Moving Forward with Flex and Flash

Posted on Nov 15, 2011

It would be an understatement to say this has been a tough week - both for those of us inside Adobe as well as for many of our developer community. In addition to the layoffs, you'd be forgiven for feeling as though we carpet bombed major changes to our developer products, In fact, it really was only two dramatic changes that directly affect our developer community: the end to the Flash Player plugin for mobile devices and televisions and the plan to donate Flex to the Apache open source foundation. Many people within Adobe have admitted, particularly in the former case, that the communications could have been handled better. In addition, we appear to have created some sort of Internet meme around variations of the term "double-down." I know that we, as a company, have lost the trust of many within our developer community. I am hopeful though that, at least as it relates to Flex, the most recent update begins the process of repairing that relationship with the community.

In this post I want to share some thoughts I have on these topics in the hopes of both, hopefully, helping to move the process forward but also to continue to maintain an open discussion with our developer community (as I mentioned in my earlier post, my job and focus on our developer community hasn't dramatically changed). Keep in mind, these are my own opinions and none of this has been vetted or endorsed by my employer.

First things first - I Love Flex (and Flash)!
I am sitting here writing this post in my Macromedia Flex sweatshirt (that's right Macromedia Flex because I'm old skool). I started programming with Flex back in version 1.5. I founded one of the first Flex Camps which later became RIA Unleashed, though it maintained a focus on Flex and Flash. I have written a ton of articles all focused on Flex. Much of this I did long before joining Adobe though many things I continued to do after including putting out weekly updates of the best Flash community posts. The point is, I still love Flex. I know that it is a feeling I share with many people within Adobe.

Some of our recent decisions, such as the one around ending the Flash Player for mobile and television browsers, have made me personally sad. But, this does not mean that I disagree with the decisions that Adobe has made. The past couple years it has often felt like Adobe versus the world. It was like trench warfare with each side fighting endless battles to simply maintain the stalemate. We were fighting industry and technological trends we could at best influence but we could not control. The best, I feel, Adobe could promise was a continuation of the stalemate, which honestly wasn't good for anyone in the long run.

The Future of Flash Player
Does this mean we're admitting failure with Flash Player on mobile? I don't necessarily see it that way. Despite what the media is saying, Flash Player on devices worked and mostly worked very well even though in most cases content was never optimized for mobile viewing. However, as Mike Chambers recently explained, that doesn't mean it is a wise business decision to maintain the level of investment required to ensure the Player ran on the multitude of devices required while never actually gaining the necessary status of ubiquity Flash would need to succeed. I know that the general Flash Player has taken some hits along with this in part because of how it was communicated and in part, I believe, because of bias in certain areas of tech media. Still, Adobe has and continues to reaffirm its commitment to the Flash Player on desktop browsers. We have also restated our commitment to AIR on devices. I understand the lack of trust from our developer community right now on both topics, but I think, given time, we will prove our commitment towards both these products.

The Future of Flex
Of all the communications we put out this week, I thought Andrew and Deepa's initial post about the future of Flex was handled well. I think some people were bound to be upset by the decision and perceive them as washing our hands of the project, especially given the events of the past week. However, I think that in their recent follow-up clarified the position to a great extent and represents a bold move forward. I also understand that one particular quote from the original post had people particularly concerned and upset. Here is the quote from the post:

In the long-term, we believe HTML5 will be the best technology for enterprise application development. We also know that, currently, Flex has clear benefits for large-scale client projects typically associated with desktop application profiles.

However, here is what many people, particularly some in the media and subsequently many of your clients, may have heard:

Blah blah blah blah blah HTML5 blah blah the best technology for enterprise application development....oh, was there more? I stopped reading at this point.

