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Hey Joel, ever hear of Flash?

Joel keeps http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/LordPalmerston.html talking about cross platform development but insists on ignoring Flash.  Yeah, I know, it's not all the way there yet but it's not like any of the other technologies he lists are, either.

Joel has spoken out against web based apps before (can't find the link just now) so maybe this is a blind spot.

Like I said, it's not there yet, but it's damn close.  I can't see any reason why any of Fog Creek's current products couldn't run as Flash apps.  There may be some unacceptable compromises there, but if were talking about cross platform I can't see how Flash forces any worse compromises than Java.

Byron Fast
Sunday, December 15, 2002

I’ll only make two points here:

50% of what Joel produces is a “web app”. I can’t think of much more of an endorsement of a technology than to actually use it yourself.

As for the rest of you post, relating to Flash; are you kidding? Flash is cool and all but it is really just a content delivery system. As most it could be described as a scripting language. It as a lot more in common with JavaScript than Java (and they are *not* nearly the same technology).

I don’t see Flash becoming the development platform for any significant percentage of business applications. It is one of the best web UI tools on the planet, but UI is only 30% of an application.

marc
Sunday, December 15, 2002

Hey, I have a better idea for web applications.... HTML!

Walter Rumsby
Sunday, December 15, 2002

As for the web app endorsement, I use Fogbugz and so am familiar with Fogcreek's excellent ability to build web apps.  The article I was referring to had Joel saying that web apps are great, but can't be everything - he was defending CityDesk as a Windows app.

As for Flash, you just don't take it seriously because you haven't seen great apps with it.  But that doesn't mean the tool doesn't have the possibilities.  It's true, the syntax of Flash's "scripting" language is the same as Javascript, a fact which has no meaning other than that their syntaxes are the same.  Maybe I'm mistaken, but Java as a client with virtual machines that run on anything was the original selling feature of that language.  Java has fled to the server at least partly because it was a failure as a unifying client.  Flash can do far more far easily and can run in far more places than Java can.

People don't take Flash seriously because it has been used to make so much crap: web ads, welcome screens, whatever.  Meanwhile, this has paid the bills and forced Flash to actually do something useful.  As a result, it has become an excellent programming environment that has realized a lot of goals that things like java virtual machines never quite did.

Flash *can* be used to build web-apps that exceed the capabilities of HTML, but until somebody comes out with an eBay-level success with it, I don't imagine anybody will give a shit.  Maybe it'll never happen - but I would at least encourage people like Joel and his readers to take a look at it.  You'll probably find that it's not quite good enough to do some things you want to do, but at least you should discover that the potential is not far off.

Byron Fast
Sunday, December 15, 2002

True.. here are some examples

http://www.naturaltype.com/er-diagram.html

and

http://www.joshdura.com/archives/000149.php

There is still quite a way to go, but it looks promising.

Siddharta Govindaraj
Monday, December 16, 2002

"Flash *can* be used to build web-apps that exceed the capabilities of HTML"

One of the capabilities of HTML is to be used in all web browsers (including telnet, though it takes more reading that way). Flash can't even do that.


Monday, December 16, 2002

And that just shows that to make comparative statements -- like capabilities of one exceeding that of the other -- will have to include context to be of any use.

Clearly the capability of HTML to be useful in telnet environments is only an advantage if a telnet environment is the environment to which the comparison applies.

Common Sense is not that common
Monday, December 16, 2002

Telnet was an example.

Understanding what is written is not common either
Monday, December 16, 2002

Indeed it was.And since you reply so obnoxiously, I must have not made the point clear enough.

As the telnet, or any other example shows, when you provide a comparison, but not the context of the comparison, there is always a counter example to be found.

So, when comparing things, also explain the context.

So, the telnet example is obviously valid in the context of situations where telnet is important. But to the person who said Flash can be more powerful than HTML, it probable was not important to have telnet capability.

Common Sense is not that common
Monday, December 16, 2002

"Telnet was an example."

An example of what?

Did YOU understand?
Monday, December 16, 2002

"to the person who said Flash can be more powerful than HTML, it probable was not important to have telnet capability."

He didn't say it was more powerful, he said that applications written in it can have more capabilities than html ones. As was pointed out, the inability to be used in any browser type environment proves that the reverse is also true, since this is a capabilty lacking in Flash. Do you understand now?


Monday, December 16, 2002

"He didn't say it was more powerful, he said that applications written in it can have more capabilities than html ones. As was pointed out, the inability to be used in any browser type environment proves that the reverse is also true, since this is a capabilty lacking in Flash. Do you understand now?"

Read back what I said. I said that the telnet example showed that you need to provide context. Otherwise, the reverse can always be true. I did not comment on the telnet example itself, because it was only an example.

So I'll repeat. If you are going to compare something, provide the context in which you are comparing, otherwise your audience can only relate it to their own context, which might be very different.

Now, was that clearer?

Did YOU understand?
Monday, December 16, 2002

The context is "web based apps" (see the first post in this thread, and do please try to keep up).

