tell. Links are different, pictures are different, the right-click menu is different. And lastly comes the reputation. A lot of people out there may love youtube, but a lot also hate flash. Firstly because of the ads - and secondly, because people tend to make flash apps too... flashy.

I've created both swing, and flash apps, and in both cases, I've been happy with the results, but both of them were for internal applications. In each case I asked if there were any thoughts of turning them (or some aspect of them) public. In each case I got a very flat no. The reason - "I don't want the client to be required to have 'x'".

I don't like flex as a USER let alone as a developer... by Clinton Begin

I don't want to develop Flex applications because I don't like using flex. Every time I come across a site that uses flex (which is luckily rare), I just groan in disappointment. It just doesn't work the way the web works. Often it's difficult or impossible to copy and paste information from the application. Bookmarking (while possible) is a pain, and is therefore rarely implemented. It's slow, with long load times between clicks. Maybe these are developer issues -- but it's so common that I have to put some blame on Flex. Obviously idiomatic Flex development does not yield usable high performing applications... Kinda like how applets were always ugly. ;-)

Re: I don't like flex as a USER let alone as a developer... by James Ward

Hi Clinton,

Can you post some of the sites you feel are good examples of what you are saying? Personally I find experiences like Buzzword and Picnik to be much better than their non-Flex competitors.

-James

Re: Flex is like the Java Desktop by Christopher Brind

Also remember, that until recently Java wasn't "open" either, that didn't stop people using it.


I've created both swing, and flash apps, and in both cases, I've been happy with the results, but both of them were for internal applications. In each case I asked if there were any thoughts of turning them (or some aspect of them) public. In each case I got a very flat no. The reason - "I don't want the client to be required to have 'x'".


Public applications are one thing, but in terms of enterprise applications Flex is very well suited. With public applications you have other things to worry about like accessibility, but this is something that Flex is beginning to address anyway (my knowledge on this is sketchy at the moment).

Adobe claim that 98% of all PCs have Flash player installed on them. If that's true then your reason for being told flat "no" is invalid. Look at the recent saga with the BBC and their iPlayer. Goodbye Microsoft and all those platform specific and DRM problems. Because they are targetting Flash player (and this applicaiton is being built with Flex) pretty much everyone will now be able to access the BBC's content while still allowing the BBC to control that content. If the BBC isn't a good case reference for public sites that use Flex/Flash I'm afraid I can't think of a better one.

Re: I don't like flex as a USER let alone as a developer... by Christopher Brind

I don't want to develop Flex applications because I don't like using flex. Every time I come across a site that uses flex (which is luckily rare), I just groan in disappointment. It just doesn't work the way the web works. Often it's difficult or impossible to copy and paste information from the application. Bookmarking (while possible) is a pain, and is therefore rarely implemented. It's slow, with long load times between clicks. Maybe these are developer issues -- but it's so common that I have to put some blame on Flex. Obviously idiomatic Flex development does not yield usable high performing applications... Kinda like how applets were always ugly. ;-)


Remember that Flex applications build to Flash executables (SWF). If you're not seeing pleasant and useable "Flex" applications then it's either because it's not been built with Flex (it's been built as a raw Flash app) and/or the developer doesn't understand usability issues and/or how to skin a Flex application.

Creating bookmarkable Flex applications really isn't that difficult. How to achieve this is well documented. My advice to any "web" developers; choose the right tools for the job. Why would you develop a site using a "Rich Internet Application" platform if all you are doing is showing text/image based content? (To be honest, I can think of at least one good reason actually.)

Re: I don't like flex as a USER let alone as a developer... by Matt Giacomini

My experience is completely the opposite of everything you said in your post (except the book marking issues).

Re: Flex is like the Java Desktop by Russell Leggett

I actually don't really disagree with you on that point. I was trying to state why I think there will be some trouble with adoption and often that choice is not left up to developers. Also - Flex and Flash do need to be separated a little bit. Many people don't have the latest plugin, and that is required for Flex apps. For enterprise applications, this may be a non-issue. Additionally, many of my other points are still valid, and are reasons why I personally avoid Flex for public applications.

In the end I think it depends on the contract you engage in with the user. Is the user in a controlled environment? Do they have to pay for the app? Does the app allow them to do something they can't get anywhere else? I think if user wants video, they need to be willing to have a plugin. And right now, flash is definitely the best plugin for that job. If its a more data-centric app, maybe Flash/Flex isn't the right tool.

Re: Flex alternatives by Ben Sabrin

If you haven't already done so, take a look at Appcelerator (www.appcelerator.org). It is an open extensible platform for developing RIAs that can communicate with all major back end languages (java, ruby, PHP, .Net and even perl). It is standards based, HTML, CSS and Javascript, but you do not have to write JavaScript. The product is licensed under the GPL and involves some interesting people like me:) Disclaimer, I work for appcelerator.

Re: What keeps me from using Flex? by jay donnell

1) you don't need to use FlexBuilder, you can compile everything from the command line for free.