Ignoring that the statement sounds like marketing spin, let's take a step back and I think we have to admit that it is entirely true. While I firmly believe that Flex still holds a strong advantage for enterprise application development over HTML5, I also believe that this is probably only a near term advantage that, given the rapid changes occurring in HTML5 and improvements in JavaScript development as well as tooling, could be whittled to a slim advantage in a few years. The other issue is that many companies are already moving to or planning to move to HTML/JavaScript regardless of the current disadvantages it may pose in the development of large scale applications. To me, "in the long term" is a multi-year prospect and the follow-up makes it clear that it was intended that way as written even if it wasn't always read that way. Most every company and developer I have talked to personally seemed aware of and actively planning for and responding to these trends but also reiterated that for many of their applications today, Flex is still the most viable solution. Which brings me to the next topic...

Flex is Not Dead
Let's be honest here - Flex being open source, up to this point, was a great for debugging and extending but it did not mean that the community could readily contribute to the framework in a meaningful way or directly drive its feature set (indirectly it did via things like the CAB and prerelease communities but the final decision was always made by Adobe). I have long personally advocated changing that by fully committing to open-sourcing the project in the manner that is now in the plan. Truthfully, were it not for the other events this week that engendered a sense of mistrust and lack of commitment towards the platform in general, I think this initial announcement might have been received as the good news that it has the potential to be. I think the follow-up did a lot to rectify that and clarify that this is, indeed, good news. Developers reacted positively to the announcement of the Spoon project at the last 360|Flex. In fact, the primary skepticism I heard was whether Adobe would really commit to working with the project.

Now it is clear that not only will Flex be truly community run, but Adobe will be contributing all portions including all current work on Flex 5, BlazeDS, the Falcon compiler, the experimental Falcon/JS cross-compiler and Flex testing tools. Imagine that we had announced this at MAX - I truly think the reaction would have been outstanding. Instead, we got caught up in a media quagmire falsely portraying Adobe as walking away from the Flash Platform - a quagmire that admittedly was in part of our own making.

Flex has a strong community and I think we will see the framework thrive under the management of its community. I plan to continue to be a part of that community and to promote the work being done by Flex and Flash developers. I also hereby state my intention to volunteer in whatever capacity I can towards the future development of the framework (I'm not certain anyone wants me committing changes to DataGrid but I am sure there's a place for my skillset somewhere). I think within a short timeframe it will become clear to companies that the community is a great (perhaps better) steward for the framework going forward and I think, even based upon what I have already heard, they will take it in new and bold directions Adobe couldn't. Because of this, I think if the community is committed and bold, as I truly believe they will be, Flex could not just remain relevant for years to come but, in fact, grow and thrive.

Moving Forward...
I know that many of you have been our unofficial evangelists within your companies, communities and with your clients and in many respects our communications over the past week have at times failed you in that capacity. I know that for some of you, we, as a company, may not be able to win back your trust, though I will continue to try to do so on Adobe's behalf. I am sorry.

The sad truth is that, under normal circumstances, I could be writing about many changes we made internally with excitement. Not much of this has been talked about and I am not even sure how much I am allowed to say, but I think the reorganization makes us better prepared in the long term to respond to and prioritize the needs and feedback of the developer community within Adobe. I am now on the developer relations team which includes much of the platform evangelism team, the community team and the ADC. I get to work on a team with Ed Sullivan and Michelle Yaiser, two strong community advocates and participants - something I am very excited about. We are also far better positioned to ensure that our voices, and thereby the voices of the developer community we represent, are heard. I feel that both my immediate team and the developer relations team as a whole are aware of the scale of the problems we face regaining trust and credibility within our community after this week. I also know that these are all good individuals who care about developers and the community and I think that is, at least, a good place to start from.


Joseph Labrecque This is very positive. Your perspective here and the recent exciting news from the Flex team has really given me hope for the entire Flash Platform going forward. Hope that was nearly annihilated last week.

I agree about MAX. I came away from MAX a bit worried about the future... had they made these Flex related announcements during the conference, I would have had a much more solid outlook.