That should be clear enough even for you
Monday, December 16, 2002

Temper...temper...

Mark Hoffman
Monday, December 16, 2002

The biggest problem with Flash is that advertizers use it for dancing baloney.

Lots of people have trouble reading text when something else on the screen is moving. Part of the solution for these people is to refuse to install Flash. These people lose the ability to use a few web sites, but gain a tremendous amount of usability on the rest of the web.

Given this dynamic, it makes little sense to make your site Flash-dependent unless there is no viable alternative.

Jim Lyon
Monday, December 16, 2002

Ten reasons why flash is still a problematic platform for building web-based applications:

10. Anti-aliased Flash text is harder to read, and FogBugz is very text-oriented.
9. It's harder to search the text. (the control-f kind)
8. You can't copy-and-paste Flash text.
7. You lack the ability to right-click on links and "Save as ...", or open in a new tab/window.
6. It's much harder to bookmark specific pages, since the URL doesn't capture enough state. (And if you're browsing to a new page every time you do something in Flash, what advantages is Flash offering you?)
5. You can't easily adjust the text size, without zooming in on the whole Flash movie
4. People are used to HTML, and by introducing new Flash widgets, you're raising the learning curve for your app. Also, I guarantee you that users will become frustrated when the app doesn't react in the way they expect it to (say, hitting a back-button or reloading).
3. Don't forget the people who actually OK the order for FogBugz. Engineers tend to think of Flash as a less-than-serious platform ("oh, great, are they gonna play the Jeopardy theme song if you have a p1 bug?"), and managerial/bean-counter types might have similarly incorrect opinions.
2. What happens when users upgrade to Flash 7, and the app stops working for them (Flash 5 wasn't backwards-compatible with many Flash 4 movies)?
1. There are very few *programmers* who know Flash well.

Those are just some thoughts off the top of my head. Feel free to tear them apart. (I am, after all, a Flash user, not an ActionScript guru.)

Point being: I like Flash a lot, but I don't think it's the way to go for something like FogBugz (yet).

Joe Grossberg
Monday, December 16, 2002

"The context is "web based apps" (see the first post in this thread, and do please try to keep up). "

This like talking to a wall. If web based apps is the context, what was the question? Have you even read the discussion? If so, what do you think it was about?

But never mind that. You'll probably have some smart, yet pointless, stab.

Since it isn't to the point any longer anyway, let's just assume you are absolutely right.

What do YOU think was said?
Monday, December 16, 2002

Thanks Joe Grossberg for an insightful post.

Peter McKenzie
Monday, December 16, 2002

Yeah, okay, Telnet.  It's always amazing what can start a flame-fest.

Criticism of things like Flash fall into two categories, and we see them both in this list of posts.  University educated people who place disproportionate importance on meaningless things like whether "X" can do Telnet completely miss the point.  These are the same people who, given the chance to comment on HTML in 1992, would have said it was worthless waste of time even for it's intended purpose and audience, let alone whether it might eventually have other uses.

The other group of critics are the usual people who haven't actually used the technology and can only base their judgements on what has been done so far.  Mr. Grossberg lists a bunch of problems that have nothing to do with Flash (right-clicking, copying text, text searching) and are entirely the result of his item #1: not enough programmers.  Every single problem item on the list is possible in Flash MX, and none of them are particularly difficult.  Not very many people have worked on them yet.

The reason I'm posting about this is that I have used the technology, and I absolutely believe it's in your future if you are a programmer.  I allow that it may fail, but I'm betting that it won't.  Flash provides just enough extra niceties to take web apps beyond the limited page-based world of HTML.  These are the kinds of things I would expect a programmer like Joel to look at, but instead he tells us about Mitch Kapor using some obscure nonsense called wxWindows.  I respect what Mitch has done in the past, but it seems pure academic blindness to me if he can't see how Flash could be used to compete with Microsoft, which is his ultimate goal.

The reason that stuff will fail, aside from the fact that his software is attempting to be non-profit, is ye olde chicken and egg problem that Joel describes so well.
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000054.html

Byron Fast
Monday, December 16, 2002

"Mr. Grossberg lists a bunch of problems that have nothing to do with Flash (right-clicking, copying text, text searching)"

Sorry - these problems have EVERYTHING to do with Flash. The Flash plug-in is effectively a browser for Flash content - ie. it is to Flash content what a web browser is to HTML (including the <object> tag).

Web browsers provide context menus, standard operating system functions (copying text), etc as part of their experience without requiring the developer to do anything more.

If Flash requires the developer to provide these standard forms of interaction then:
- Developers have to focus on work outside of solving the problem at hand.
- I would guess there are issues with code reuse - how easy is it to reuse your menu code?
- The potential for non-standard widgets emerges with consequences as mentioned above.