I here people say this all the time, but I tried and it's nearly impossible to do serious development without using flexbuilder.

What keeps me from using Flex? by Nolan Wright

I don't think being proprietary is a problem. The real question is: does Flex offer enough value to developers to get them to learn MXML and ActionScript. For me, the answer is no. Here's why:

1) MXML and ActionScript don't provide me with anything beyond what I can do with standard HTML, CSS and Javascript.
2) I can leverage Flash without Flex
3) The communities around Javascript are more widespread and active than those around Flex (e.g., ExtJS, YUI, Prototype, JQuery, Scriptaculous, and many more)

One benefit of Flex is that it offers all of the building blocks required to build RIAs in one fully-integrated solution. It gives developers:
- A set of pre-built widgets
- The ability to consume services written in any programming languages
- The ability to control the state of the user interface (e.g., animation, hide/show, enabling/disabling, etc.)

At Appcelerator, we built an open source RIA/SOA platform that is fully-integrated, like Flex, but based on open standards (e.g., HTML, CSS and Javascript for RIA development + Java/Ruby/PHP/.NET/Python and Perl for service creation). A standards approach has some significant benefits:

* Third-party libraries and toolkits can be easily integrated (e.g., we have integrated widgets from YUI and ExtJS)
* Developers can use skills they already have = low barrier to entry = easier to build a large community of developers

Flex is certainly a viable option for building great RIAs, but I think the approach that will ultimately get the most traction is one that is fully integrated (like Flex), but based on open standards.

Proprietary Back-End by Hamed Hashemi

Its not just the proprietary Flash player that keeps me from using Flex, but also their proprietary back-end services. Didn't until very recently they charged a ridiculous amount of money to use their back-end services? Yes, they just open-sourced it, but it only works with Java. That rules out the many, many people who deploy successful web applications using PHP, Ruby, and even .NET.

Re: What keeps me from using Flex? by James Ward

Hi Nolan,

I do think that Appcelerator is pretty cool but targeted at a different type of applications than Flex. I have a few questions / comments about your reasons for not using Flex:

1) MXML and ActionScript don't provide me with anything beyond what I can do with standard HTML, CSS and Javascript.
Hmmm... Why then does Appcelerator use Flash for their charting components?
2) I can leverage Flash without Flex
Sure you can and that is a good thing.
3) The communities around Javascript are more widespread and active than those around Flex (e.g., ExtJS, YUI, Prototype, JQuery, Scriptaculous, and many more)
The Flex community is quite expansive. Matt Raible has posted more details but here are a few stats:
53 - Number of Flex User Groups (world wide)
600 - Number of Flex related blogs aggregated on MXNA
8515 - Number of members on the flexcoders Yahoo Group

I'm pretty interested in seeing how Appcelerator and Flex can be combined to create great RIAs since I think the combination of both technologies fits the needs of many developers.

-James

Re: Proprietary Back-End by James Ward

That rules out the many, many people who deploy successful web applications using PHP, Ruby, and even .NET.


There are open source implementations of AMF for all of the major back-end technologies. And now that the AMF spec is open these implementations can be spec compliant. Also you don't have to use AMF - you can use RESTful, SOAP, JSON, or Hessian instead.

-James

Re: What keeps me from using Flex? by Nolan Wright

Hi James,

We do use Flash for our charting widget - but that's not Flex. The fact that we use Flash for our charting capabilities really underscores my second point - i.e., I can leverage Flash without Flex, and I agree with your statement - that is a very good thing. Flash is great for doing graphically intensive tasks like charting or drawing vector graphics, etc. We will continue to use Flash in cases where it makes sense.

The Flex community numbers are great. My point was not to say that Flex does not have a large and active community, it was simply to say that the communities around Javascript are larger. For example, according the ExtJS Forums, they have over 23,000 members - and that's just one JS-based project.

I do think that Flex's fully-integrated approach to building RIAs is powerful. One of the problems in the HTML/CSS/JS world is that you have to piece together different parts of the RIA puzzle to build an application, which gets to what we're trying to do - provide a fully-integrated, standards-based solution that makes it easy to build RIAs

I would love to talk with you off-line about any ideas you have regarding how Flex and Appcelerator could be combined. Feel free to shoot me an email - nwright@appcelerator.com

Nolan

Good by Pacino Al

good

Re: What keeps me from using Flex? by Manuel Fittko

I cannot help anyone who refuses using the - in my opinion - great Flex Builder IDE. I think Adobe did the right choice to use the Eclipse Platform for the Flex IDE. I'm also using Eclipse (WTP) for JavaScript and XHTML/CSS, and maybe therefore I'm a bit biased. ButI can not see any limitations that the Flex IDE has in comparison to any other simple code editor or development environment.
Your comparison to Dreamweaver is quite far fetched, or haven't you realized, that there is a "source" tab in the Flex Builder, when editing MXML files?

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