Related link: http://news.com.com/2100-1046-994258.html
Macromedia announced an
enhancement to Flash that will allow its content to operate independent of the browser on the desktop. Additionally, the company will be launching Flash Central, an associated marketplace that will allow Flash application developers to market and sell their applications. Macromedia will take a 20 percent fee on all sales — a model very similar to that being employed with mobile applications in the J2ME and i-Mode space. (For more thoughts on Macromedia Central see this entry on the weblog of Macromedia's Chief Software Architect, Kevin Lynch.
This is a very positive step in the evolution of SWF files (Flash's native format) as a platform for lightweight Internet applications or, as some call it, microcontent clients. As I asserted in my article Flash MX and The Big Picture, the document-centric browser is an awkward solution to a growing number of emerging needs. the browser still remains quite useful and will continue to do so, however it would benefit from an application-centric mate. (The topic is one of the main focuses of O'Reilly’s upcoming Emerging Technology Conference next month.) The Flash file format and runtime engine addresses these exact needs making itself an leading candidate. As I stated,
In many ways Flash MX promises to do for Internet applications what Visual Basic did for Windows applications in the early '90s. It could also lay the groundwork for redefining the desktop. Based on this announcement that seems to be exactly where Macromedia is heading and I applaud their foresight.
Despite its continuing evolution, some issues have yet to be addressed to date.
Recently in response to a question posed by Kevin Werbach, former Macromedia CTO Jeremy Allaire posted to his weblog some thoughts as to why Flash applications have not been more broadly adopted by developers. As often the case, Jeremy is spot on. Awareness and
cognitive dissonance (the negative association of Flash with the gaudy overuse of animation) leads his list. Efforts have been underway and will take some time and persistence to address. (Certainly issues such as the recent release of the company’s new website have not helped this cause.) Jeremy also lists Flash's ties to the browser that will be rectified in the near term. What's left outstanding is the fourth reason he lists — the programming model or more precisely in my opinion the programming tools. With Flash's impending freedom from the browser, the final point remains as the sticking point for myself and I suspect other programmers from buying in further.
Since reading Jeremy's post and follow-up by Kevin Lynch, I've been thinking about my ideal Flash development tool — or at least the one I think will marginalize the barriers to entry seasoned programmers perceive and really let the market flourish.
What I want is a lightweight command line tool that will let me build Flash applications from text files containing XML and ActionScript code. In other words, what I want is a Flash application compiler.
This tool would make extensive use of existing standards. ActionScript already complies with the ECMAScript standard. The XML formats would excluded standard formats such as SVG and XForms (or perhaps XUL) with the conservative introduction of extensions through XML namespaces. These XML files would be used to define things such as objects, screens, form layouts, and would be compiled into native Flash format constructs. (In my estimation this is a good compromise in addressing the uproar of standards advocates while keeping the player lightweight.)
There are several lessor-known third-party Flash development tools that address some of wishes — tools such as Lazlo, X-Wave, Swish and Screenweaver and DENG — though not entirely or to my satisfaction. To grossly generalize, these tools gravitate towards Flash's animation heritage amongst other shortcomings. The Lazlo Presentation Server comes closest, but is a server based.
What these tools lack most importantly is that they do not originate from Macromedia. Providing freely available baseline tool for Flash application development is crucial to its evolution and simply too important to come from anywhere else. Hopefully I’ll get my wish.
UPDATE: Seems my wish could be coming true sooner then I thought. Macromedia's Mike Chambers writes on the tantilizing Royale project that was shown a the FlashForward conference today.
What are your thoughts on Flash applications and microcontent clients?