Friday, May 25, 2007

Silverlight vs Flash : Mixed Emotions

The number of commentators posting about Silverlight has naturally fallen off since it's announcement. But the quality of the comments has improved a lot since the heady days of MIX. Chris Duckett posted a commentary today that has some quotes that really hit home for me:

"Even though you can view Silverlight on OS X, you will have no chance of being able to author Silverlight content without a Windows licence. This is a conscious decision. On one hand, Microsoft wants to get designers using their Expression toolset yet designers will have to come across to the Windows platform in order to do it. It may not be such a large hurdle but it is a hurdle nevertheless. Ever tried to force an OS X user onto Windows? They cry, they scream and they want their (at times) consistent GUI back."

"Therefore what is left? We have a video platform held back by a lack of distribution issues, an enforced lock-in for the tools and a lack of true cross-platformness. When it is put that way, it begins to sound an awful lot like Microsoft's previous video strategy with Windows Media."

For those interested I am still adding to the Silverlight vs Flash post list I started a while back. So if you want to catch up or review the comments so far that may be a good place to start.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

htmlText revisited

In a previous post I wrote about some of the problems I'd encountered with htmlText. In particular some oddities that occur when more than one image is included in the htmlText. Ted (who has a blogger account but no profile) suggested an answer may be found in the UITextField class. I've been keen to find time to research this further and finally found some time yesterday. It was an interesting topic. The Flash textField class is extended by the FlexTextField class. This is a very thin wrapper that overrides the toString method. FlexTextField is then extended by UITextField which adds CSS, measurement, tooltips etc. UITextField is used to provide the text component of many common Flex components (i.e Button). This all sounded very promising. Which made it very disappointing to discover all the problems I'd documented previously were still evident when the test is repeated using UITextField. I suspect that these problems may originate within flash.text.textField. But I don't have enough time to pursue this further. Seems I'll will need to keep on hacking when using htmlText.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Flex Applications

I've been asked a few times recently about who is using Flex for application development and I know there are some big names getting involved but I struggle for examples when put on the spot. It can be difficult to find examples as they are often for intranet use or developed for specific purposes within organisation. But there are some great public applications. So I am going to use this post to collect links on available Flex Applications.
Image Editing and Management
Customisers/Product Selection

3D Flash

This post is in response to a discusion at last nights Victorian Adobe Users Group meeting.

For many years people have been experimenting with 3D rendering in Flash. But until recently it was really just a toy. A little while ago Papervision 3D hit the blogs to much excitement. The other day a work colleague sent me link to Outsmarts 3D Flex demo. So here are (and I will continue to add resources for 3D Flash development:

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Getting Started with Flex

I will be doing a presentation at Victorian Adobe Users Group this Thursday. It will be an introduction to the Flex basics ; layout, components, styles, actionscript basics. Ideal for anyone who has wanted to find out more about Flex but hasn't had the time. So if you or someone you know is looking for an in on Flex and will be in Melbourne this week then it would be great to see you. The venue has a limited window of easy access so make sure you check out the access details before coming.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Digital Doorstops

Back in 2001 Marc Prensky coined the term Digital Natives to refer to the new class of students who grew up with digital technologies. He referred to the rest of us (those who spent part of our lives pre-digital) as Digital Immigrants. There is much truth in the idea of Digital Immigrants. But it's proves to be inadequate for work that is developed for use within the university but outside the classroom. As with geographical immigrants many digital immigrants embraced the new technologies. But the majority of them didn't. They accepted the inevitability of computers. They recognised the benefits of computers and how they would effect the workplace. But they accepted them reluctantly. They learned what they needed and got on with their jobs.

Let's be clear about who we are talking about here. I'm not talking about uneducated simpletons. I'm talking about the men and women now inhabit the senior and middle tiers of management and academia in most universities. These people are busy and successful. They don't want to spend their time learning new technologies (or learning the advanced tools in thier chosen technologies) if they don't need to.

As a multimedia developer I think and talk about these people every day. They are in fact one of the greatest restraints on what and how we develop. Consequently I've been feeling the need for a handy name to simplify our discussions. We were tossing around a few options yesterday but nothing quite fit. But this morning it struck me; they are the Digital Doorstops. They work within the digital domain, but they remain on the threshold. Their adoption of computers opened the door for Digital Natives and have ensured the door remained open. But they are hard to move (though not immobile : you know a technology has arrived when the Doorstops adopt it).

