Flash Killers - Java FX, Silverlight, Groovy and Xoetrope

by Paul Browne

It wasn't meant to be this way, but I spent most of the IJTC talking to people about Flash Killers. Technologies that look good, work in any browser and are powerful enough to deliver enterprise applications with no installation.

  • Dejan Bosanac, was speaking on Scripting in the JVM. He was kind enough to give me a copy of his book which (for the first time) has got me seriously considering Groovy. Maybe I'm about 3 years behind everybody else on this , but I get there in the end! Dejan's book (Scripting in Java: Languages, Frameworks, and Patterns) is available on Safari

  • Guillaume Laforge talking on Groovy completed what Dejan had begun. Ironically, I didn't see the talk , but it was the reaction of the people that did that got me interested.

  • Xoetrope (an Irish Open Source company sponsoring the conference) was demonstrating the XUI framework. Initially I thought that the world did not need another Java presentation framework. What changed my mind is that this has two edges - the first is the IDE - a plugin for either Eclipse or Netbeans , similar in drag and drop style to Visual Basic but generating clean XML Files. The second is that you can deploy on the Desktop (as either SWT or AWT/Swing), or as JSP / HTML. You can download XUI (and IDE plugins) from sourceforge.

  • Richard Bair from Sun were talking about Swing and Java FX (more below). Sun is threating to deliver on the initial promise of Java Applets (Write once, deploy anywhere).

  • Strange for a Java event, but Microsoft was giving out disks containing Silverlight

None of the above technologies really solve what I'm looking for; Ideally we'd have a version of Flash (that almost everybody has installed / designers know how to make look good) with Java embedded in it (we need the processing power of the client). Think modern version of Java Applets. Realistically we'll have to go for 2nd best as such a thing doesn't exist.

More on the Java FX Stuff: James Weaver of the JavaFX blog was good enough to talk through these requirements. I've been promised a blogpost on deploying a JavaFX Script via Webstart. With that, and if Sun makes good their promises on consumer usability in the next version of Java, then maybe we have a Flash Killer. While Sun has dropped the ball in the past (note that it was Microsoft and not Sun handing out CD's) the response times for the FX team for a casual query about Webstart (which is not their area) gives me some hope.

If you are interested in JavaFX, another good resource (you wait ages for one , then loads come along at once) is Angel Leonards introduction to JavaFX Script.


Matt Frye
2007-11-12 17:33:02
How about Gnash? Gnash is now the default media player in Ubuntu. Gnash is equivalent to Adobe Flashlite, roughly a swf v7 player with ActionScript 2 support. Gnash also has swf v9 and ActionScript 3 under development, making more swf v8 movies work every day.
Gnack, a new company founded by Bob Young (founder of Red Hat), aims to productize Gnash as a media player, browser plugin, and multi-platform, all-purpose, media streaming server based on Cygnal.
James Ward
2007-11-12 21:16:17
Ideally we’d have a version of Flash (that almost everybody has installed / designers know how to make look good) with Java embedded in it (we need the processing power of the client).

Have you looked at Flex? http://flex.org
Flex is free and in the process of becoming Open Source.

Flex provides you with a programming model very similar to Java and it uses the ubiquitous Flash Player as the VM. Flex is purely UI so you will still need to build your back-end with Java or some other technology. But talking from Flex to your back-end is easily done with RESTful or SOAP web services.


Paul Browne
2007-11-13 00:32:48
@Matt - thanks for the Gnash link , another form of Flash Killer. What I'm really interested in are Java technologies that look as good as / have as many clients installed as Flash.

@James. I've blogged about Flex before and the Flex alternative , OpenLaszlo. Flex is good, and I glad to see (via your blog) that Adobe now have a Linux version of the Flex builder.

I like Flash because it looks good and it's everywhere. That might be a very 'lightweight' comment for a developer but it's important to users.

However , in this case, I've a particular (unusual) requirement in mind where I need Java on the client. And it was a good excuse to re-evaluate the choice of presentation technologies that are out there.

James Ward
2007-11-13 06:59:00
Hi Paul,

Cool. I'm curious though what you need Java on the client for.


vance Dubberly
2007-11-13 09:14:39
Flash killers you say. That's almost funny. Maybe flex killers. There is something us programmers really fail to understand about Flash, It's a design tool. It's easy for people who are visually oriented to design/develop visually appealing tools with. Most flash sites you see, and many of the good ones are developed by people who never wrote a line of code. Even when code is used most of the work is done using the "timeline" and the code is used as a kind of glue. Things are changing, programmers and developers are moving to Flash/Flex/Actionscript 3, but that's because HTML / Javascript have failed to evolve. NOBODY except hardcore Java developers even consider the above, the bad taste of bad applets and having to program instead of design still linger... that said I'm very excited about JavaFX. But very leary, based on the past, about it's adoption.
Paul Browne - People and Technology
2007-11-13 13:27:16
@James. It's attempt number 4 at world domination. Don't hold your breath :-)

@Vance I went with the 'Flash killers' because the title sounded better than 'Flex Killers'. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story!

Seriously. I like Flash - I really do. I'd blog more about the OpenLaszlo book I bought if was an O'Reilly title (I'm sure Tim wouldn't mind, but it's courtesy). I think Flash is so good as a User Interface / has such an install base with users that it's number 1 target for everybody else.

2007-11-13 14:42:47
"Ideally wed have a version of Flash (that almost everybody has installed / designers know how to make look good) with Java embedded in it (we need the processing power of the client)."

What is it that you would want to do with Java on the client that you cannot do with Flash? Access the local file system? Connect to a database? Do you really need to do either of those things on a client? Is there something else?

Why does everyone want a Flash killer instead of just using Flash?

Paul Browne - People and Technology
2007-11-14 04:37:50
@Michael : Nothing against Flash, but I'm a Java guy first, and use Flash 2nd. Flash is very powerful with Action script, but Java is even more so. So I choose the right tool for the Job: Flash for presentation, Java for heavy lifting.

Now if Java had the good things Flash had (looks, availability in most browsers) I would be even happier!

Bradley Holt
2007-11-14 15:00:52
I think plain old XHTML/CSS/JavaScript will be making a comeback. Most of what Flash is used for can be done with well structured XHTML, CSS, and JavaScript. My personal preference is jQuery (and jQuery UI) for the JavaScript end of things because it allows me to treat JavaScript like CSS - it's about marking up well structured content, just with behavior instead of style.

Look at Apple's website for an example of this trend - they've removed all Flash and replaced it with JavaScript. It still looks just as "flashy". You could argue this is because of the iPhone (which doesn't support Flash) and Apple didn't want their own site not working on their own device. However, I think it's a signal of a bigger trend towards simple markup as a way to create rich Internet applications.

2008-01-21 01:27:39
You may want to check out WireFusion. It has a built in 3D engine, lots of widgets, image processing capabilities and an integrated Java editor. The resulting presentations work in any browser supporting Java 1.1 or above.