Disappointed with Adobe

Was not planning to write this post. It was ignited by the  “Disappointed with Flex” article posted by Valery Silaev, our lead Flex/Java developer.  I’ve been working with Valery on a couple of projects. He’s good software developer. And when he says that he’s disappointed with Flex 4, you should listen.

I really value people who speak up freely and have something to say. Valery is disappointed with Flex 4, but I’d like to take it one step further. I’m disappointed with Adobe.
To put it simple, Adobe is sloooooow. I mean really slow, and I’m not sure what’s the reason.  I know some people from Flex team. They are smart. They can deliver given the right support from top management and proper investment, which is definitely not there.

Let me build the case. Slowly.
Four years ago, when Adobe purchased Macromedia, I was looking for a decent tool for development of the enterprise Web applications.  At that time I was disappointed with Java Swing. Wrong decisions at the top level of Sun Microsystems resulted in having 75% of the computers running Internet Explorer with… ten years old Java run-time. Sun Microsystems won the lousy $10B law suit with Microsoft back in 1998, but lost the battle. Their runtime (yes, the JVM) is not installed at the consumers’ computers.

Four years ago, Adobe’s Flash Player (it’s a VM too) gave me some hope. The runtime was there, the library of rich components  was there too, installing Flash Player was piece of cake. I started working with Flex.

This new for me Flex/Flash community was a bit unusual after Java. It was small.  I had a feeling as if we are in a small country club chanting, “We are the best”.  Flex developers knew each other by names. Adobe Flex technical evangelists were Gods. This was different from Java community of six million of professional developers.

But Adobe didn’t have competition in the area of enterprise rich Internet applications in 2006, 2007, 2008… Until the greatest “Me too” firm from Redmond, WA realized that RIA is the right place to be and IE is not the only browser people have. They started working on this Silverlight thingy. Two years ago they released the 1.0 version that could be ignored – nothing but video streaming was there. At the same time Adobe released Flex 3, which had pretty much everything: 98% penetration of runtime, rich library of components, fast communication protocols, and the server-side component LCDS, that nobody but filthy rich Wall Street firms could afford.

Two years later, Microsoft released three more versions of Silverlight, and the only thing that stopped them from presenting a serious threat to Flex was low penetration of their runtime. Microsoft has tons of cash and excellent engineers. During the same period of time, Adobe has released Flex 4 in hard labor. It took Adobe two years to release the next incomplete version of Flex. Why?

Being a Java developer, I was watching closely the evolution of JavaFX, yet another wannabe player in RIA.  I clearly a similar pattern there. Top-level management proclaims at every keynote that “We are the best” without giving enough juice for engineering teams that work hard developing a product.
The bad guy, Steve Jobs, doesn’t even know what Flex is. He’s not happy with Flash Player. Need to admit, he’s not playing by the rules trying to say that Flash Player is junk and a main reason that crashes the OS. He’s bad, but he’s not stupid. Adobe couldn’t offer a better response than “We love Apple”.

Yes, Flash Player is installed on 98% of desktops, as if we don’t know that not many consumers are using desktops today, and in five years they will become minority.
Steve Jobs, the bad guy, made Adobe moving just a little bit faster and they finally released Flash Player 10.1 in 18 months (!) after the 10.0 release.

Two years for the next and incomplete version of Flex. Eighteen months for 0.1 upgrade of Flash Player. Dumb pricing policy on LCDS that makes it unaffordable for even a small group of loyal customers. Not a Wall Street giant? Get out of here. Is this the way to treat customers?
Let’s get back to the tooling. This smart idea to bring together designers and developer gave birth to yet another prototyping tool called Flash Catalyst. Is it more than just a prototyping tool? Tell me why?

Here comes the Flash Builder (formerly Flex Builder). Flash developers (they haven’t seen any better) were so happy with Flex Builder 3… From the Java developer’s perspective, this was a mediocre and damn slow Eclipse plugin. Flash Builder 4 after two years of development was not a major improvement either. I’m not sure why JetBrains doesn’t want to invest a couple of rubles and add a WYSIWYG designer for Flex. As soon as they do it – Flash Builder is brain dead.

The next target is Flex 4 SDK.   The new Spark library of components with separating the functionality of components and their skinning implemented just half of the components comparing with Flex SDK 3. In two years they could have done better if they were a large company catering for developers.  But they are not. Until Photoshop and PDF remain their main source of revenue, the tooling for software developers will be pushed aside.

