May 06, 2005

Rich Internet Clients

We, Onlinefocus, have been looking into Macromedia Flex recently and are considering it for some upcoming projects.  It is an interesting technology and I'm having fun working in it right now (again more on this later). 

Interesting blog posting about Laszlo, which is a very similar technology to Flex and open source: http://www.adtmag.com/blogs/devcentral/blog.asp?id=11076.

Seems like IBM is jumping is on the Laszlo bandwagon. That’s not inconceivable considering IBM’s recent trend of promoting and supporting Open Source applications and frameworks.

Where does this leave Flex? Well Adobe/Macromedia is a very large technology company: I’m sure Flex will be fine.

What will Microsoft do? Traditionally, Microsoft doesn’t make moves to support, promote or even recognize Macromedia technologies. It is usually the other way around – Macromedia builds products to support Microsoft technologies or even built upon Microsoft technologies as well as other platforms (ColdFusion, Dreamweaver, HomeSite all immediately come to mind).

Of course Microsoft is working on their own Rich Media framework, Avalon, which is due out with Longhorn and will be ported to Windows XP as well. From what I have read it works similar to Flex in that it uses XML-style markup, XAML (eXtensible Application Markup Language – pronounced “Zammel”), with the end result presenting a “rich media 3-D interface”. However, from everything that I have read, Avalon is for desktop-based applications. I have read nothing about it working on the web.

Good intro article to XAML: http://www.ondotnet.com/pub/a/dotnet/2004/01/19/longhorn.html

So where does that leave Microsoft in the “Rich Internet Client” wars? My guess is that they will extend Avalon and develop their own software (server) for converting it to Flash for the web. They have a history, especially with .NET, of using the same technologies on the desktop as on the web, so I don’t think they would use Avalon on the desktop and adopt Flex for the web. They’ve also got way too much investment in Avalon so far to just drop it now.

If they are to create their own vehicle for rich web media, then they better get on the ball because I believe Flex and Laszlo are starting to make a lot of waves. It wouldn’t be surprising if Microsoft joined the fray late, though, and still won market share in the long run. Anyone remember Lotus123, dBase, and whatever word processor you were using before Word (I used MultiMate and then WordPerfect)? Each of those were the first “giants” and is still around (maybe not MultiMate) but was eventually surpassed by Microsoft’s late entries Excel, Access, and Word.

It has been a little different in the web world though. Even though Microsoft’s products are strong they haven’t completely taken over. Maybe because there are so many different technologies and every techie has his/her favorite. Or it could be because each web technology has its own strengths and weaknesses and is suitable for different applications. Or it could be that the throng of Open Source zealots and anti-MS people just simply will not let that happen.

Can Rich Internet Clients be different enough from each other that several can survive? I wouldn’t think so – they all use an XML-type markup and JavaScript-like code to produce Flash. It would seem that they are all the same thing. However, PHP, ASP, and JSP are all just scripting languages that produce HTML as an end result. They don’t seem varied enough that the market could support the use of all three. But they do all three exist and they are all strongly supported by their various camps.

We're going to move ahead with Flex, but keep an eye on Laszlo and watch to see what Microsoft does as well.

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