Tag Archives: Flex

The Real Reasons Behind the Flash Debate

In my humble opinion, the main reason why the debate around Flash versus HTML5 (and Adobe versus Apple) has gone haywire during the past few weeks is that everyone is lying about their true motives (like in any apparently inextricable conflict):

  • Apple doesn’t want Flash on its closed devices like the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPhone because Flash would be an alternate content channel that would hinder Apple’s very lucrative iTunes business. And of course they won’t admit it because it would mean that they put business strategy before innovation.
  • Adobe has some technical issues with Flash because the codebase is very old and costs a lot to maintain. And they won’t admit it because it would make Flash look weak and unreliable on the long term.
  • Most HTML5 proponents started as amateur web developers, tinkering for years with poor technologies like HTML, CSS and Javascript, building entire businesses around their capacity to figure out all this mess out of trial and error.
  • Flash developers (including yours truly) have invested a lot of time, money and effort in tools, training and experience with the Flash platform, and are not so enthusiastic about throwing all of that down the garbage for yet another fashion tech. But of course we won’t admit that because we’re afraid to look like dinosaurs who refuse to evolve.

And since everybody uses pretexts, everyone will use every contradiction and approximation possible to maintain their cover. Like I said, wars work the same way: ideology hides facts. It motivates your troops to fight the other side until they’re dead, because the big guys, the ones who know about the real reasons simply can’t find a peaceful solution that would allow everyone to win.

It reminds me of a European civil servant who asked me this simple question once when I started a mission for the European Parliament: “Why do you think the European Union was created?” Naively I answered “so that one day we can be on equal foot with the United States.” “Wrong!” he said. “That’s not what Shuman and its friends had in mind. After World War II, they realized that the true source of the conflict between France and Germany, and by extension between their respective allies, was the repartition of natural resources in general, and most notably at this time, coal. But it’s hard to get people to fight for that kind of cause, so powers had to disguise it with ideology so that people would feel invested and do terrible things in the name of it. And they understood that if they didn’t cure the real sickness instead of fighting the symptoms like they had done after World War I, they could not prevent it from happening again. That’s the real reason why CECA was created, and then CEE, then EU. It was not a matter of power, it was a matter of peace.”

And that answer struck me because the same pattern repeats itself over and over again in a lot of contexts. Behind decades of war between Israel and Palestine, there’s a fight for water. Behind the war in Irak, there was a fight for gas. Behind the war for the future of web technologies, there’s a fight for customers. And the conflict is even more violent as it happens on 2 different levels: company-wise between Apple and Adobe, and community-wise between Flash developers and HTML developers.

The good news is that there’s a way for everyone to win peacefully once we reveal the real issues. There are enough customers for everyone. It’s not a zero-sum fight. The other side doesn’t have to lose so that we can win. The question is: will we be strong enough to reject the ideology and find a common ground at the community-level? Or will we let the big guys at Adobe and Apple hide behind ideology and use us as cannon fodder.

Grails BlazeDS 4 Integration Plugin

One of the main goals I’ve been pursuing for a few months is the integration of Grails with Flex 4. I need to rework ConferenceGuide‘s administration backend to make it more ergonomic so that we can cover more events, and ever since I discovered Flex 4 niceties, I couldn’t think of doing that with anything else. The problem is that none of the existing plugins suited my needs. All of them cover Flex 3 only, some of them introduce a lot of complexity for CRUD generation, some of them use GraniteDS instead of BlazeDS, and the simplest plugin, grails-flex has never gone further than the experimental stage. I did a lot of experiments, talked a lot about it on Grails mailing lists, until Tomas Lin kindly explained to me that maybe I was approaching it the wrong way. I wanted a plugin that would set up a complete environment for Flex developement right in the middle of my Grails application. And I wanted that because I wanted to avoid using Flash Builder (you know… Eclipse… ierk!), mainly because the only advantage of Flex Builder 3 over IntelliJ Idea was the visual designer. But he was right, I was wrong. Flash Builder 4 DOES change everything. It does include a lot of very interesting features that greatly improve Flex development productivity, especially when it comes to integration with backend technologies. And for those features, I can only admit that IntelliJ is not up to par yet. I’m still gonna use it for the Grails part, but Flash Builder will be my environment of choice for Flex 4.

