Tomorrow, at the invitation-only Engage 2008 event in SF Adobe will launch AIR and Flex 3.0. If you want to get a sense of what will be shown, here are the slides from the January pre-release tour. The event has attracted a high-powered group. For example, Marc Benioff, Chairman & CEO of salesforce.com will speak. (Salesforce.com’s AppExchange platform has a number of Flex-based extensions, including our own Centive.)
The AIR / Flex 3.0 launch is a big deal for three reasons:
- The AJAX ecosystem is heavily fragmented
- Flex 3 is a big step forward
- AIR is a disruptive innovation enabler
There are just too many pure AJAX frameworks out there. This may be great for some abstract notion of innovation but is pretty bad for market adoption. It causes confusion and friction. Developers hate that. They want to feel like they are developing skills for the next cool technology which will be around for a decade. The tooling is also pretty immature, although my friend Paul Colton @ Aptana is doing some pretty cool work. I have also seen a number of new startups trying to make things better in this space but for now the situation is not great. After initially missing the AJAX boat in a big way, Adobe has recently gained traction in repositioning from Flash vs. AJAX to Flash vs. DHTML, both of which use AJAX. As proof, I’ve seen more startups mixing Flash/Flex with DHTML/AJAX.
There seems to be a rule that really big software companies get things right by version 3.0. That has been the case for years with Microsoft and now Adobe may be large-enough to join the list. Flex 1.0 shipped late and left a lot to be desired, which made Flex 1.5 more or less a requirement. Flex 2.0 was a big step forward but there was much more left to do to build a great RIA platform. Flex 3 steps up the innovation pace on a number of fronts. Better developer tools. Improved frameworks. Smaller application size. Better data handling throughout. And the Flex SDK as well as the BlazeDS remoting and messaging services are now open-source. Everything is in place to accelerate Flex adoption. There is a massive shortage of Flex developers in the market, always a good sign for a platform. The main challenge for Adobe remains monetizing the platform. I’m not 100% on board with the Flex Builder tool as the main revenue driver although the team recently added some great people from the ColdFusion team who really understand Web developers. For examples on what Flex can do, check out the app showcase. Warning: you may spend more time there than you previously imagined.
AIR will become the biggest enabler for media-heavy Web applications. To get an idea about what I mean, check out the Allurent Desktop Connection video. This only scratches the surface of what one can do with a cross-platform, always on, richly interactive application with Net access and plenty of local storage. Adobe isn’t the only company who gets this–Google has plans based on Google Gears and Facebook has also moved in this direction with the Parakey acquisition–but Adobe has so far executed the best. Not surprisingly, Microsoft remains paralyzed by the Web <-> desktop strategy tension.
AIR is truly disruptive–in Clayton’s exact sense of the term–for two reasons. First, it given Web apps access to the desktop. Second, it does so while subverting the native operating system installers (using the Flash player executable as a conduit) which gives Adobe and its ecosystem substantial freedoms. One caveat–security. Adobe has done a pretty good job with the Flex 3 security model but it hasn’t been extensively tested in the wild. Also, the anti-virus and anti-spyware vendors have often been trigger happy in the past to blacklist totally legitimate software. I’m not expecting them to blacklist the AIR runtime but who knows how they’ll treat some of the apps… I hope the Adobe platform marketing team and evangelists have spent enough time with the security vendors. This is something I advised them to do at the Engage event last year based on some bad experiences from our portfolio.
With this launch, Adobe cements its platform leadership in Web 2.0 and makes life easier and more interesting for millions of developers and designers. A shout out to all my friends at Adobe who worked hard to make it happen and to everyone who put skin in the game during the beta process.