Flash on the Pan

Macromedias Flash is at a crossroads. Microsofts Media Player and Avalon system are clearly designed to do what DirectX did to the early leaders in the 3D graphics market, like X-Windows and OpenGL=> Borg obliteration or assimilation/absorbtion.

In the world of Smart Clients and Rich Internet Applications Flash and SWF have big leads in three critical arenas: Flash SWF is available fairly uniformly cross platform on Mac, all versions of Windows, Linux and some versions of Unix. In the mobile phone and PDA markets Flash is more prevalent than anything else but Java. Second, from a technology delivery point of view the Macromedia tech wizards are able to compress audio, graphics vector and bitmap, fonts and text plus video better than any other plugin or media player in the business. Third, go to SWFtools and see the nearly two hundred third party tools in all areas of the graphics and multimedia software business that support Flash SWF.

But there are signs that Flash may be put into the frying pan by no less a player than Redmond. The drums for Windows MediaCenter are playing ever louder. MS Press Pass bulletins on Microsoft Researchs breakthroughs in video, audio and other multimedia technologies is on full bandwidth. And now that Avalon has been allowed to embrace the old WinAPI in Longhorn Redux, the UI development team , desperate to prove their designs worthiness, is starting to rumble with “we can do this” bravado.

At the sametime, Macromedia has spent so much time putting in the dataprocessing and distributed processing hooks into Flash, that they have taken their eye off the ball of graphic design enhancements to Flash. Opportunities to delineate 3D graphics, built-in kinematics, objects workflows on different timelines and other animation graphics have had to take a back seat to Flash Remoting, ActionScript 2 components and Web Services plus the Flash Communication Processor. These are necessary moves as the the whole preentation layer with its very difficult cross platform and ANY DEVICE requirements are now up for grabs. Users really want thin fast performing clients and thick, rich clients as well. They are telling UI vendors “supply me both with minimal fuss and I will decide which to use as appropriate.” Yes, these are very demanding requirements that Flash is still the leader at fulfilling. But despite excellent innovation in Flash, the vagaries of the market including Microsofts voracious need to grow on the desktop through multimedia breakthroughs and “innovations” – these forces are driving Flash and Macromedia in and onto a hotly competitive pan.