I’ve given myself a week to pass through the 5 stages of grief after reading that Adobe will be contributing the Flex Framework to the Apache Foundation (citation needed) and handing over the keys to the kingdom to the Spoon Project.
Talk about first world problems!
I thought that this would be the death knell to my career as I know it. Whether or not the 5 stages of grief are a valid psychological theory, I think it is a fitting metaphorical framework to outline my feelings on the matter, now and into the future.
At first I thought it wasn’t so bad. I had done a lot of research on the Spoon Project, attended their online mission-statement webinar and I admire the developers in charge. However, even with the best intentions in the world, all the skill one can muster and a clear goal, without significant financial resources Spoon will not make a scoop. I am not aware of the exact details of the Adobe-Spoon partnership, the resources involved and the final goals (although I have some idea) – and I’m happy to be set straight about this – but it seems like Adobe is trying to wash its blood-stained hands of Flex and I can’t see them contributing significant resources to it in the future.
Yes, there has been plenty of anger throughout the entire Flash & Flex community over the past week. The only thing I’ve seen like it is when Apple brought out Final Cut Pro X and video producers went mental. My brother – Wayne Kopping – who is a well-respected film director, editor and producer had almost the same reaction to the release of FCPX as I did to the news about Flex’s death.
In Adobe’s case, the reason why I think everyone feels so hard-done-by is because the future looked so incredibly rosy after Adobe MAX. When I read this post I was full of giddy enthusiasm; so excited about the future and what we would be able to achieve with this wonderful technology. In stark and almost unbelievable contrast, two of the senior members of the Flex team (Andrew Shorten & Deepa Subramaniam) released this post which made my jaw drop and my heart sink. I was growing increasingly livid with Adobe’s staff being unable to say what they mean and say it without peppering their preliminary throat-clearings with references to “experience”, “immersive” and “engaging” content.
One highly respect member of the Flash community – Peter Elst – went so far as to set up a petition on change.org calling for Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayan to be sacked. I never studied Marketing, Brand Communication or Public Relations but I’m pretty sure that when one of your most outspoken unpaid evangelists calls for the head of your CEO to roll, that’s a clear sign that something went horribly and irreconcilably wrong.
As I moved away from the anger and into the “bargaining phase”, I started to think about possible damage-control strategies.
OK, so Flex is gone – maybe I’ll just go back to doing Flash – and then I started to see the bigger picture.
Adobe’s obscure message was pretty-much saying that Flex is dead, long live HTML5. Not only do I think that statement is incredibly short-sighted, but also very wrong. This very revealing infographic shows the current lay of the land – Flash is ubiquitous, HTML5 is implemented spottier than a pimply teen and nobody should actually give a damn about iOS. This all may change very soon, but until the browser vendors can actually agree on all the important areas of HTML5, we’re going to see inconsistent web experiences for everyone and the same ridiculous cross-browser-lets-put-in-weird-quirky-crap-to-make-this-work-in-IE workflow for content creators.
What we really need is ONE browser engine and all the browser vendors who think they’re so special can put whatever they like around the page.
Let’s be honest – Flash is and was that engine. For the mostpart, Flash and Flex content ran very consistently across browsers and operating systems. I think Adobe’s trajectory towards dismantling all of the key pillars on which the magnificent Flash Platform stands is a clear sign of unabashed negligence and shareholder pandering. Trust me, I get it – companies exist to make profit and Flash was only about 2% of Adobe’s bottom line. When I think of what Adobe is doing, something Mike Labriola said on Twitter comes to mind: “the only thing worse than shooting yourself in the foot is shooting yourself in the foot while your foot is in your mouth”.
Flex was the technology on which I built my career. I am / was good at it and I could solve most problems I was presented with for my clients. I’ve built eLearning systems, password management solutions, recruitment systems and general websites and Flex gave me the flexibility to do all of those while loving work. ActionScript 3.0 is the best language I’ve worked with of the 7 I’ve learnt, and Adobe’s trajectory seemed always on the up-and-up.
Flex is being sidelined, and for the first time in my career I’m wondering how I’ll pay my rent (more on this later in the article).
I spoke to several of my colleagues to try and find out what they had in mind, and all had either seen the writing on the wall a long time ago and had been diversifying, or were taken completely by surprise like me and were clambering for some kind of equally powerful technology to use as a parachute.
What Adobe has done in the past week has killed their brand in my eyes and many others’, and it will have knockon effects for years to come. Short of sending Kate Beckinsale to my apartment with a Flex tattoo on her inner thigh – I’m not going to forgive Adobe for what they’ve done – and done with crass disregard to the thousands of developers and hundreds of companies reliant on the technology and the public perception of it.
Sure, there will still be Flex work out there – but it will mainly be coming in the form of maintenance or migration; to be honest, if I wanted to pick up someone else’s shit I’d apply to become a dog-walker for Hollywood stars.
Ah, the clear vantage point of acceptance.
I know now that technologies come, and they go; they to and fro like waves in the ocean and drown in the sea of choices. What I enjoy developing is systems that “solve real-world problems with digital solutions” and that has been my motto for years. The frontend (the client-side aspect) does not matter a whole lot for these solutions. The implementation of clear, tested and scalable business rules should always been implemented on the backend (server-side aspect) and the frontend should merely represent the data of which the system is comprised.
A service-oriented architecture is the only solution that I can think of that could ever stand the test of time. As developers, we need to be light enough on our feet to roll with the punches, and Adobe has knocked a lot of us on our butts. To stay relevant in the web-connected world, we need to focus more on the server-side aspect and the frontend should merely be the thinnest display layer to suit the particular medium in which the system is used. Flex is / was a great presentation layer; with amazing ease we could integrate services and data into our applications, but it’s a losing battle. The world wants to be “plugin-less” and we must either adapt or die.
I will sorely miss the pleasure of developing with Flex; I was always a highly motivated unpaid evangelist of some of Adobe’s tools. Now that Adobe is acting like – rather than making – tools, my dreams of pleasurable frontend development are dashed, but there are other options. Right now, I feel as though if I stick with Flex it will be like marrying a woman with a terminal disease; it will be great for a while, but ultimately this moment in time when Adobe is sending a clear message that it’s a pandering money-whore has clearly drawn a canvas-based line in the sand.
The worst part of all of this is that the Flash Community will now begin to fragment – and with that fragmentation we will see some of the best and brightest gravitating away from each other and onto slightly less green pastures. I will miss the ecosystem in which help was always given with no tit-for-tat subtext, where developers fought for their right to say that Flash was not the splash-screen technology it was before, where some of my idols would pour weeks and months of sweat and blood into providing the community with great innovations. I hope we as a community can all make it out of this trying time and come out the other side stronger, not too much more cynical and – ultimately – better developers for having made the reluctant exodus out of the fantasy world that once was the Flash Platform.