Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Flex a Spoon, Flash some AIR, and stick around for a while

Hoyt’s last Chicago Flex preso and Labriola’s SpoonProject

Kevin Hoyt and Michael Labriola both were the guest speakers at our CFUG meetup (www.chicagoflex.org).  The great news is that this was the first time either of them had spoken together in the same room at the same time.  The sad news is, this will be the last time both of them will be together at CFUG to ever talk about Flex again.

If you are interested in watching the near 2-hour discussion, please go here: https://experts.adobeconnect.com/_a204547676/p7xqmnpakcd/?launcher=false&fcsContent=true&pbMode=normal


First off, I want to discuss a few things that I feel will help clarify where I am coming from.  Often times I have discussions with multiple clients about what Flash is, how Flex fits in, and we can accomplish with AIR.  For this post (which is long – way too long perhaps, but long enough to see the point), I am going to just quickly reference and review, then I will discuss: Adobe’s PR (the reason for this meetup and me asking Michael and Kevin to come and talk); Adobe’s strengths, position, and vision for the future; The Spoon Project; Spoons opportunities and dilemmas; and my own 2 cents.

What is Flash?

Plain-speak: A plugin.  Want more information, check here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flashplayer.  It is Adobe’s bread and butter when it comes to content management regarding video and video games.  More on that later.  For now, know that it is a highly evolved virtual machine (VM) that can execute code (AS3) for a rich and interactive experience.

What is Flex?

Plain-speak: A framework built on top of Actionscript 3.  It is a powerful tool for building applications, especially enterprise apps.  It has a terrific life cycle, amazing APIs, and is several years ahead of any other technology for delivering secure, robust, and data-driven applications

What is AIR?

Plain-speak: A desktop version of the web browser version of the flashplayer.  It has some much cooler APIs than the standard flashplayer, and because it isn’t sandboxed by the browser, you get a few other neat things.  Still, it’s mainly a desktop version of the browser version.


Adobe’s PR (fubarred, snafu, or intended)

Adobe is great at one thing, making tools for creative people to create things.  In my experience as a developer, consultant, analyst, and everything else, I’ve learned that when it comes to businesses and software development, you get one of two things: an agency approach, or an enterprise approach.

As a quick definition, and agency approach is the short term.  These are products that don’t have much shelf life, are short lived in the wild, and even if they win an award will fade into obscurity soon.  The enterprise approach is the opposite.  While enterprise apps are notoriously slow to come to fruition, they last (what seems) forever.  Normally they are a 5-10 year package that sells for a large amount, and comes with upgrades, new features, and snazzy options as the life of the product wears on.

In the world of Adobe, Adobe has no clue how to deal with the enterprise.  They can only see one thing, and that is the bleeding edge.  As a four-plus billion dollar ($4,000,000,000+) a year company, Adobe makes most of it’s money on creative tools.  This means Creative Suite, Photoshop, and a few other choice applications is where Adobe makes its money.  It does it by selling tools, or packages of tools, to companies and users.  Since the inception of Flex, Adobe has never really figured out how to make money off of it.  Flex uses the flashplayer and AIR, but AIR and the flashplayer don’t need Flex.  In fact, one of the biggest complaints of Flex is the bloat it brings with its myriad libraries, download times can be severely impacted. Not to mention the speed of an application because it is using the Flex messaging framework.  These have been, and will be, hotly contested for some time to come. 

Regardless, Adobe never made (“real”) money by creating the framework.  It did make some money by consulting on projects, but the 25+ team members it has allocated to the sdk never generated revenue (unlike the large group of folks who work on Photoshop or AfterEffects, whose products do make money).  Flashbuilder does generate some revenue, but not at the same volume as the other products.  Adobe looks to start projects that can generate at least a hundred million dollars ($100,000,000) a year, and Flex never even came close.  Sure it might be a multi-million dollar venture, but is that worth the resources when those resources could be dedicated to a larger project and make more money somewhere else?  Adobe says, “Nope.”

So Adobe made the bold move and told the world it is no longer interested in developing Flash for mobile (completely unrelated to Flex), and making Flex completely open source, giving it, and its support to the Apache Foundation (http://blogs.adobe.com/flex/2011/11/your-questions-about-flex.html).  Make no mistake about it, Adobe will support the flash player, especially for the desktop, and it WILL support AIR.  AIR makes the flashplayer available everywhere that isn’t a browser, so video content and games have a way to live on.  And Adobe keeps its cash cow.

