Macromedia reinvents the Web

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Simon St. Laurent
Mar. 11, 2002 03:05 PM

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Macromedia's Flash MX seems to be an effort to take over the Web with Flash, and discard the useless bits that Macromedia doesn't happen to control.

Remember the scene in Aliens where the baby alien emerges from the guy's stomach? Flash has been tunneling deeply in the innards of browsers and web site development, and its latest iteration (Flash MX) looks like a full-blown attempt to emerge and kill its host in the process.

Macromedia's lack of interest in Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) and its waffling, opposition, and sometimes departure on Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL) always suggested that the company was more interested in technology it controlled rather than any notion of a shared Web. Flash MX cements that perception.

To take just a few choice bits from a whitepaper dripping in corporate hubris:

"The ability to deliver true value to users is forcing many companies to look towards richer models for Internet applications; models that combine the media-rich power of the traditional desktop with the deployment and content-rich nature of web applications. Companies are also anticipating a growth in the use of web services, or reusable software components that are used as services over the network, and looking towards a world where applications will need to share functionality and data across many types of client devices. These trends are driving the industry towards next-generation rich clients."

Perhaps that's news to Macromedia customers, but surely Macromedia itself has noticed the immense amount of effort put into specifications to do just that at the W3C and their implementations in Mozilla, Adobe, various Open Source, and even Microsoft projects.

"Efficient rendering through vector graphics. The core graphics-rendering engine in Macromedia Flash, whether for full images, animations, or simple user interface controls, is a vector graphics-rendering engine. Unlike bitmapped interfaces that must send data for each pixel in a screen, vector-based interfaces need only send the mathematical description of the interface. The result is much smaller files and faster transmission. Another benefit is that vector graphics scale much more easily to a variety of different form-factors, whether smaller monitors with constrained screen space on a desktop, or new device formats that we have yet to consider, such as tablet PCs or PDAs."

Right, right. That's why Macromedia appears to be ignoring Scalable Vector Graphics across its entire line of products, and doesn't so much as mention this competitor in the whitepaper.

"Unlike HTML, which relies on obscure formatting techniques such as GIF pixel positioning, frames, and table layout to emulate screen regions, or on style sheets that are plagued with cross-browser challenges, Macromedia Flash provides broad and fine-grained control over text formatting."

Of course! Since multiple vendors can't seem to get CSS right, we must all march into the house of Macromedia, a company which has never really bothered to integrate such technology with the lovely Flash tools they offer.

And gee, it's so nice that Macromedia locks XML into the back room for program-to-program communications, data binding, and Web Services. They get to include XML as a check-box on their marketing information while completely ignoring the serious difference in philosophy between the mash that is SWF and open markup approaches and their separation between content and code.

For those already locked in the Macromedia box, I'm sure this looks appealing. I hope that the rest of us can stay away from the pure joy of vendor-owned solutions and put the effort needed into keeping the Web - the open Web with a big "W" - diverse and growing.

(And if you'd like an HTML-based introduction to Flash, Macromedia does offer one, though it seems to run in Flash if it can.)

Simon St. Laurent is an associate book editor at O'Reilly Media, Inc..