Adobe Flex confusion

I had a rather interesting weekend. Not by the standards of acitivity but by the standards of arguing. I think I carried on at least two heavy debates/arguments over the weekend. I will split each one into its own post.

First one was on Saturday afternoon. It involved me and my Dad arguing over Flex. I won’t be transcribing the argument but instead will talk about some of the points that I felt strongly about while in discussion. Not to mention this morning there was a story on Digg pretty much about the same thing as we talked about.

To be clear this is not a post to make Flex seem inferior. It really is a powerful and unique product.

Flex swfOk let’s start at the beginning. ASP.NET is not a direct competitor to Flex. Just like neither is PHP, Ruby, Coldfusion or any other web development language. I cannot believe that people actually think that comparing the ASP.NET and Flex is a valid backdrop for showing how much Flex rocks. Asp.NET unlike Flex is a server-side executed page which yields XHTML or Javascript as its output for the purposes of generating a web page. Flex on the other hand makes its life as a swf file which is loaded and rendered by a proprietary plugin (flash plugin). Flex does not generate XHTML or Javascript or CSS. It is completely self contained. Remove the flash plugin and Flex seizes to exist. So to begin with how can a proprietary plugin based rendering compare to XHTML rendered by your browser? The short answer is it can’t. Just like you don’t go around comparing apples to oranges.

I noticed that a lot of people target Microsoft pretty much every time there is something they want to complain about. For example, many claim that Microsoft released the AJAX library to compete with Flex and clearly Flex is whooping ass and taking names. However while Microsoft may be trying to “compete” with Flex that does not justify the argument that ASP.NET is comparable to Flex. You can compare Asp.Net to Coldfusion, PHP, Ruby, CGI because all those are valid server-side executed languages focused on providing renderable XHTML content for the browser.

You must acknowledge the idea that the Web 2.0 market is brand new. Nobody has developed anything new yet to make web applications look and feel more like desktop applications. Except Adobe and its Flex of course. Now don’t go telling me that AJAX is anything but Javascript. It is not a new language or a new concept, just a feature that browsers support.

Other companies are definitely worried by the prospect of Apollo though. Apollo promises to unite Web and Desktop applications and they probably will. But they have a completely new and different approach to the whole web experience. Flash started out as a vector bitmap application which was quickly loved by arcade game designers and casinos alike. In light of their success and the propagation of their plugin, Adobe realized that they have created an opening which they could pounce on. Unlike ActiveX controls and Java Applets which never took off the ground, the Flash player did. Hence it is only natural that they would expand. So if you want to compare Flex to anything, compare it to Java Applets and ActiveX controls, but understand that when both Applets and ActiveX was born Web 2.0 was but a dream. Comparing Flex with anything is like comparing the Bugatti Veyron, a 1001 horsepower power house, to Davinci’s Ford’s first crankshaft car. You can do it, but you’ll only end up an ass doing it.

In short, Flex truly is a unique product with a uniquely pretty and powerfully dynamic approach. The possibilities are endless but it is still rather too new, too rough around the edges. Testing Flex components from a remote server are a dread due to the load times. As you can imagine each time you load your page, the flash plugin loads the swf file. Whatever happened to layout managers? Flex kind of lacks those. Even the ability to drag a TitleWindow around a screen does not exist but must be implemented with simulated code.

As time goes on and Flex matures I think we will see a lot of new technologies emerge to fill the gap in the market and create competition.

Special thanks to SaviourMachine for his icon.

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