And don’t worry, Flex isn’t going anywhere too quickly, but we’ll get there in a bit.

The message from Adobe is messy, sloppy, poorly handled, but think of it like teenage angst, where the person has lost control of their emotions, and finally just said, “Enough! Enough! We can’t have it our way, we don’t want it any way!”  Adobe has not been able to capitalize on innovations that are not tools “creative” people need. 

Adobe’s position (including Natobi/PhoneGap)

So what does Adobe want to do going forward?  For starters, they have their Interactive Developer Evangelist team spearheading a PR campaign to tell all developers that HTML is the future.  Their message has become pretty consistent, with their twitter feeds basically dropping any mention of Flex.  They seem to ignore everything Flex, and stick with the standards of the future.  Let’s not get caught u p in rhetoric. Adobe is not interested in maintaining Flex any longer than it has to.  Flex is a dead weight to the hipster, creative, entrepreneurial type.  And Adobe cannot wait to release itself from that death grip.  To prove that it is over Flex, it bought Natobi, Typekit (http://blog.typekit.com/2011/10/03/adobe-acquires-typekit/), Efficient Frontier (), and a few other online real estate properties, pointing towards a desire to enter and again dominate the tool making process for online advertising (because the flashplayer hasn’t been there for the last decade).  From the 8/18/11 anouncement, Adobe is building up to be the leader of “…Content Authoring and Digital Marketing.” 

Enterprise applications are not either of those.

Adobe bought Natobi because Natobi created PhoneGap.  PhoneGap is a software application that essentially turns any application you create into an HTML5/JS/CSS application, wraps it in a pseudo-browser, and deploys like a native app.  So, for example, on iOS this is a standalone instance of Safari running on your device, and it appears to be a standalone, native app, but you are only seeing Safari rendering web pages that are considered the app.  The library works quite well, and for all intents and purposes, it acts just as good as a native application.  Adobe supports it and suggests you use it as well.  For them, this is the bleeding edge of technology, pushing mobile application development.

There is no Spoon?

During the 2011 Flex|360 conference in Denver, it was announced that the Spoon Project was taking off.  If you don’t know what Spoon is, read here: http://www.spoon.as/
Short take – it’s meant to help the Flex development team fix bugs faster.  It’s got an architecture of people and processes to resolve conflicts and promote fixes faster than Adobe’s Jira and engineers could handle. Spoon has PR, it has volunteers, it has a lot!

Spoon’s dilemma

It might actually conflict with the Apache Software Foundation (ASF).  This is not detailed out yet, and Spoon, Adobe, and ASF have some work to do to hammer out the details.  There are a lot of license agreements, IP rights, and whatever else a lawyer wants to earn fees to help disentangle Adobe from the Flex framework.  Spoon might be a problem only because it is a separate entity ready to run and fix problems, and Adobe is saying, “Actually, let’s let the big boys handle this.  We’re gonna give it to ASF, and see that they take good care.”  Nothing is set in stone yet, and Spoon may or may not be involved.  That is to be determined.


If there’s anything that is certain right now, the Flash player and AIR are going to continuously be improved upon, upgraded, and pushed out to be as ubiquitous, easy to use, easy to get, and easy to update.  Adobe has a lot at stake to make sure these tools remain potent sources of DRM content providers, and will keep them up to date.  But Adobe also wants users to buy their products if they are making cutting edge products.  The amazing thing about HTML advertising is that you can’t disable it without disabling your browser.  With Flash, there were plugin disablers galore that allow users the ability to block any flash-related medium trying to load on your computer.  However, now with the advent of video and canvas in HTML5, unless you disable javascript on your browser, you can’t stop the ads from coming.  It is a marketers wet dream to know that’s where we’re going.  And guess what, Adobe is looking to blaze the trail by providing you with the latest and greatest tools to make them.  Adobe is not promising Apps, they are promising rich web pages, rich ads, rich user experiences.  It is cutting edge, but not anything with a long tail.  Flex is a long-tailed beast.

And just for a quick summation, here's Peter Elst's post about the exact same subject:


The Flex Summit has had some interesting notes and should help provide information about the future of this industry!

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