Perhaps I look pretty silly sticking up for Java Swing GUIs and tearing down Flash GUIs, but I guess for me Swing GUIs provide a "good enough" support for Ctrl+V, Ctrl+F etc - ie. I am comfortable with the GUI of IDEA but at this present time I would not generally use Swing to develop GUI applications (certainly not for something like CityDesk which includes "non-expert" users in its user community, on the flipside their is some logic in providing a Java-based interface in a Java development tool).

Now I concede that both Swing and Flash GUIs will probably improve greatly over the next few years, but they're not there yet - as you yourself admit. You should also take note of increased CSS support in browsers, advancing standards, etc - there is a far greater intellectual/academic and financial investment in advancing core web tecnologies like XHTML, CSS, SVG, XSLT etc. and far greater tool support for developers working with those technologies.

Walter Rumsby
Monday, December 16, 2002

"The other group of critics are the usual people who haven't actually used the technology..."

"These are the kinds of things I would expect a programmer like Joel to look at, but instead he tells us about Mitch Kapor using some obscure nonsense called wxWindows."

Y'know, I just couldn't resist putting these sentences side-by-side.

wxWindows is a 10-year-old C++ GUI toolkit.  It's a nice toolkit.  I use it.  It doesn't suck.  For a small class of technical problems (most of them beginning, "I need an uncompromisingly native GUI for Win32 and GTK+, and maybe the ability to muck about with HWNDs..."), it puts a smile on my face.

Flash is lovely, too, but I wish somebody would actually write a third-party implementation (Macromedia publishes the file format in quite a bit of detail, so where are those GNU volunteers?).  As Macromedia points out, Flash actually has better client penetration than Windows itself.

emk
Monday, December 16, 2002

"Hey Joel, ever hear of Flash?"

You read the title of the thread, did you?
Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Hah, why should Gnu flock to help them?  You can't redistribute the spec, and moreover you have to become a spammable member of their club, sacrificing them your non-Yahoo/hotmail email addy.

I remembered an obvious error in the spec I was going to check right now in the latest version, but aargh.  And I'm curious how happy Microsoft will be if Macromedia presents a competitor platform.

Tj
Tuesday, December 17, 2002

It's entirely possible that wxWindows is the greatest invention of all time.  Let me repeat: Chicken and egg, chicken and egg, how will it solve the chicken and egg problem?  Flash bootstrapped it's ass onto more computers than probably anything else, ever, which is a significant achievement.  Mitch Kapor's app will have to do more than build a better address book than Outlook to gain acceptance for wxWindows.

The problem many people like Kapor and the last few posters to this thread have are at least half valid:  Macromedia is attempting to use the success of Flash to lock people into buying server software much as Microsoft uses the OS to force people into buying their servers.  If all the people working on SVG instead made an open version of SWF, that would be excellent, but it may be unnecessary.  As for being a "spammable member of their club," Macromedia shows as much or more responsibility with my email address than any other organization.  I know the average open source fanatic can't understand the concept, but making a profit on software is neither inherently wrong and instead is usually a decent measure of its quality.  As Joel has said, you'd have to have real customers buy your software to actually understand.

Back to Flash, it already works pretty well with XML-RPC, which is enough to bootstrap a lot of different ideas.  At least it lets you route around being forced into believing in Cold Fusion and the several other layers that MACR is selling to build Flash apps.

I have the feeling that wxWindows is the usual academic shoot-for-the-moon strategy, which is not what is needed to beat HTML in the world of web apps.  What we need is something slightly better than HTML that everyone has access to, and Flash fits the bill very well.  The biggest problem is one that Walter Rumsby mentioned previously - it allows too much freedom to create unusable GUIs.  If you remember when the world went from green terminals to Windows clients, its the same problem.  Every damn Windows app for the first few years, especially internal stuff, was a riot of colors, fonts, and useless bullshit that was thrown on the screen because you *could*.

Flash, as much as any GUI builder, has this "problem" - and its gross misuse shows at least partly its potential.  If a tool can't be used to make ugly, distracting, unusable garbage I'll bet it can't be used to make standardized and wonderful software either.  Just think of CASE tools - it would take weeks to figure out how to make garbage with the average "5GL" product of days gone by - and look at what a huge failure they have been so far.

Byron Fast
Tuesday, December 17, 2002

"As Joel has said, you'd have to have real customers buy your software to actually understand."

Interesting.  From a flash person's perspective, any programmer who seems to like opensource must be an unemployed idealist.  It's sweet that a flash developer of all people would hold stereotypes.

You misunderstand my position.  Flash could be a powerful platform.  I've argued against the "conventional wisdom" of programmers many a time.  But clearly Macromedia has to prove itself, and flash apologists ain't gonna do it.

And the company which makes a roadblock to get their spec, so I can make good Flash apps, isn't going to get my love today.  They rejected my yahoo account, the same one I use to get domain names.  And their spec was trash -- I can tell stories about projects which sadly wrestled with Macromedia's terrible C++ reference code.  The reason they dropped the ref code isn't quite the one they say it is.

Still, flash may be an incredible platform one day, just have to find killer apps...

Tj
Tuesday, December 17, 2002

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