AJAX, Flash and Web 2.0

Since my early days of web development back in 1996 I have taken a strong stance in using the right technology for the job. There is no reason to over engineer things and waste money doing it just because you think it’s cool. Along with that belief has come my agressive distaste for Flash. In the work circles I’ve been around it has always been used because it was the coolest and could create a nice fade/move/zoom effect.

Now that the talk of AJAX is lighting up the scene to reduce page loads and make things act more like traditional apps, I’m drawn to take a second look at flash. Due to poor or incorrect standards support in numerous browsers AJAX can be a nightmare to implement effectively. Yes, you can follow the thoughts on degradeable AJAX for better support, or use what others have already provided at sites like script.aculo.us, but it’s still too much investment to make a web based app equivalent to a desktop app.

Need one more reason to be turned off by AJAX? Read the descriptive intro on script.aculo.us:

script.aculo.us provides you with easy-to-use, compatible and, ultimately, totally cool JavaScript libraries to make your web sites and web applications fly, Web 2.0 style.

This takes me full circle back to my original point that people are abusing it because it’s the cool new technology and not necessary the most effective for the job. It also brings me back to Flash. The more and more I look at it, the more I think that Flash is the better framework to empower the shift to Web 2.0. Flash has a very high install base (>90%) and works on an incredible combination of browsers (IE, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Netscape) and platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, Unix). Newer versions of Flash also add audio/video streaming, presentation tier graphics capabilities (Macromedia Flex), remoting, XML support and more.

In the short term I think that AJAX is a viable technology, but in the long run, something else that has better capabilities will win out. Java is a possibility, but in a browser it’s clunky and doesn’t have the install base. That’s why I’ll put my money on Flash and Macromedia in general.

It’s not very often that I do a 180 on a technology like Flash, but something just clicked today and now I get it. It’s why Macromedia bought Allaire (ColdFusion) and have added all of the complementary products to Flash. It’s why Adobe bought Macromedia. They just get it.