So, once I learnt more about Flex 4, BlazeDS 4 and Flash Builder 4 beta 2, it was time to reconsider my approach and develop a much simpler Grails plugin so that any Grails application could be used in combination with Flash Builder. I just released grails-blazeds plugin to do just that. Here is how it works:

  1. Install grails-blazeds plugin: “grails install-plugin blazeds”. This plugin copies a couple of configuration files into your application and imports all of the required libraries, including BlazeDS 4 and Spring-BlazeDS integration 1.5, both in nightly snapshot versions, since they have not been officially released yet
  2. Create a service to be exposed to your Flex application over AMF, or choose an existing one
  3. Add @RemotingDestination annotation to your service class, and @RemotingInclude annotation to all of the methods in this service that you wish to expose
  4. Edit web-app/WEB-INF/flex-servlet.xml (created when you installed the plugin): uncomment the context:component-scan element and set the base-package corresponding to your service class
  5. Make sure your exposed service methods don’t use Groovy classes, either as argument or return types. This is a known limitation I’m still working on, but if there are some Groovy classes here, Flash Builder doesn’t manage to generate ActionScript counterparts.
  6. Run your Grails application using “grails run-war” instead of “grails run-app”. Once again this is a known limitation: Flash Builder BlazeDS data connection plugin relies on a classical web app layout and doesn’t understand Grails dynamic layout (that is until someone manages to create a Grails data connection wizard for Flash Builder 4)
  7. In Flash Builder 4 beta 2, create a new Flex project with a J2EE server. Here are what your parameters shoud look like, “conferenceguide” being the name of my Grails application and “sarbogast” being my home directory:

  8. Click “Data” menu, then “Connect to BlazeDS…”
  9. In the “Authentication required” dialog box that appears, check “no password required” box, and click OK
  10. You should see your service appear, and you can select it and click Finish.

  11. Your service should appear in the Data/Services view. You can then compose your user interface and drag and drop your service methods to the relevant components to connect them with your Grails backend.
  12. Don’t forget to configure a channelset on your service:
    <adminservice:AdminService id="adminService" fault="Alert.show(event.fault.faultString + '\n' + event.fault.faultDetail)" showBusyCursor="true">
    <adminservice:channelSet>
    <s:ChannelSet>
    <s:AMFChannel uri="http://localhost:8080/conferenceguide/messagebroker/amf"/>
    </s:ChannelSet>
    </adminservice:channelSet>
    </adminservice:AdminService>
    

And there you go. Special thanks to James Ward, whose screencasts really helped me get it right. Now the only thing that this plugin misses, beyond the 2 known limitations, is integration with Spring Security, but this is just a start.

Enjoy!

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

I have hesitated for a long time… a few hours that is. But given my geek reputation (of which I’m still proud by the way), I could just not avoid it: I have to say something about the iPad. Of course I was following the keynote live yesterday with a bunch of geeks in Café Numérique, in Brussels. And of course I was very excited about it. Now instead of writing long sentences about what I like and don’t like about it, I’ll just go over my impressions quickly:

  • I don’t really like the name, but iSlate would have been worst and Macbook Touch was clearly not adapted
  • I love the device itself, and yes I’m gonna get one as soon as it’s released. I’m planning a trip to WWDC in June and hopefully I can bring one back
  • it really is yet another game changer. Apple did with the iPad to the Tablet PC segment what they did with the iPhone to the smartphone segment: bypass the professional market, make it a general public appliance. Brilliant!
  • it will create a whole new market for new applications on the App Store, I can think of a few ones myself
  • I don’t care that it doesn’t have multi-tasking, I’ve never needed it and reactivity is too important for me
  • demonstrations in a couch, what a great communication symbol!
  • I don’t care about the batteries being sealed, so long as it gets me more battery-life
  • I hope there will be an Apple Care on this one
  • Absence of SMS and phone capabilities: it’s not a phone anyway
  • No front camera: who really uses video-conference in the general public anyway? Video-conference in a couch? Come on!
  • The price tag is just awesome. The top one is cheaper than my 3GS
  • I’m so glad I didn’t get a Kindle DX or a Nook as I intended to. By the way, even though e-ink is more comfortable to use, I think the generic aspect of the device and the availability of the iBooks store are going to marginalize specialize eBook readers
  • Stop it with the “giant iPhone” complaint. And laptops are mini-desktops, so what?

Now in parallel to all those impressions, I couldn’t help to see those floating images in my head, of websites with big blank areas and a blue logo, I could even hear those blank areas whisper in my ears: “No Flash support…. ouuuuuuuuhh… No Flash support”. Yes, I know, I’m going nuts. My first thought was “how are you going to explain your daughter that she cannot use the iPad to access her favourite color painting site with her fingers because there’s no Flash?” For such a general public family appliance, it just doesn’t make sense.