Thanks for sharing, Brian. Best of luck to you and your team (and the entire community) moving forward. Awesome stuff ahead of us!

Posted By Joseph Labrecque / Posted on 11/15/2011 at 5:58 PM

Brian Rinaldi Thanks Joseph. Funny enough the initial version of this post was written before tonight's update. While the news was mostly the same, it was far more vague and understandably only added to people's worry. Andrew and Deepa did a great job helping to resolve that tonight.

Posted By Brian Rinaldi / Posted on 11/15/2011 at 6:02 PM

Glenn Gervais Thanks for the post, Brian. It means a lot to read the un-vetted thoughts of someone who is so close to the topic. I have to admit that it's getting difficult to trust Adobe when a news release requires a week of clarification.
Constant nagging rumors of ColdFusion's demise, combined with the Flash Player for mobile and Flex announcements, make it very difficult to believe that Adobe cares much about the developers that have faithfully used, supported, and defended the Adobe stack for so many years.
That being said, it helps to know that Flex will be in capable hands as for years to come. I have always loved coding ActionScript and I'm glad to know that I can continue to do so while preparing for the rise in popularity of HTML5.

Posted By Glenn Gervais / Posted on 11/15/2011 at 7:34 PM

Qusai Tabbal as I worked on Flash development for around five years , and I'm still on love of it , I can't hide my fears about the future of Flash Platform .. I hope Adobe can focus on making Flash (AIR) more optimized for mobile as well as web , adding more components.

in my opinion, I think it was a bad decision to create two different products Flex & Flash that have some lack of communication between them, for example, Flex API doesn't have components to be used in Flash-based application! this make me confused.

I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts about the future of Flash & Flex.

Wish the best for you and your team :)

Posted By Qusai Tabbal / Posted on 11/15/2011 at 8:12 PM

Coldfusion.tutor@gmail.c I had been an ardent Adobe Flex follower and fervent advocate that it beats js and html interpreter quirks. I should have known about the 'vendor lock in ' issue. At least Adobe got rid of that. Unlike WebOS you guys at least gave Flex to Open Source community. What are gour plans for flash builder?

Give that to Apache too...

I have to say i am sorry to see Adobe go out with such whimper!!!


Posted By Coldfusion.tutor@gmail.c / Posted on 11/15/2011 at 9:57 PM

s9tpepper I'm still worried. :/ This article sounds positive, and I think you for your time spent writing it, Brian. But, with all that has been said and not said this still just sounds like damage control. And the fact that it seems like every public facing Adobe employee was also caught by this news off-guard is what is particularly worrying to me. I've signed up for the Spoon project, and I do want to make an impact. I want nothing more than to see Flex succeed. I've been using it since Flex 2 beta and have always advocated strongly for its use and place in the enterprise solutions that we've brought to our clients. As much as I want to believe what you, Deepa and Andrew are saying without the stamp of approval from someone that is truly accountable, someone like a Kevin Lynch or, shudder, Narayen, actually states the long term intentions of Adobe it still will continue to feel as if the direction could be changed at any minute without them letting you in on such information. I want to believe, I really do, I just hope we're still able to convince our clients without looking foolish again. I guess at this point only time will tell.

Posted By s9tpepper / Posted on 11/15/2011 at 10:42 PM

HonestAgent Brian might as well be saying "Oh, I know he hit me, but he promised never to do it again! I'm sure he's changed this time. And it was partially my fault anyway."

It's time to accept what no one wants to: Adobe is abusive to its employees, partners, developers, customers. Their assurances, AS WE HAVE SEEN, are worth exactly nothing.

And to the idiot poster who said "I hate you Steve Jobs", well, you're an idiot. It wasn't Steve Jobs who put out such a bad product and then tried to sell it as the greatest thing. Either Adobe could not or would not fix the well-documented problems with Flash. So, let's see how strong their commitment to ColdFusion is.

Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice; shame on me. How many times does Adobe have to pull this crap before we realize they have no allegiance to anyone.

