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Disappointed with Adobe

To put it simply, Adobe is slow

I 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 simply, Adobe is sloooooow. I mean really slow, and I’m not sure what’s the reason.  I know some people from the 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 felt as if we are in a small country club chanting, “We are the best.”  Flex developers knew each other by name. Adobe Flex technical evangelists were Gods. This was different from the 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 saw 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 move 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.

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More Stories By Yakov Fain

Yakov Fain is a co-founder of two software companies: Farata Systems and SuranceBay. He authored several technical books and lots of articles on software development. Yakov is Java Champion (https://java-champions.java.net). He leads leads Princeton Java Users Group. Two of Yakov's books will go in print this year: "Enterprise Web Development" (O'Reilly) and "Java For Kids" (No Starch Press).