May
19

The Future of Flash in the BI Space

With the recent back and forth battle between HTML5 and Flash and their place in the future gaining even more extensive tech-media coverage, we’ve been keeping a close ear to the arguments and have attentively followed both sides of the story since our core products and supporting technology rely heavily on Flash and Flex.

As the marketing and PR battle rages on between Apple and Adobe, blanket statements are being tossed around regarding the viability of both HTML5 and Flash technologies as if they’re competitors. So far, this debate has only served as a disservice the community in general as the misinformation train continues to board people in high places who don’t completely understand the technologies and begin to make decisions for their organizations that are driven by the general influence of external, biased companies promoting their own product interests, as opposed to properly assessing project technology needs based on other factors that have more, real world substance.

Many people have voiced their opinions on this topic and it’s certainly not breaking news though we thought it beneficial to speak directly on the future viability of Flash and Flex for enterprise Rich Internet Applications, specifically in the Business Intelligence space.

Flash and HTML have both been and are still going to be around for a long time for one very good reason: They both serve an indispensable purpose on the web and for supporting business applications that run on web based technology. Both of these technologies fill in unique gaps and should be used as complimentary technologies and not as competitors or as “one-or-the-other” choices.

With the new release of HTML5, some of the new and long awaited features included in the specification are: A new caching utility to support offline web applications, video and audio API’s with native video embedding, a drag and drop API, new form controls and validation utilities that don’t require custom coding, new online and offline data caching capabilities and a 2D drawing API for rendering vector graphics and images on the fly, just to name a few.

With much respect to HTML5 and the forward progress it is making with the aforementioned features, in the BI space of developing RIA portals, dashboards and data visualizations, I’m having a really hard time seeing where HTML5 could even come close to Flash or Flex technology, without a herculean effort, as many have suggested. I say this as an engineer who has years of experience in both camps. For the past several years, since the very first Flex Alpha release, I’ve been enthralled with the Flex technology, the API’s, the SDK and how rapidly one can develop a highly interactive and infinitely customizable application to solve even the toughest challenges and fill in the most demanding requirements. I won’t get into a punch-down list or table of comparisons between HTML5 and Flex/Flash for BI because it would be both unfair and irrelevant; rather provide a higher level assessment of these technologies and the value that Flash brings in the enterprise BI space.

When considering what technology to adopt and run with for enterprise BI projects, below are just a few of the fundamental categories that I consider to be compelling factors that set Flash and Flex far ahead of the HTML5 pack. For most developers, these go without saying.

OOP Rapid Development

Flex technology is simply and absolutely indisputably light years beyond what HTML5 can bring to the table in this arena and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Why? Because Flex is a highly adaptable software approach developed on top of a robust and comprehensive ever-expanding tried and tested SDK that leverages the powerful concept of Object-Oriented Programming with ActionScript. What does this mean aside from the fundamental benefits gained when comparing a full OOP approach to a scripting language? While HTML5 is getting up to speed and is only scratching the surface of Flash capabilities with its new list of features, Flex and Flash are evolving on a frequent basis with an impressive progress rate and evolutionary leaps of capabilities in each release of the Flex SDK which also happens to have release cycles much faster than releases of HTML (a year or 2 for Flex releases vs. years and years for HTML ). This advantage ultimately means a faster time to market/delivery, lower development costs (because so much is already baked in and easily extensible), much more flexibility and feature-rich applications that can continuously evolve in shorter cycles with much less effort.

Cross-Platform Compatibility

While HTML5 and browsers are constantly taking strides to reduce this gap, cross platform compatibility will remain an uphill issue for HTML5 and its new features for the foreseeable future because there are so many factors that come into play. This is nothing new; it’s the same sort of compatibility issues we’ve always had to deal with when using browser scripting technologies.

Flash has few differences between platforms, most of which are minuscule when compared to those found in HTML applications. Testing and developing for cross-platform compatibility takes a hit on developer productivity, which can have a significant ripple effect. Flash applications in general require exponentially less cross-platform testing, which is a big part of the draw for developers and organizations alike as it saves both time and money.