Adobe was and remains a small company. They do what they can.  And it doesn’t seem that they can do much more for us, developers.

Yakov Fain
P.S. This is my personal opinion. My employer may think differently.

19 thoughts on “Disappointed with Adobe

  1. I have been developing of Flex application during 4 years. Starting from Flex 1.5 until Flex 3. It was nice to get extra money for very rare technology. But as developer I haven’t grown very well, due to the lack of OOP features in AC 3.0 and overall weakness in scope of patterns, frameworks, approaches.

    Later I’ve got a chance to switch to Silverlight development (thanks god I’ve got C# experience before Flex-way of life). So now I’m more than happy. I have got a chance to leverage my skills using the real developers pattern and practices, using real instruments with a great semi-dynamic C# language.

    Silverlight is not so sophisticated as Flex. You don’t need to know the ton of hack to make app working. But it gives the real chance to be thinker and creator not just monkey-patcher and ide-lags-catcher.

    Regards.

  2. Needless to say I was very disappointed by reading http://www.marketwatch.com/story/adobe-second-quarter-net-jumps-18-2010-06-22?dist=afterbell – not a good timing to buy back shares IMHO. Adobe really needs to invest into mobile technologies – with much simpler and integrated toolkit. It is “winner takes all” case here, and they need to build mind share in mobile market now.
    With all technologies available for a while, it needs to build more adaptive run-time and expand the on-line services offering.
    Sincerely
    Anatole Tartakovsky

  3. I couldn’t agree more.
    A good friend and fellow long time Flex/Flash developer were having this very same discussion the other day.
    Whats interesting is how many Flex developers are jumping ship and starting to push other technologies such as HTML5.
    I am not saying Flash Player based content is dead, more think it will become more and more niche.

  4. MS fan boys will not mis a chance to comment on how good their new Silverlight is, give me a buzz when it starts running on non PC devices as well.

    I do agree that Adobe could’ve moved faster and it only gained speed when Microsoft and Sun started breathing down Adobe’s neck. But there is a big thing to consider. While 10.1 is a .1 release of features it’s a Full release for devices, where the VM had to be written from ground up with the the cooperation of device manufacturers (lots of them in open screen project), OS developers to name only 2 Google with Android and Nokia with Symbian.
    So Adobe pulling this off in 18 months with so many 3rd party companies involved is quite an achievement in my view.

    The Flex/Flash Builder is only a version 3 IDE, how “old” is the Visual Studio ? or Eclipse ? how many release-develop iterations did they have until now ?

    Don’t get me wrong I DO want better tooling for Flex development, but if it where so easy to implement this things there would’ve been more competitions because the market demand is there. Who’s up for the job ?

    Regards

  5. You are forgetting about the Open Screen Project ( http://www.openscreenproject.org/ ).

    The 10.1 release might be a bit lacking in term of new features(although GPU acceleration and the new text features are amazing), but you have to remember that this release is targeting a big number of devices and OSes.

    Adobe is moving in the direction that the market is moving, that is the mobile devices market.

  6. After seeing, how slow was Adobe with 10.1 Flash and how slow they about fixing the security bugs, I decided, that I’ll never create any new applications, based on Flex. Support old 3.x – ok, but not any new.

    P.s.: Adobe can close their Flex department. Few years ago they were necessary, now not any more. Even Silverlight isn’t necessary too. With a fast development of all major browsers (except slowest browser in the world – IE), you don’t really need all these plugins any more.

  7. @tearaway_Tea, it’s hard to believe you’ve been a flex developer for 4 years.

    I see AS3 halfway between JAVA and JAVASCRIPT. Not as powerful and verbose as JAVA, but way better than javascript. I think it’s a very capable language when it comes to writing visually stunning enterprise applications.
    You were not able to apply common design pattern and OOP techniques when you used Flex ? Not the fault of the language… Lacking frameworks ? Do some researches :) Sure, .NET have more various frameworks but there are some very nice ones for Flex out there.

    I never considered Silverlight a serious competitor, but let’s not step into the Flex VS silverlight fight here!

    @Yakov I agree about the Flash player. Seems like there is some serious legacy in there and it’s not very easy to modify it. On the other hand, Flex4 doesn’t disapoint me at all and even though not all the mx components were re-made, the fundations are much better for the future. Hope Spark’s AdvancedDataGrid is realeased soon :)

  8. @AlexDe

    “You don’t need all these plugins anymore”.