Posted By HonestAgent / Posted on 11/15/2011 at 11:06 PM

Andre Venter I feel for you, I really do.

That fact that you have to invoke your Macromedia credentials to find a base to establish trust, is clear evidence of the extent of the damage the Adobe brand has sustained in the recent "iceberg" collision.

Bon voyage "Titanic"

Going to group therapy or couples counseling has never repaired contempt. That is what the relationship status is for many loyalists at the present.

Posted By Andre Venter / Posted on 11/15/2011 at 11:33 PM

Héctor Still no news about Flash Catalyst... could anyone tell something about it? I think it could become a really great tool.

Posted By Héctor / Posted on 11/16/2011 at 1:41 AM

Graham Phillips I've been developing with the product family since Director 4 in 1996 and have had Flash in the office since it was Future Splash 2. Flex/Flash are still and will continue to be the best solutions for RIAs for a good time yet. I'm keeping abreast of HTML5/JS and it is currently somewhere around the Flash 3/4 level in terms of the quality of product one can make with it. 3D with WebGL? Don't make me laugh. Cross browser compatibility? Nope. At the very least a modern-looking language with decent OOP support? Ho ho.

The big problem with this change of direction is it is completely premature. Adobe cannot say when HTML5 will be viable. By viable I mean fully supported in all common browsers and offering the same rich feature set as Flash, with the tools and IDEs to support development. 2 years? 5 years?? Ever??? Some time in the future then. Adobe should have stood firmly behind Flash/Flex until an accurate prediction could have been made.

The first thing we'll see (and I think we are even seeing this effect already) is a big drop in positions advertised for Flex and Flash devs as companies lose faith in the platform. This in turn will lead Flash devs to reskill in an in-demand technology, C# or Java perhaps? I for one don't want to go back to 2002 and AS1, and find myself competing with the AJAX/JQuery crowd who have been building sites for years.

For a long time I viewed MS as the evil influence, and Silverlight seemed like a Flex killer for a while. I should've seen it all along, the real enemy was Adobe, and to a certain extent Apple. I will continue to develop with Flash and Flex and keep my skills up, and perhaps its healthy to try something new. But this episode marks the beginning of the end of my considering myself to be an Adobe developer. Adobe have very prematurely signalled a shift in focus from Flash/Flex to HTML5 long before it is a viable proposition. You say it is about "resource", however you also just announced record revenue for the quarter. These two statements just don't tally.

Posted By Graham Phillips / Posted on 11/16/2011 at 3:36 AM

Tyler I'm looking at this, and I think Adobe's decision makes sense. The landscape has changed for Flash. It has gone from having very little competition in any of the areas it has been a solution for to having intense competition in all of those areas. In games we have Unity and other kits aiming to take over. For mobile application development, HTML5 frameworks (and others) have arisen that allow developers to target multiple platforms. On the web, HTML5 is being adopted for advertising.

Meanwhile Flash has come to a technology crossroads. Leveraging the GPU is becoming critical for all types of applications, and Stage3D has to be the future of Flash in any area where Adobe hopes to be competitive. But Flash's existing development tools and frameworks are based on completely different systems, and adapting them would/will be a huge undertaking. In many ways, the advantages Adobe held in tooling are slowly being erased here. I think Adobe realizes this and wants to focus its efforts a little more so that it has a chance to be competitive.

By the sound of things, Flex won't go away. It will be a usable tool for as long as we need. But Adobe believes the rate of progress in frameworks based on HTML5 may outstrip it so that at some point in time, years from now, those tools will be an equal or better choice. This is of course highly contingent upon the success of HTML. It has some large obstacles to get by, not the least of which is that competition between the browser manufacturers leads them to develop unique features specific to their own browsers - something that makes life difficult for us. It's possible that Flex will retain some permanent advantages over HTML. In any case, Adobe is indicating to us that they will keep Flex usable for as long as Flex makes sense for developers to use. They just have decided that, at least for now, this isn't an area where they want to make a huge investment to try to win this particular race.