I feel the name is somewhat patronising and I'm happy to hear any better suggestions. But my point remains. They are a significant group not adequately covered by the concept of Digital Immigrants. A large group who are having a significant impact on the nature and cost of multimedia development. In the near future they will have a lot of influence on the what and how of technology within education. They will leave a legacy that the Digital Natives will need to deal with in the future. But it is the remaining tech savvy Digital Immigrants who are best suited to help position the Digital Doorstops.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Silverlight Developer Reference

For those of us trying to get past the Silverlight FUD this chart may provide a starting point. It illustrates the elements of the Silverlight platform.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Silverlight reveals Adobe developers insecurity

For the last fortnight the Adobe developer community has been very busy blogging and commenting on Microsoft's announcements around Silverlight. Some of this traffic has been intelligent, balanced and considered (Grant Skinner, Dave Wolf) but unfortunately most of it hasn't. Of particular note is Michael Arrington's review post Mix and the bizarre range of comments it attracted (apologies to the small group of considered commentors). What interests me here isn't Silverlight vs Flash (though that's obviously of interest to anyone involved with RIA development) but rather what the responses within the Adobe developer community reveal about that community. Considering the market penetration of the Flash player it is surprising to realise just how insecure Flash developers are. Of course, Microsoft is the market behemoth and once they have you within their sights then you should worry. But Microsoft doesn't have Flash developers in their sights. They have Adobe and Flash within their sights. Sure if Microsoft has their way we will all need to go and learn a new technology. But surely we weren't attracted to web development because of it's stability.

I can only speak for myself and certainly part of the attraction of Flash for me was that it offered the fastest path to an exciting arena without all the fuss and bother of getting a degree in Computer Science. So I do harbour some insecurities about my qualifications. But at the same time I know that one of my strengths is that I understand and appreciate the importance of design within RIA development (without harbouring any delusions about my skills as a designer) while also understanding the IT side of the equation. My experience suggests that there aren't many developers emerging from CompSci with a balanced development perspective. Obviously this doesn't fully explain the scale of the Flash communities insecurities and I'm also sure there are plenty of exceptions to my generalisation (I'm keen to hear any other theories people have). But what is beyond question is that the Silverlight announcement has served to highlight the insecurities of the Flash community ( insercurities that aren't evident in Adobe's own development strategies) and that we as a community need to take a close look at what this reveals about us.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Data Loading Benchmark

RIA Data Loading Benchmarks

James Ward has created a Flex application for benchmarking data loading for RIA's. Thinking about the results from this tool there was something I thought worth mentioning. Firstly, what is clear from the results is how much faster Flex is for parsing and rendering data sets. It's ability to parse XML using E4X is extraordinary compared to AJAX. Therefore Flex is ideally suited to anything that requires repeated and regular data requests. But one thing that isn't immediately evident from the benchmark is that the applications file size also needs to be taken into consideration. Flex applications can quickly become quite large. While most AJAX frameworks are comparatively small. Consequently an application with fewer data requests might be better suited to AJAX. You also need to consider how often users will use the application because caching will reduce the impact of file size if the application is accessed frequently. So the more often an application is used the more appropriate Flex will be.

I will be very interested to see Silverlight included in these tests so that we can start to filter out the FUD from the facts.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Video : MVC For Non-Believers

A video of Robin Hilliard's session on using MVC (Model View Controller design pattern) with Flex from webDu has been added to I attended this session and found it a great introduction to using MVC with Flex. Robin is a very knowledgeable presenter with a genuine enthusiasm for MVC.

This presentation made me realise that MVC is an ideal design pattern for most (all ?) Flex projects (regardless of scale). If you are involved in Flex development then you should have a good understanding of MVC; if only so you have the choice of ignoring it. This video is a great entry point for understanding MVC.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Farewell FetchMeMovies, Hello QuickFlix

For the last couple of years we have been subscribed to an online DVD service called FetchMeMovies. This is a Telstra BigPond service and was one of the first in the Australian market. We subscribed because living outside the cities our choice of DVD's from the local stores was a bit limited. The FetchMeMovies service gave us access to a much larger range of DVD's.

But for the last year we've been getting frustrated with aspects of the service. One aspect is that the condition of the DVD's is often poor and we've had to return quite a few as unplayable. But the main reason for our frustration is how very slow the website is. Your main way of interacting with the service is through the website hence it is obviously important that this works well. Interestingly the site is easy to use. You can do most of the things you need to do without too much thought. But you can often make yourself a cuppa while waiting for the next page request to appear.

QuickFlix is either a new service or an old service that's suddenly found it's marketing department. Either way our frustration with FetchMeMovies motivated us to use their free trial. In our tests we looked at the range of DVD's available (everything we could get from FetchMe was available through QuickFlix), speed of turnaround, condition of the disks and most importantly the speed and usability of the website. In most areas both services where on a par but when it came to site speed the difference was 10 to 1 (i.e I could load 10 QuickFlix pages to one FetchMe page). I won't pretend to guess why FetchMe's site is so slow (thats their problem) but this has made me realise just how important speed is. I guess if the usability had been poor I might have left earlier. But in the end I still left.