    Ahhh yeah the theory, the open web, the Steve Jobs letter, We all want that to be true.

    Unfortunately in practise web browsers implementions’ quality varies by a lot, the HTML5 spec is not finished, IE already said they don’t want to support Canvas, JS is shit for enterprise development, the DOM model is not very “complex application friendly”, and there is nothing near the quality of Flex when it comes to JS widget/component/application framework ( There are tons of JS frameworks but none of them is good enough to be sufficient )

    Maybe it will change in years ? Who knows. But right here, right now, HTML5 development can not be compared with Flex development. HTML is YEARS behind when it comes to richness.

  9. I don’t see much in your post about actual issues with the platform that needs to be resolved. Do you want a new Flash Player more often simply because you like new things?

    Adobe has stated that last couple of years their focus been on optimizing the Flash Player for mobile devices.
    That is obviously a huge undertaking, requiring cooperation with a lot of different partners.

    They just announced that they have shipped the player to partners for Android, BlackBerry, webOS, Windows Phone, LiMo, MeeGo and Symbian OS. For most developers that actually does not matter that much right now, but it’s very important for the future of the platform.

    Also they have added a few new exciting features since Flash Player 10 was released, for example P2P with multicasting, multitouch and hardware acceleration.

    Sure, Flash is not perfect, and could still be improved. But compared to Java and Silverlight there is a lot less left that needs improvement, even if their focus last couple of years have been on things we are yet to see the fruits of.

  10. I have worked with Flex and Silverlight in the past. I think Flex lacks good components when compared to other frameworks like ExtJS (Javascript) and Silverlight. Microsoft has done an amazing job of moving Silverlight along but I still can’t drink the Microsoft koolaid even with Mono supporting Silverlight. I have discovered that nearly everything can be done with Flash + AJAXS. Javascript seems to be the way to go.

  11. Like Leo, I read seeking what you wanted. After slowly making my way through it I think you want growth even faster. Is that the core of the post?

    (I saw a few comments about the 10.1 numbering being small, and I’d agree. But the effect — of bringing desktop performance to smartphones — is quite huge, and many thought it impossible. Is the numbering more important than the realworld effect? That’s one of the things I wondered after reading your post.)

    tx, jd/adobe

  12. @John @Leo

    1. Do you think that after spending two years on developing Flex 4 it’s OK to see so many issues like in this blog:http://flexblog.faratasystems.com/2010/06/22/dissapointed-with-flex-4 ? I don’t think it’s OK. The build quality of the product (not the feature set) and tooling can be a lot better.

    2. Compare Flex 2 released four years ago with Flex 4. Not much has changed in four years.

    3. Compare Flex Builder 2 released 4 years ago with Flash Builder 4. Not much has changed in four years.

    4. Why creating Flash Player for mobile space is taking so long (I’m not worrying about iPhone at this point). Why wasting all these years on Flash Lite?

    5. Why killing LCDS by setting unreasonable license costs ($30K per CPU)? Adobe made the right decision 5 years ago by removing Macromedia’s $15K barrier for using Flex. Why making the same mistake and making LCDS not affordable?

    I have no idea how Adobe top management makes decisions regarding investing money and resources into new development. But I don’t see it helping Flex evolution. I’m sure someone can argue that spending about $2B on purchasing Omniture (30% more that its market price at the time) is the way to go. But I’d rather see more money directed to Adobe engineering teams.

    My main message is that Adobe is moving slower than their competition, which is a slippery slope.

  13. Lee, John
    I would have to explain the perception from the field. 10.1 is great news and mixed product to say the least. It is obvious to me that code portability between desktop and mobile devices will be limited at best. It can be somewhat better on the tablets, but those are further away then even mass adoption of Android devices.
    What users wanted 1.5 years ago was Flash 9 with small framework on iPhone – before it had momentum to screw up interoperability completely. There is limited number of early adopters that drive the market. Adobe can face the same situation with Google if it does not move fast. That is Mobile Framework has to be open sourced ASAP – in 3 month you will have half dozen “light” frameworks for each platform that would not be cross compatible at all.
    Flash Builder needs to get smart and reliable. I have more troubles with help, navigation and “automatic” code corrections then ever – and the diagnostics in most cases is misleading. Features need to be frozen and fixes need to be applied.
    Finally, I would really like AIR for mobile to be different (more modular, with bits and pieces of binary code installed depending on hardware platform, with code signed binaries delivered by Adobe) – to make sure you can support new platforms faster and easier. While it sounds messy, it is the way you deal with rapid growth.
    In short time phones will have thermometer, wireless pen, will be able to talk to other household devices via p2p becoming universal remotes, replace plastic cards, books (with foldable screen) and whatever else you carry with you. Single run-time will become liability. Adobe team needs to work on those technologies now – with proper partnerships. Without it there will be no compelling reason to have cross-platform tool with just common denominator run-time.
    Sincerely,
    Anatole Tartakovsky