Posted By Tyler / Posted on 11/16/2011 at 9:41 AM

cftutor TO the ultra-idiot who called me an idiot...given Adobe does not have a great product in Flash, but are there alternatives that are better. Steve Jobs entered with FUD, and caused the fallout!! Because of iTunes market place, he did not want flash delivering games when he missed out on making a cool 30%...well you are an idiot

Posted By cftutor / Posted on 11/16/2011 at 9:48 AM

Brian Rinaldi I hope to respond to everyone here, but let me be clear that calling each other idiots or any other name is both unproductive and unacceptable. I don't like removing comments but I will if the name-calling continues. Thanks to everyone else for being civil even if you are angry.

Posted By Brian Rinaldi / Posted on 11/16/2011 at 9:52 AM

Brian Rinaldi @Glenn - Yes, the fears leaked into most every developer community we have, including ColdFusion. It may be because of the unexpected and dramatic nature of the announcements that caught people off guard. I wish that had been different. However, I think we have tried to do a good job of addressing concerns regarding ColdFusion with posts by the ColdFusion product manager and Terry Ryan among others.

@cftutor - While I understand your anger at Apple (I once shared it), I think it is misplaced in this regard. Back then Adobe's mobile Flash solutions weren't good and many internally told me they were happy Jobs kicked there asses in gear. However, it turned out people wanted to make apps anyway (and few were developing for Flash in a mobile browser). This led to AIR on mobile and Apple's initial ban led to the packager, which led to the captive runtime feature in AIR 3 that people were/are excited about. Jobs was wrong when he said that Flash didn't work on mobile but maybe it wasn't the solution people needed (and I think in the end AIR is).

more responses coming. thanks all for commenting.

Posted By Brian Rinaldi / Posted on 11/16/2011 at 10:31 AM

Brian Rinaldi @s9tpepper - Yes, this is damage control. I mean that not in terms of how I view Flex's future but rather how we as a company managed our communications with our developer community this past week. The same news better managed probably wouldn't have caused such an outcry. Whether it is damage control or not has no impact on its truth however. These statements are purely my own.

That being said, I know that the plan is to have further communications in the coming days and weeks that I think will help better address your skepticism.

@HonestAgent - I can't really address much of your comment other than to say, I am sorry that this has made you so angry. However, the evangelism team and the product team have all reaffirmed the plan for ColdFusion going forward including ColdFusion 10. As Ben Forta stated in his comment thread recently, as long as CF continues to sell well it will continue to be produced.

@Andre Venter - I mentioned Macromedia simply as an indicator that I have been a Flex fan for a long time. A lot has changed in the years since. I have no doubt that Macromedia, had it survived independently, would have come to many of the same conclusions.

@Héctor - You are right. I am working on getting details about Catalyst.

@Graham Phillips - I think the recent update shows we are standing behind Flex. We are not just donating the source of many projects to Apache, but we will have engineers and resources dedicated to assisting in moving the projects forward along with the community. No one is saying HTML5 is ready today either...but I think denying that it will ever be is very mistaken. However, I really do believe that the community can help keep Flex viable for years to come. I know most if not all the leaders of Spoon and they are all extremely smart and talented people I respect. I wished that much of their vision and many of their ideas could have already been implemented in Flex - now they can.

Lastly, I don't think viewing this in terms of who the "enemies" are is productive. This is simply about technology choices - not good and evil.

@Tyler - Thanks for your feedback. I think this is about Adobe adapting. We're in the midst of dramatic changes in the industry for sure. It makes for both exiting and scary times.

Posted By Brian Rinaldi / Posted on 11/17/2011 at 5:49 AM

Warren Brian,

I thought it might be helpful to hear from a corporate VP of IT perspective. We have spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars building flash (and now AIR) apps using Flex and Flash Builder. Here is what corporate management just heard Adobe say...the future for enterprise application development is HTML5. It doesn't really matter that you think it may be 3 or 5 years down the road before it's viable.

