Flexing it – II

I was scanning through my Google Reader Link Blog and noticed the number of new applications being implemented in Flex/Flash.

Flash/Flex is getting some well known names in it’s corner. I am very impressed with the way Adobe has targeted and honed the direction of the Flex/Flash platform after it adopted Macromedia. The Apollo platform that will soon come out is another crucial step in that direction. What direction is that? Flash is no more seen as the delivery tool of the infamous banner ads. It is now perceived as a serious platform for Rich Applications used by the big boys of the internet and increasingly, even in the enterprise.

The two latest examples of companies waking up to the power and potential of Flex/Flash are Google and Trillian.

Google made available the Google Talk Gadget a couple of days back which is a Flash implementation of Google Talk that can be added onto your Google Personalized Homepage. The gadget can be even be added to a blog or webpage so visitors can chat with you right there in the context of your blog. Best of all, I noticed that it has the “Call” button – so you can VoIP with your google talk contacts right there – no need for the desktop client! I chatted up a couple of friends and was pretty impressed with the implementation.

Though I haven’t tried this out, the Google Talk blog also mentioned:

“We worked hard to make the Google Talk Gadget embody the same simple, clean feel of Gmail Chat and the Talk download client–but we threw in some extra goodies too. You’ll notice that your conversations all open up in tabs inside the Gadget. And one of the coolest features in the Google Talk Gadget is the ability to do media previews. When we’re not busy working on new features for Talk, we’re checking out “Ask A Ninja” on YouTube or Friday night’s party photos on Picasa Web Albums, sending around links to this multimedia in our chats, and posting them in our status messages. It was just plain silly that our IM client didn’t know more about photos and videos other than the fact that it was a link. So by scratching our itch, we can now watch YouTube videos and see Picasa Web Albums photos inside of the Google Talk Gadget anytime someone IMs us a link or sets it as their status message. “

Does this mean we are going to see Google employing Flash more and more in their upcoming “betas”?

About a week back, I came across Astra, a version of Trillian‘s popular IM client that is implemented in Flash – for the desktop (it will also have a web client also -also, of course implemented in Flash). And they are quick to point out they are not using Apollo but rather, an internally developed technology they have termed “OS Layer”.

More over at the Trillian blog

Another web app that I am really interested in seeing how it turns out is Virtual Ubiquity that is coming out with what they like to call “the first real word processor for the web“. I believe it’s written in Flex 2 for Flash 9. Their screenshots look great but I really want to have a go at it myself before passing a verdict.

Robert Scoble had a few good things to say about a demo of VU he sat in on a while back -I usually agree with his point of view but he sometimes gets a little too excited about shiny new things – an ailment I am guilty of too.

What I am really curious about is how VU is going to support fonts and font rendering. Given my past experience with Flash, it’s hopeless at Font management and just doesn’t have the wires for it. I haven’t played around too much with Actionscript 3/Flex 2/Flash 9 but I hope they have defined their Font Management capabilities a little better – better APIs, better documentation…I want to take a look at this when I get a little time soon. Anyway this aspect of an online Word processor intrigues me greatly along with a couple of others like support for clipboard operations like copy-paste of formatted content containing images, tables etc…This ultimately will make or break a web-based Word processor in my humble opinion – operations that make desktop applications so powerful.

I *know* they can be done – question is has VU taken the pain to do it?

All in all, happy and exciting days for Adobe. Speaking of whom, -and given the context of this post, I should mention the online version of Adobe Photoshop that Adobe is planning to launch in about 6 months. It will be free and ad-supported – and it will be the best possible advertisement for the Flash/Flex platform’s power. As a developer, there is nothing that screams out a platform’s strength than a complex image processing software implemented in it! Of course, we have to wait and see how many of the desktop version’s features are “descoped” in the online version – I didn’t get an inkling many would be but we’ll see.

Adobe of course very recently launched a hosted video editing tool, Remix that it will be available as part of the tools available on Photobucket.

I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing more and more of Flash based RIAs delivered either in the web browser or in an Apollo like delivery model in the next year or two. I itch to articulate my p.o.v. on the Flash vs. Ajax pseudo-debate that’s been on for the last couple of years but that’s a whole new post.

I am perhaps a little biased towards Flash/Flex because I was heavily involved in designing and guiding Osellus‘s Flash-based interface for it’s IRIS process Automation system. Osellus I dare say was one of the first “serious” companies to recognize the potential of Flash and employ it as part of its enterprise-class product. That’s right! IRIS is an enterprise product currently being used by very qualified process teams in very large organizations – and it’s primary authoring interface is implemented in Flash!!

I am keen to know which other enterprise level products have Flash based interfaces or atleast components. If you know of any, let me know!

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