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Does Curl Outperform Flex 3?

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In its most recent bid to establish itself at the forefront of RIA competitors, Curl, Inc. announced the results of a performance benchmark test of the Curl Rich Internet Application (RIA) platform, Version 6.0, and Adobe Flex 3, showing that the Curl language outperforms ActionScript 3, the programming language of the Adobe Flash Player runtime, by a factor of 8 to 10.

Over the past three months, Curl, Inc has released a series of RIA technologies aimed at helping developers design a new class of complex, Web-based business applications. These RIAs include an open-source Web-services development kit, support for Ubuntu, and Curl's run-time environment for Macintosh. Thus, the test’s findings are particularly important to developers looking for highly productive ways to build mission-critical RIAs with extensive performance capabilities.

Curl’s announcement on the test result states:

The results of the test showed that Curl retains a substantial advantage in raw execution speed, attributed mostly to the significant difference in the two platforms' programming languages. While the Curl language was architected to support compiling to efficient code, Adobe's ActionScript was not. The end result is Curl's superior performance for building enterprise RIAs.

Curl’s technology, especially on the client side, works in ways that are similar to Flash-based technologies. It requires a run time engine for desktop application or a plug-in for browser-based application. As Bert Halstead, Vice President and Chief Architect for Curl, Inc., explains: “Curl was designed to be a very powerful, high-performing language and platform, and we have always been proud of this unmatched capability. The results of this test support our claims, and we will continue to expand on this study to further document Curl's superiority for enterprise RIAs.”

However, Ted Patrick, Technical Evangelist for Flex at Adobe, disagrees with the test result. He says:

At first glance it seemed very impressive; eight times faster than ActionScript, WOW! But, looking deeper this finding is mostly irrelevant. The first thing that struck me was that the benchmark was for encoding a JPG image; not for rendering it or uploading it, but iterating over each pixel and translating it to another image type.

According to Patrick the encoding aspect of JPG doesn’t tell the whole story:

We support Encoding in the Flex Framework to allow image conversion, but it is far from a mainstream feature. Flash Player supports imaging directly in the runtime, so you can create images from any content in the Flash Player as native objects. There is no need to encode these as JPGs, ever. Also, the speed is lightening fast. Actually, it is far faster than any of the Curl results by an order of magnitude.

Patrick also gives his opinion on code exaction:

I keep seeing other runtimes benchmark against Flash Player, but they do so within the performance vacuum and do not take into account reach, rendering performance, cross-platform and compatibility aspects. Every developer wants to use the fastest language, but the reality is that the language most compatibly installed eventually wins out. Both JavaScript and ActionScript are gaining adoption rapidly, because they are widely available, not because they set land speed records for image encoding.

Despite the controversy surrounding the recent test results, Curl is clearly becoming a strong player in the RIA arena. Nelson King of Intelligent Enterprise writes, “Curl creates applications that ultimately compete with applications from Microsoft Silverlight and Adobe Flash/AIR, most especially in the enterprise.” Moreover, when Curl released its desktop product, Nitro, Heather Havenstein of Computer World reported, “Curl is the latest vendor looking to garner part of the expanding offline RIA business, where users extend the rich user interface and fast loading times of RIAs onto the desktop. Other offerings include Google Inc.'s Google Gears technology, Mozilla Corp.'s Prism software and Adobe Systems Inc.'s Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR).”

InfoQ will watch closely to see how the growing competition in RIA technology evolves over the period ahead.

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