Now...what reason do I have to invest more in hiring Flex developers and pay to train my existing developers on Flex if I know Adobe thinks the "future is HTML5"? And why do I need to buy your expensive tools to get there?

I have a new large project starting the first of the year. We were planning on using Flash Builder 4.6. Now I'm not sure I want to go that way. I read the commitment to Flex and Flash Builder as temporary. Here is what my CEO hears on CNN..."Flash is dead". What do you think he is going to say when I say "we are excited to start our new large project and we are targeting FLASH"?

Why do I want to purchase CSX.X if I can do HTML5 with "free" tools? Adobe has to have the worst marketing department I have ever seen! I'm no marketing genius, but I would have waited until you have a viable Flash Builder like tool to build HTML5 apps before saying stuff like HTML5 is the future for enterprise applications. Now all my developers (who love Flex) are thinking they are working with a dying technology. It kind of reminds me of when I was in a shop developing with Delphi.

I think if you want to keep your developer community and corporate technology management on board, you folks better move damn fast to sell us on your vision.


Posted By Warren / Posted on 11/18/2011 at 9:08 PM

Paladin I believe Flex will be better tomorrow, because I think we can do something that can make Flex faster improvement and more satisfactory.
I will move forward with Flex and Flash. I love them!

Posted By Paladin / Posted on 11/19/2011 at 4:26 AM

Andre Venter Flex is done.

Posted By Andre Venter / Posted on 11/19/2011 at 5:02 AM

Riverfang I for one lose faith in Adobe. Simple and clear.

Adobe should consider selling itself to Google already, so at least it has a side in this mobile era.

And i seriously have no idea what Adobe was doing in the past few years. They had such a good prospective. Why did they make their own damn browser that has native support for Flash and optimizes Flash to the point of perfection? It'll easily achieve huge popularity, given how much people are playing games on Flash.

But now it's just too late for everything.

Posted By Riverfang / Posted on 11/20/2011 at 5:08 AM

Igor Too much for explanations, just don't know how to believe Adobe anymore, deep inside you guys's heart you KNOW that the whole platform is falling apart, Jobs is not right, but adobe makes him right.

Posted By Igor / Posted on 11/20/2011 at 9:13 AM

Warren At this point the only thing that will save a great app development environment is for Adobe to put Actionscript and Flash Builder in open source along with Flex.

I think they have blown their relationship with their development community as well as tech management.

Flex->Actionscript->Flash Builder is a fantastic enterprise level application development system. And we are neck deep in mobile app development. I can't even imagine what it would be like to develop a large enterprise ERP system with the current HTML5/Javascript tools as compared to Flash Builder.

I call this one epic screw up on the part of Adobe.

Posted By Warren / Posted on 11/20/2011 at 5:54 PM

Mike I wonder where Flex/Flash would have been 3-5 years from now. I would guess 3-5 years even farther ahead of HTML5/Javascript.

Adobe, you must remember that most os us developers were in some way or another developing in HTML/Javascript/Ajax before we went to Flex.

Why do you think we went to Flex? I can tell you that HTML/Javascript/Ajax can not produce the results obtained in Flex.

I programmed in Coldfusion/Javascript for 15 years and there is NO WAY I can produce in HTML/Javascript what I can produce in Flex. I've had .Net developers tell me they can't produce what we can in Flex.

I won't even discuss all the browser issues(too many to mention).

Adobe, you're letting a good thing get away!

Posted By Mike / Posted on 11/22/2011 at 8:19 AM

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My name is Brian Rinaldi and I am the Web Community Manager for Flash Platform at Adobe. I am a regular blogger, speaker and author. I also founded RIA Unleashed conference in Boston. The views expressed on this site are my own & not those of my employer.