  14. “I’m not sure why JetBrains doesn’t want to invest a couple of rubles and add a WYSIWYG designer for Flex”

    I checked IDEA 9 with Flex support — even without UI designer it is thousands miles ahead of Flash Builder 4. IDEA makes coding so convenient and enjoyable that I doubt anyone using it will ever complains about UI designer missing. The only useful feature I didn’t find in IDEA is Flex profiler. Actually, in Flex Builder 3 I used Design view last time 3 years ago, when I did first step in Flex.

    I’m wondering, what (and when, if ever) will force Adobe to revisit networking support in Flash? It’s ironical that platform for Internet RIA can’t handle HTTP well: no PUT, no HEAD necessary to access REST-full services; no PROPPATCH/PROPFIND & co necessary to access WebDAV and derivatives like CalDAV/CardDA; even processing HTTP response status codes is limited. I can’t understand why Flash ActveX running in IE is more limited than XmlHttpRequest ActiveX from MSXML running in the same browser…

  15. @Valery
    Flex supports the full HTTP stack. I’ve written applications that connect to RESTful services, WebDAV and much more. It’s atually really easy, and included in the SDK. Do a google search for Flex REST and you will see hundreds of examples, including many on the Adobe Cookbooks which explain how to do it.

    No doubt, though that there are other IDEs that are more along than the Flash Builder IDE. But for each one of the one-offs, I’ve found things that Adobe has included in Flash Builder (or the Eclipse team has added) that makes me like it above the competition. Coupled with ColdFusion Builder (which is included in the premium version of FB), I’ve written my own wizards to help bridge some of the gaps that were missing. It’s easy and quick…

  16. I’m disappointed with Apple. And Microsoft. And Adobe in some respects. In fact, I’m disappointed with every tech company out there. But they are, after all, powered by software developers just like you and me. Our wants and desires have now far-outweighed our “haves”. We have become an increasingly greedy bunch with short-patience. The advent of instant gratification due to the rise of mobile applications has made us ill-tempered when software isn’t upgraded as fast as we want it too.

    However, I for one have been happy overall with Flex. It allows me to do things with ease I never could before. I can create an entire application, by myself, from the ground up with visually stunning results in a near object-oriented manner with plenty of frameworks, 3rd party modules, blogs, cookbooks and anything else I could want at my beck and call.

    I would normally get angry at those that fire off shots at Flash & Flex, but if people REALLY didn’t like it they just wouldn’t use it and move on. Anyone that takes the time to write lengthy articles about a subject usually does so out of passion. And passion is a good thing. I’d rather have passionate folks working under the Flash umbrella so please keep the blog posts coming 😉

  17. @Nick,

    “Flex supports the full HTTP stack. I’ve written applications that connect to RESTful services, WebDAV and much more”

    Really?
    http://livedocs.adobe.com/flex/3/langref/flash/net/URLRequestMethod.html (3.5 API of Flash is the same as for 4.0 API and corresponds to Flash 10)

    How you did WebDAV if DELETE/PUT are available only in Air and PROPPATCH/PROPFIND are not available at all? How many HTTP codes you are able to handle besides 200 and 404?

    Valery

  18. After reading “Growing pains afflict HTML5 standardization” on cnet.com I am not very surprise Adobe Flash will survive longer..

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-30685_3-20008935-264.html?tag=newsEditorsPicksArea.0

    One thing I am agree fully that Adobe is SLOW in general taking it’s own sweet time.

    Also top management i.e. CEO and CTO not using strong language (not f** language) against Apple or in defense of their very own Flash products.

    I hope smartphone version will bring flash back to dominating position but all given how fast adobe move compare to microsoft silverlight…or that matter any one RIA place.

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