But then I started reading blog posts and comments about the announcement, and the frustration turned into anger. Anger against Apple and Adobe who can’t seem to find a common ground on this issue. But more importantly angry against all those self-proclaimed death prophets, all those open standard ayatollahs claiming that they don’t care about Flash since Flash is dead anyway, and Flash is closed and proprietary, and Adobe is all evil, and HTML5 is going to rule the world. And it kind of woke up the Flex developer beast in me, I turned all green, I tore my shirt apart, going all…

FUCK HTML5 !!!

And then I started punching around.

First off, Flash has evolved a lot in the past few years: Flash is not just used for ads anymore. It powers the vast majority of videos on the web, plus a lot of multimedia websites that we love and use everyday (Deezer for example, Google Finance, etc.)

Second, Flash is not completely open, but it is far less closed than what a lot of people know: Tamarin, the Flash virtual machine, the basis of the Flash plugin, has been donated as Open Source to the Mozilla foundation 3 years ago, SWF (Flash file format), AMF (Flash remoting protocol), RTMP (Flash realtime communication protocol) are all open specifications that allow anyone to write their own Flash plugin (with a licence, but still) or generator. Plus Adobe has gone a long way in opening up its tools and processes for the Flash platform as a whole by open sourcing the Flex SDK, creating the Open Screen Project, and I could go on and on. I’ve met some of the openness evangelists inside Adobe and I can tell you that they’re doing a great job opening up what used to be a very protective and old-school company. And it’s just the beginning.

Third: being an open standard is not a f***ing feature for Steve’s sake! If using committee standards means I have to wait for 10 years before any evolution becomes available (how long has W3C been working on HTML5? how long before it is finalized), if it means going back in time on problems we thought had been solved for good (like the video codec hell coming back from the dead), if it means having to spend hours tweaking my web applications so that they look and behave the same in all browsers, then I don’t give a sh*t about open standards. Where is the added value?

Fourth, I can already hear you yell at me about the last argument: “we just can’t let one (evil) company have so much control about a web technology!”. And still that’s exactly what Sun has been doing with another omnipresent web technology: Java. And very few people ever complained about it. And what about Google with Android? The truth is that, from a developer standpoint, having one company orchestrating the evolution of such a huge technology is very good: it guarantees a certain level of consistency, so that we don’t have to deal with compatibility issues between different implementations. It’s also a good point for stability, knowing that you will always have backwards compatibility and professional support on the long term, and that you can invest safely in the technology. And of course it’s excellent for efficiency, because they don’t have to waste time on endless arguments about who’s got the bigger video codec or whatever, so it evolves fast.

So that’s it. I hate HTML, Javascript and CSS, I do it when I have to, but it’s not development, it’s tinkering. And I hate all those people spreading FUD about Flash without knowing what they’re talking about. And I love the Flash platform, and what Adobe is doing with it. I just hope Adobe and Apple will eventually reach an agreement to bring Flash to the iPhone and iPad. And I hope Adobe will do some PR to fix their image because there’s a big problem there.

Just my 2 cents…

Oops! They seem to be doing it again!

I’ve seen a lot of job offers lately for Flex developers in London banks (including investment banks like Goldman Sachs this morning). I love Flex development and I’m starting to look for freelancing opportunities around this technology but technology is not everything to me: I also thrive on purpose, I love to work on stuff that matters to me. And the fact that the banking sector seems to be hiring rich internet application developers so much kind of worries me somehow.

Because one of the main interests of technologies like Flex is the quality of data visualization it allows. Now what worries me is that software has already been a major enabler in the subprime crisis, with algorithms able to calculate and mitigate the risks for very complex financial products. Now it’s like they’re saying “OK, let’s do the same shit, but put more human factor in it, so let’s give them more accurate data!”. Now this is just an external impression and maybe I’m wrong about what they’re doing with Flex. But maybe I’m not. Does anyone work with Flex in banking and can tell us what you’re doing with it?

As far as I’m concerned, I’d love to work on a “new energy”-related project, like what Roundarch did for the Tesla Model S. Or I’d love to work for a project like Better Place, or Desertec. I’m sure they could use some modern , productive and good-looking software too. But banking? Hum, not a good option for me until they integrate more human data in their decisions.

Flex Guys Are Going Too Far

There’s been a lot of fuzz lately in the Flex community around the way the Flex SDK Open Source efforts are handled by Adobe. And let’s just say things have gotten a little messy around here. It’s funny because I’ve just watched the last episode of Battlestar Galactica, and without any spoiler, let’s just say that people tend to get things wrong when it comes to rebellion.

I mean, sure, everything is not perfect. Especially, Adobe doesn’t seem to be listening to votes on bugs.adobe.com as much as I hoped. But when I read things like “the war of open sourcing the Flex framework”! I mean… come on, guys!

