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RIA & