The epic thunderstorm that is the iPad launch has stirred up an old debate. And no, I’m not talking about the tired back and forth about whether Apple is an evil empire or herald of all things cool. Unless you have been living underground, you have heard that the iPad doesn’t support Flash. This decision has relit the AJAX vs. Flex discussion, not only regarding the relative benefits of each, but also in terms of the future of RIA technology.
Apple’s stand on Flash is most likely less a statement on the merits of the technology, and more an issue of proprietary control, and as ever, money. That aside, the Flex vs. AJAX battle has a renewed relevancy in the tech world.
This is really a rich subject, with many possible avenues for discussion – but I think it is important to rehash the essential differences between the two technologies. Let’s remember that they are each better suited for different things, and that Apple’s decision, the spark of this polarizing debate, is not necessarily based on merit.
Flex and AJAX are both strong technologies, each with particular strengths and weaknesses.
Still, Flash is the easiest to develop once you get over the large training hurdle for Java programmers, with a powerful programming foundation.
The current lack of continuity between browsers is a driving reason to use Flash, which already supported by Microsoft Explorer, Safari, Chrome, Firefox and Opera. Further, Flash has far and away the better tools for 2D/3D rendering capabilities, most important for fancy user interfaces and online gaming.
AJAX’s Arsenal: AJAX is generally described as more of a methodology for producing RIA’s. It is usually used on top of web pages to basically make it function more like something would on your desktop, with pop ups and shadow boxes, as well as some cool features like drag-and-drop.
Still, AJAX definitely rules in certain departments. It is search engine friendly – Google away – easily assembled, and no plug in required. It is very widely used, so that an enormous number of developers already are proficient in the technology, whereas only a small number of engineers know Flex programming. AJAX also excels at CSS and Dynamic Content Generation, areas where Flash is only fair.
AJAX is also just plain cool right now. Don’t ask me why, but I’ve heard a lot of developers in various companies asked to make something in AJAX just because it’s trendy. Sounds frustrating, but AJAX really is sometimes considered synonymous with innovation. They really destroyed the older web site model, eliminating the need for an entire page refresh every time you want new information – making really interesting sites like map.google.com possible.
So Now What? What it comes down to is that right now Flash has the video side and AJAX is dominating on making web pages interactive
But what about HTML5 you must be asking? Won’t it unify the world? While the promising standards will eventually provide rich web application development features, it is still a long way off from standardization across the browsers. So get excited, but don’t jump the gun on hailing HTML5 as the new king just yet.
Or ever, according to Adobe. They aren’t too worried about HTML5. Adobe’s John Dowdell said “(we are) clearly supportive in terms of making sure as HTML 5 is evolving that we will support it in our web authoring tools but from the perspective of continuing to drive Flash and innovation around Flash and rich Internet applications, we still think that actually the fragmentation of browsers makes Flash even more important rather than less important.”
So where does that leave us? For the time being, we are looking at a draw. Sensible companies still need to provide the technologies their customers are asking for, and right now that is both AJAX and Flash. Companies like Jinfonet Software, who provides both AJAX and Flash, recognize the current demand for both.
“JReport is used by many companies who embed JReport into their products or applications, and thus we must provide both and let our customers choose which one fits best into their application,” said Greg Harris, Sr. Product Manager at Jinfonet.
Apple may have the clout to drop Flash from their repertoire, but unless your name is Steve Jobs it seems like the only sensible thing to do is offer both.