When Simeon Bateman started to take matters into his own hands and talked about forking the Flex SDK, I already thought he was going too far because I think Adobe is really trying here, and I respect their effort considering what’s at stake and the size of the boat they’re steering. And what surprised me even more is that Adobe actually responded to the feedback from the community by organizing a big open live discussion with the whole community. And then they even got way further by opening up their Open Iteration Kick-Off meeting. Hey, that’s an amazing effort! Can you imagine what it takes in a big “old school” company like Adobe to do that.

But as in every rebellion, it seems that people can’t seem to be satisfied now. They’re forming committees, gathering grievances, it looks more and more like a French revolution to me. And let’s just say that’s part of the reasons I don’t particularly like the country where I was born. But that’s another topic.

The problem with that kind of mutiny is that you always end up with self-proclaimed representatives who are honestly convinced they’re speaking up for the greater good, but they always forget about crowd control, about how people can forget everything about reason and lucidity when you inject in them the “it’s unfair” feeling.

I say thank you Adobe for Open Sourcing the Flex SDK. I say, let’s not forget that you were not forced to do so, that you could have kept it free as in “free beer”, as it was with Flex 2. I say, let’s not forget that Open Source licenses still guarantee intellectual property and ownership to the people who actually created all this code for us. And I say yes, they made the decision to move to Open Source and they should take the good side as well as the responsibility side of it, and really involve the community. But I don’t think that threatening them to fork, or getting into a war with them is going to make things any better… unless your only goal is to cover your butt for your ultimate purpose to actually fork it.

I think we should all calm down here, take a deep breath, show some acknowledgement of the efforts they’ve made so far, and insist on the fact that the community is here to help and work WITH them, and not to undermine their efforts, “start working on Flex 5 as a community now and let them join us when they are ready”. Uservoice, committees, those can be good ideas, but we have to show some good will and honesty here, because nothing is owed to us and because it’s not in our best interest to get people nervous and vindictive now.

Adobe MAX Europe, J-1

I guess many people are going to write or have already written blog posts with a similar title. But hey, this is a big event for me. I’m so happy my company offered me this reward, really. I know it can seem hard to understand how one can be so excited about attending technical conferences all day. But discovering and learning new technologies is so central to why I love software development, and Adobe stuff has become so important in my “artistic” evolution lately, that I really can’t wait.

Amongst others, I hope to learn more about Flex 4, Thermo now known as Catalyst, Flash 10 and its possibilities, Adobe AIR, but more importantly I have a few questions for Adobe guys, especially:

  • Open Source is not just about a license and a Subversion repository, it’s also about community and listening to it. And when I see some of the highest voted bugs in JIRA deferred and deferred again, I would love to understand what is their policy regarding community feedback.
  • Portability is obviously a big argument in favor of Flex, but I still wonder why things like mouse wheel are not natively supported on the Mac. Fortunately there is a workaround but it’s still a pain.
  • How about backward compatibility? A year back, I wanted to propose Flex as an implementation technique for the UI of the operational monitoring application at Thalys, but we argued with a colleague about the governance problem: contrary to Sun Microsystems with Java, Adobe has never clearly committed to maintain backward compatibility. Of course, let’s not forget that some people are still migrating their JDK 1.4 to Java 5 because they had variables called “enum”… Joke aside, I was kind of disappointed to see that the application I’m working on right now worked with Flash 9 but has a bug with Flash 10 because of the changes they made with FileReference API. Hopefully, this will be fixed with Flex 4, but in the meantime we’re still struggling.

Over all, it’s the first technical conference I attend outside of Belgium and Javapolis (now Devoxx), and I hope that the organization will at least match the one of the BeJUG.

The 2 weeks to come are going to be legen… wait for it… DAAAAARRYYYYYY!

Flex, Spring and BlazeDS: the full stack! ERRATUM

OK, obviously there are 2 problems in my article on Adobe Developer Connection and I finally found the time to look into it:

First of all, there was a big error in one of the POMs in todolist3.zip. In todolist-web/pom.xml, if the first dependency looks like this:

<dependency>
<groupId>${project.groupId}</groupId>
<artifactId>todolist-common</artifactId>
<version>1.0-SNAPSHOT</version>
</dependency>

Then replace it with this:

<dependency>
<groupId>${project.groupId}</groupId>
<artifactId>todolist-config</artifactId>
<version>1.0-SNAPSHOT</version>
<classifier>resources</classifier>
<type>zip</type>
<scope>provided</scope>
</dependency>

And it should work fine.

The second error is in the article itself: of course, all of the namespace declarations should be xmlns:mx=”http://www.adobe.com/2006/mxml” instead of xmlns:mx=”/2006/mxml” .

I’ll try to reach ADC editor so that they can fix those mistakes. Thanks for the feedback.