Mobile Flash Dead & Flex All But Abandoned
Written by Ian Elliot   
Monday, 14 November 2011

It seems to be the time for closing down and packing up and admitting that proprietary development systems are going nowhere. Adobe has not only abandoned any further development on mobile Flash, it has also now announced that Flex is to be spun off as an open source project. But there are some puzzles left.

Mobile Flash probably deserved the chop.

It never worked well and few people had anything good to say about it. However, for continuity between the desktop and mobile browser it would have been preferable in many ways if Adobe had shown some grit and improved the product to the point where it was usable.

It seems that the writing is on the wall clear enough for all to read - and it says HTML5.




Of course, we know that HTML5 isn't the whole solution by any means, and we need a lot more than a few video tags to replace the Flash platform in its wider incarnation. If you take HTML5 to mean a whole lot of technology that is yet to be defined then, yes, it will do the job, but in many ways Adobe is more making a decision to help create that technology than to simply accept it and admit defeat.

To cheer because Mobile Flash is no more, is to miss the point entirely - we still don't have a solution to the problem.




Along with Mobile Flash Adobe is more or less giving up on Flex. It might deny this, but turning the project over to open source is really just a way of passing the problem of making it all work to someone else - assuming that someone else can be found. Flex is an SDK that allows you to build cross-platform apps that run on iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows, Mac, Ubuntu and so on. The SDK was open source, but the development environment, Flash Builder, was a commercial product. Now Adobe is passing on the entire development of Flex to an open source process. According to the Adobe Flex blog:

...we are planning to contribute the Flex SDK to an open source foundation in the same way we contributed PhoneGap to the Apache Foundation when we acquired Nitobi.

This project will be jointly led by some developers from the Flex SDK engineering team along with key developers from the Flex community, including members of the Spoon Project and contributors from enterprise companies currently using Flex. Flex SDK feature development will continue under a new governance model and Adobe will continue to contribute to the Flex SDK.

It seems that Adobe thinks that PhoneGap plus HTML5 is the way of the future and plans to spend its time working on new tools to make development easier.  After all, PhoneGap, which was recently open sourced as Apache Callback, allows you to create HTML5/JavaScript applications that run as native apps on mobile phones. The apps so created are "native" in the sense that they can be submitted to app stores and the user has no idea that they are not standard apps. 

Some of the Flex team will be moving to HTML5 development. So will others take up the challenge of making Flex go forward into the future, when its original creator has made it plain that some sort of augmented HTML5 development environment is the way forward?

Adobe plans to release Flex 4.6 (on November 29) and then move to the new open development model.

What does this mean for Flex?


Another good question is what does this mean for AIR?

AIR is a technology based on Flash for building apps that run on a range of phones. It uses Flash but not in a browser to run ActionScript and MXML apps which can also make use of parts of the Flex framework.  The Flash based runtime is also extended to provide access to the native facilities offered by the phone. Yes, AIR does the same thing that PhoneGap does only using ActionScript and MXML.  Adobe says that it is going to continue to support AIR but this doesn't really seem likely in the long run as they have HTML5 based PhoneGap which does the same job - and have made a preference for HTML5 very clear.

At the moment the situation is best described as a mess with Adobe seemingly unwilling or unable to clear up what the future holds for the linked technologies of Flash, Flex and AIR.

Who can say what the future holds for these technologies as it all depends on the enthusiasm of its current users and how demoralized they are by the clear statement by Adobe that HTML5 is best.

So it does look as if Adobe isn't really keen on Flash, Flex, ActionScript etc. and, while it is trying not to panic its users and trying to keep an air of professionalism, you have to ask if Flash itself is now at risk. Clearly its days are less certain and we might be on the brink of saying goodbye to Flash and the whole bundle of technologies that Adobe created to make things work before HTML5.

You might think that it is a good thing that we are moving towards a standards-based development environment but you need to keep in mind that even standards are negotiable. Microsoft currently ignores the standards that don't fit in with its plans - such as WebGL - and Google adds standards to its browser that are far from standard.

Just because you think that the world is moving to public standards, do not think that companies will not use them as proprietary weapons to keep their products distinguished from the rest.



More information

The official Flex blog post

Callback and PhoneGap Build


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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 16 November 2011 )