SDK and API Evolution

I was thoroughly impressed to see that HTML5 has snapped to with native access to a handful of very useful API’s and enjoyed thinking of the new mashup possibilities while browsing the some of the new features in action while taking the IE9 test drive. This is a great step forward for the web and is a direction that will certainly continue to grow.

Flex allows developers to build on a comprehensive SDK which is perfectly suited for BI and enterprise development, complete with a base charting framework, classes for data modeling, and an ever expanding arsenal of highly adaptable frameworks and 3rd party open source BI technologies.

How fast the HTML5 direction and evolution of its tooling will grow is a good question, but one thing remains certain, and that is that Adobe Flash and Flex products will always be leading the way a good 10 steps ahead and setting the new innovative standards into the future of RIA technology and rich experiences on the web.

The State of Flash Mobile

Flash is alive and thriving in the enterprise and will continue to do so, especially with the imminent release of Flash support for many mobile platforms on the horizon. The mobile platform is another example of where these two technologies can co-exist and add tremendous value to one another. The prospect of having a mobile device with these powerful features combined opens a new world of possibilities and we’re absolutely champing at the bit to get a hold of the Flash releases for Android.

Conclusion:

Flash and HTML will always be a part of the web, serving as complimentary technologies that drive value and ultimately combine forces to provide for an optimal application and user experience. However, they should not be compared or pitted against each other for web dominance arguments, because it’s unfair, inapplicable and way off base. The “versus” argument has no merit when discussing these technologies for enterprise business applications, which is where a large disconnect of understanding around the argument is running rampant. In short, we need to be sure we’re always basing our technology decisions objectively, on technical facts and sound research and not on any particular media hype machine.

Evan DeLodder is a Senior Software Engineer focused on the development and application of cutting edge Rich Internet Application technologies in the Business Intelligence space. To learn more about him, please visit our new FleXcelsius page.

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6 Responses to “The Future of Flash in the BI Space”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Timo Elliott, Matthias Zeller, The Xcelsius Gurus, crystalreports, Sam Clark and others. Sam Clark said: RT @timoelliott: RT @XcelsiusGurus: The Future of Flash in the BI Space http://bit.ly/94q0ZC #Xcelsius #BOBJ <– v. relevant discussion! [...]

  2. Mustafa says:

    Hi Evan,

    You raise some very good points in your post. Similarly, I’d be interested to know your thoughts on the future of Silverlight. While Silverlight has been playing catchup to Flash/Flex so far, Silverlight 4 appears to be emerging as a very strong contender in the rich enterprise application space.

    What are your views?

    Mustafa.

  3. Evan DeLodder says:

    Hi Mustafa,

    Thanks. I think that you said it best. There’s no doubt that Silverlight is a strong contender and I think it will continue to gain momentum moving forward. From a technology standpoint it’s robust and complete much like the Flex and AIR offerings and with player support in Safari and Firefox it will be very interesting to follow its progression and to track its penetration (impressive and growing so far).

    http://www.statowl.com/custom_ria_market_penetration.php

    I’m personally excited about Silverlight, and if anything, it creates a highly competitive environment which is a catalyst for great innovation.

    -Evan

  4. Elan says:

    Hi,
    I am interested to know the possibility of building a dashboard in xcelsius which could be accessed from Blackberry. Is this possible? If so any special software or add on tool is required along with xcelsius to build this. Are there any best practices for this.

    I would greatly appreciate your answer on this.

    Thanks in Advance.

  5. Evan DeLodder says:

    Hi Elan,

    RIM smart phones should be supporting Flash in the not-too-distant future.

    http://na.blackberry.com/eng/developers/resources/adobe.jsp

    It will be another great addition to the smart phone world. Xcelsius as it stands today has its challenges and isn’t fine tuned for mobile development, but you could definitely do what you can to target mobile devices. Hopefully Xcelsius will ramp up on the mobile front in some way soon.

    -Evan

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