Macromedia’s (Adobe’s) Dilemma

Let me preface this post by noting that I’ve always been a big fan of Macromedia’s (now Adobe’s) products – specifically their Coldfusion platform, and more recently their Flex presentation server (it compiles an XML syntax in Flash .swf files and delivers them to browsers ). I’ve always respected them because their products always fit into a larger vision. About a year and a half ago, they released a presentation called The Business Impact of Rich Internet Applications. As an interaction designer, I was inspired. These guys got it right. This is where things were headed. Of course, Macromedia presented all this as a backdrop for repositioning their Flash player as a powerful way to deliver rich applications over the Web.

Against that backdrop, enter two key milestones into the wacky world of web development:

  • Jesse James Garrett of Adaptive Path stuck a label on some technology that’s been laying around: Ajax – a relatively simple way to deliver richer experiences through a web browser with some Javascript and XML.
  • Google released Google Maps – probably the most compelling, widely-deployed rich Internet application. From both a usability as well as technical perspective, it is very impressive.

With Google’s help, Ajax is slowly taking over the world. Developers everywhere are playing with the stuff. The momentum is pretty obvious and the business case for it is compelling. Macromedia got it right, experience does matter. What they didn’t bet on was Google showing up and showcasing an application that used none of their technology but rather bits and pieces of things that have been laying around for years. Now we’re starting to see it applied in many different places.

How active is the community out there? Take a look at the ironically titled Ajax Matters. It’s filled with links, libraries and code samples.

And this isn’t some grass-roots trend. We already know Google’s done it. Ebay is doing it (very soon). Amazon is doing it. The proverbial cat is out of the bag. Yahoo! is doing it within their news articles as well as their My Yahoo! portal site.

So how does all this bode for Macromedia? Not very well. Their predictions were dead-on, but their goal to be a key player in the RIA space is severely threatened. Flickr, the popular photo management site (now owned by Yahoo!), has decided to move away from Flash to Ajax.

In my opinion, the race is already over. Macromedia chose to take the high road with Flex. It is a very nice piece of technology – but it is costly and as a result, the user base is very small (at least compared to Ajax). They’re trying to encourage users to play around with it, but the community is just not responding. In my opinion, Macromedia should open up the hood and give the thing away. They simply can’t compete with the community momentum that’s out there now. Take a page from Microsoft: arm the development community and adoption will follow.

I’ll admit that I haven’t thought much about the business implications of this. It will no doubt hurt the bottom line in the short term if they did open it up. But that’s the short term. As long as Macromedia keeps innovating (as they’ve done in the past), they’ll be OK. I’d bet the house that they’re not going to have much of an asset there in three years anyway if the current trends continue.

Throw on top of all this the pains and chaos often associated with a merger and you can’t help but wonder if these trends are even going to be addressed.

Of course, Flash will still have its niche. People will still test paint colors on houses and customize shoes with some cute marketing applications, but Macromedia was shooting for more than that. They wanted Flash (with the help of Flex) to be the RIA platform. That’s not going to happen if things remain status quo.

4 Comments Macromedia’s (Adobe’s) Dilemma

  1. David Temkin

    I couldn’t agree more that developer adoption (and open source) are critical to the adoption of RIAs. However, I think there’s a lot of room beyond unadorned Ajax for RIA frameworks.
    Alone these lines, you might be interested to check into OpenLaszlo. It’s a professional open source RIA platform that predates (and arguably inspired) Macromedia Flex. It’s got real momentum — and real deployments. OpenLaszlo 3.0 just shipped; IBM has embraced it by building an Eclipse plug-in to support development of Laszlo apps. I think you’ll find that it addresses some of the concerns you cite here. See:
    http://www.openlaszlo.org/ and
    http://laszlosystems.com/
    best,
    David Temkin
    CTO, Laszlo Systems

    Reply
  2. Jay

    I agree. Flex is out. They already had the challenge of the negative inertia of Flash in a business setting. Now it’s all but dead.
    One silver lining. RIA’s need solid development tools to reach widespread adaption. Major apps can’t be built by caffineated hackers for long. Macromedia Dreamweaver???
    J

    Reply
  3. Sam Parnell

    One of the beauties of Laszlo is that it’s all XML based. Pick your tool our choice to edit the source files.
    The Open Source model of OpenLaszlo 3.0 also makes it easily accessible to the masses.

    Reply
  4. Richard Ziade

    Hmm, this raises in an interesting question:
    It’s fairly safe to say that Laszlo is also getting steamrolled by the Ajax juggernaut. So…maybe opening it up isn’t the answer?
    There seems to be a missing piece of the puzzle here. Why wouldn’t a tool like Laszlo absolutely take off? Is it because we’re still ultimately at the mercy of the Flash player? Or is it because nobody’s in the mood to learn a whole new language/syntax?
    -Rich

    Reply

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