I get it now. I feel kind of stupid for not realizing it before, or for not realizing the whole magnitude of it: Macromedia isn’t on the “web site” tools market anymore; they’re on the distributed application market. Oscar Trelles realized it too. I’ll tell you, it took me long enough to stop, look at the whole thing and notice the way things are.
You know, I’m a guy who works creating web sites. And I use Flash daily at it; my workplace‘s clients include several brazilian and foreign design and fashion-related companies, and we’re always having to push our limits when trying to deliver both fresh and intuitive web sites. It’s the kind of work I like. Although all of our web sites have administration tools and lots of data exchange between the server and the client in various forms (usually PHP/MySQL-generated XML files), we don’t build big and complex data-driven applications; it’s just not the kind of work we usually do, although we have the technical expertise to do so and some of our PHP administration tools are quite complex. We just build cool-looking web sites (in my humble opinion).
I started working with Flash at the end of version 2, and took it with full force on version 3. At the time, I was changing a lot of stuff on the way I used to work – I was working as a programmer, dealing basically with database administration systems. I used to do conversions between several types of databases – DBF, CSV, SQL, TXT – and combine them into our systems. I worked with Gupta SQLBase, SuperBase 2/3 and Visual Basic 2/3 most of the time, and even built some database manipulation tools on QuickBasic (!) for quick and easy database processing. That was some 8 years ago and I was around 18 years old. That’s when I decided I didn’t like that whole database management crap and decided I would instead follow another direction; I’d specialize in web design (the “new thing” back then). I was already playing with HTML quite a lot, and really liked it. I used to draw a lot when I was a kid after all, so this shift towards the creative side (as opposed to the cold stare of 120,000-records databases) was much welcomed. It was a kind of a big decision for me, when I realized I didn’t like that whole stuff I was doing. I love to code, but I realized I like it so much that I’d rather to it at home, for my own pleasure, instead of keep updating and managing databases forever.
It was just a matter of time until Flash hit the web design market bigtime and I found a tool in which I could put my design skills to use while also applying my scripting abilities to it; after all, I loved to code, I just hated to be solo on that.
Flash grew a lot since that. It learned lots of tricks, became a full-OOP language and although it has become much more technical and advanced than before, I still like it a lot even though the creative/design side of things is my main focus and that’s what I’ll be studying for years.
My first though when seeing Flash MX 2004 was “Oh, it looks a lot like Visual Basic”. From the component inspector to the new form functionality and new components, it looks a lot with Microsoft’s Visual Studio tools. That’s not bad per se; their development tools are simple and easy to use. This visual similarity is just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s not a secret that Macromedia has been concentrating its developpers’ efforts on adding nice application-like features to Flash. Webservices, Flash Remoting, data binding; they’re tools which are much more geared towards making Flash function like a distributed application than, say, a website for a t-shirt collection or for pop singer Jay Ray Z.
This is not bad by itself. Sure, lots of application-like features and components would help the development of some kinds of web sites – a shopping cart, for example. The bad part is that there are some simple features that Macromedia could have done several versions ago with just a bit of code that would make Flash a much better tool for website developers; for example, better timeline tweening (based on curves, Director-style) or new symbol process colors (Photoshop-like or preferably, equation-based). I don’t even use timeline-based animation anymore, but I can see it’d make it a much better tool for animators by adding it. Heck, I have already used Macromedia Flash as a substitute for Adobe After Effects and could think of several features that’d be much welcomed while still being strictly related to Flash.
So why won’t Macromedia care about it as much as they care about improving its application emulation features?
Well, I think they believe they’re done with the web design market. They’ve sold their millions of copies of Macromedia Flash, the mine is depleted, and it’s time to move your grunts to the next one. Sure, they could add one or two features that’d make web designers happy, but in the end they probably believe it wouldn’t sell new versions of Macromedia Flash so every new feature we see are features that, at best, are great for both application developers and web designers alike – the newly added aliased font support is a good example.
After years following Flashcoders‘ threads I realized something. The big Flash developers out there are interested in developing distributed applications, not web sites. They want to discuss data binding, big scary Flashcomm features, creating classes for all kind of distributed data. Hey, I use LoadVars and XML data exchanging on all my web projects, and it’s more than enough for anything I do – am I missing something?
I realized that, although I dropped Visual Basic and similar data-based projects some years ago, I’m suddenly shifting again towards it because of the direction Macromedia is giving to Flash. And it kind of makes me afraid. I’m a guy who likes to code as a complementation of a design work, and suddenly I realize I’m crossing the line between the 50%-50% division and becoming more of a programmer and less of a designer. More of an application expert than an animation expert. It really makes me scared. Suddenly, I’m asking what will I be doing in the next 5 years.
We may not be so vocal, but there’s a market our there for web development which is not entirely based on big data exchange, you know. The people at KNI create the best Flash-based websites around (on my opinion) and I don’t see them writing books about webservices or Flash Remoting; because they don’t need it, that’s something they don’t use. That’s the kind of market I’m into.
I’m not saying making Flash a feature-rich application development tool is a bad thing. There’s room for everyone; however, dissing the web site development community in favor of the people who wear suits and have 1,000,000-records databases won’t make a better Flash community, only change it. We may be creating content/design-driven web sites for women’s footwear brands and hype-looking pop singers, but does that makes us unworthy developers?
I get scared when thinking where will Flash MX be on, say, 5 years. With Central (Macromedia’s distributed Flash player/browser) and the recent Eolas plugin patent issues, I see the user experience-based (as opposed to data-based) web design market fading way out of the spotlight. I didn’t feel like that until Flash MX 2004 was released, but now I am not so certain that the job I do will still be worth something in the future – at least for Macromedia. The company which created Flash – which grew based on animation and simple interface designers – now has a new best friend, and it’s called distributed application developer.
Here’s something else: if I wanted to create applications, I’d do that on .NET. I used to be a VB programmer 10 years ago and even though I hate the language now, it’s easy as hell to develop on it (I’ve even created a XML Sockets from scratch recently only to be used on a Flash experiment, just to see if I still could code on it, 4 versions later – and was successfull). Comparing Flash to Visual Studio, I have no doubt which one’s easier to use: VS. Sure Flash is easier to use to create animations and RIA and stuff, but when it gets down to the core of it, creating applications on Flash looks like a hell of a hack job for me.
But who am I to say?
Suddenly, I feel like dwelling with Adobe After Effects again.