Macromedia’s Mike Chambers posted a thoughtful commentary on how Flash is being perceived in the context of all this “Web 2.0” brouhaha. In sum, he talks about how in the midst of all these attempts to define Web 2.0, Flash in fact meets many of the requirements, yet is oddly missing from the story:
I think that the biggest secret on the web today is that Flash is an application platform with a virtual machine and a robust programming model and application development framework.
He goes on to hit some of the key points about why Flash isn’t in the mix: it’s history as a design (rather than development) platform; it’s lack of a programming environment that developers are comfortable with; etc.
One point he doesn’t mention is that Flash is a proprietary technology. It’s future depends on the whims of a large corporation. I personally don’t buy this argument. I think it’s more borne out of a self-anointed romanticism that the whole “Web 2.0” community fosters, rather than real limitations. PHP is a great example of a grass roots technology that gained traction over tag-based application servers simply because it’s free and open, regardless of whether it is superior or not.
The AJAX–Flash struggle is a bit different. AJAX is really just a mish-mosh of various web technologies. Regardless, it’s prime to garner that sort of community support. Personally, I think AJAX is a just a band aid to hold us over until the real next generation stuff takes hold.
Nevertheless, Flash has a challenge on it’s hands. I’ve actually blogged about this very topic before. I argued that the party was already over and that Macromedia had the answer with Flex but missed the boat by relegating exclusively to enterprise use. I urged Macromedia to open it up and let people play. Let it go toe-to-toe with this AJAX nonsense.
In a response, David Temkin, CTO of Laszlo Systems, pointed out that OpenLaszlo already existed and it was completely open source. I responded by asking why Laszlo didn’t take off then? The thread ended after that.
This entire scenario has me recalling Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point. AJAX obviously “tipped” and took hold. Products like Open Laszlo (and others) didn’t. You could argue that Flash apps require a relatively new and somewhat foreign syntax and programming approach. Then again, AJAX is a nightmare to work with. Maybe it’s because AJAX belongs to no one and is a concept borne out of the community without the spectre of LargeCorp hanging over it. I’m not really sure.
In the end, I’m a huge fan of Flash as a rich experience delivery mechanism. It’s lightweight. It runs on an incredibly broad user base across platforms and it can run circles around the best of the AJAX apps (imagine a true vector mapping application in Flash).
Mike alluded to some new initiatives that may very well open the way for Flash to take hold. I’m looking forward to seeing them and I sincerely hope that Macromedia/Adobe steps back and let’s the community carry it forward. That seems to be a key part of the puzzle.