The demise of Flashpaper sends a warning to developers

Do not base key functionality of your software on closed, third-party libraries - you never know what the future holds.

When Adobe purchased Marcomedia the writing was on the wall for Flashpaper from the outset. Flashpaper was Macromedia's alternative to Adobe PDF for paper-based documents on the Internet. Unlike PDF which requires a dedicated reader application (e.g. Adobe Reader), Flashpaper turns print documents into easily consumable Flash animations. Not only is Flash just as (or even more) ubiquitous as PDF, it integrates better with a user's web-experience. Consequently from Adobe's perspective letting Flashpaper live on as a potentially superior competitor to PDF on the web just did not make sense. Yet whilst this axe has been dangling above Flashpaper's head for quite some time, Adobe has only recently made it official; Flashpaper is dead, long live PDF.

This long coming announcement was a kick in the guts for businesses that have built their products on top of Flashpaper or use it for internal purposes. One bright point was that Scribd took the demise of Flashpaper as an opportunity to establish a competing product called iPaper. Whilst iPaper has some very interesting features (like integrated Google Adwords), it cannot operate 'within the firewall' on documents that are too sensitive for public release. Also iPaper's hosted architecture precludes it from being embedded into third party, redistributable applications.

Technometria's interview with Jason Smarr

Phil Windley has posted another really interesting Technometria podcast, this time featuring Joseph Smarr, the Chief Platform Architect of Plaxo:

Over the course of an hour Phil, Joseph and Scott Lemon cover a range of topics including (but not limited to):

  • The differences between traditional applications and web applications.
  • Creating efficient Javascript and the role of Javascript frameworks in this process.
  • Why HTML/Javascript is a better approach than proprietary Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) such as Adobe Flash/AIR and Microsoft Silverlight.
  • AJAX cross-site scripting opportunities and risks.
  • New functionality in Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 8 to enable better browser-level cross-site data transfer.
  • Data portability of social networking graphs and the OpenSocial API.

Overall it is a great listen and it is refreshing to hear from someone who still believes traditional Web technologies like HTML and Javascript hold a great deal of potential. I cringe each time I hear proponents of Flash/AIR and Silverlight proclaim that these platforms will eventually dominate the Web. Sure the companies behind these technologies can give a great demonstration, but do we really want to turn the clock back twenty years to a world of closed development on one or two tightly controlled platforms?

The Flash Risk: Ignoring usability for aesthetics

There is a case being heard in a California courtroom at the moment that may have serious implications on the future of pure visual corporate/government websites built on technologies like Flash. There are a number of these websites like this around that typically comprise of a fairly featureless HTML wrapper page for an all-singing and dancing Flash animation. The class action lawsuit brought against Target Corp (the website owner) is on the grounds of its online store not meeting the same accessibility standards as their physical equivalents or California legal guidelines for shopping outlets. Whilst many Flash websites have an HTML equivalent for Target did not and consequently vision and physically impaired users could not purchase goods as screen readers and keyboard shortcuts do not work in Flash environments.