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Flex/Flash Solve A Lot of Problems: They May Be Disintermediating the Browser

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 20, 2007

Joel Spolsky gave out a big yada yada post over at his blog that wound up saying the browser incompatibility has got to stop.  He draws parallels with how portability won the day in programming languages.  A lot of what he says is right, some of it is just plain wrong:

The winners are going to do what worked at Bell Labs in 1978: build a programming language, like C, that’s portable and efficient. It should compile down to “native” code (native code being JavaScript and DOMs) with different backends for different target platforms, where the compiler writers obsess about performance so you don’t have to.

It’s a fond rememberance, but C definitely made the programmer, not the compiler writer obsess on performance.  C was and is a portable assembly language.  So many of its features include pre- and post- operators, wild pointer arithmetic, and macros are drawn straight from the instruction set of the PDP-11 it was created for.  Writing a C compiler is pretty darned easy, and the list of optimizations you can do on C is relatively short because the language is already basically an assembly language.  But we digress.

Spolsky wants to rely on some sort of compiler to generate Javascript/DOM “native code” that every browser will get right. 

My response, posted to somewhat the wrong place in Sam Ruby’s blog, was to suggest that things like Flex are solving this problem for those that want to build RIA’s.  Imagine my surprise when I went on down the blog reader and found Ryan Stewart saying essentially the same thing!  And there were others, such as Tim Anderson.

There is that old saying: once is bad luck, twice is coincidence, and three times is enemy activity.  Woot!

This made me think back to my 7 Tactics for Building a Guerrilla Platform and see that Adobe (and Microsoft with Silverlight wants a piece too) has used a few of those tactics.  Heck, they’ve used every single tactic:

Tactic #1:  Launch a great application that contains a thinly concealed platform.  Flash was the great application for animation.  Flex is a platform built around Flash.

Tactic #2:  Give away a distributed open protocol.  Flash qualifies here again.

Tactic #3:  Be the middleman and establish a bridge protocol that resolves the differences in other platforms.  Hey, that’s what we’re talking about here, resolving browser incompatibilities!

Tactic #4:  Talk down your platform:  “Don’t mind us, we just want to help web designers make cool stuff on the web.  We like all the other web stuff too.  Tra-la-la-la-la.”

Tactic #5:  Minimize the friction to get in a little bit at a time and maximize lock-in.  Check!  The more content you produce, the more inertia you have to keep you with the platform.  Meanwhile, Adobe tells us they have 99.99999% or whatever it is penetration and nothing else comes close.

Tactic #6:  Quid pro quo.  Give away something valuable to make platform participants unwitting participators in your plans for platform domination.  The Flash player is free.  You do want to see all that cool Flash content, right?

Tactic #7:  Give away a Widget on another platform to subconsciously convert people to supporting your platform.  That Flash in my browser is an awful lot like a Widget, isn’t it?Isn’t it cool to see all 7 tactics at work simultaneously?  Those Adobe guys sure are smart, huh? 

I love it when a plan for world domination comes together…

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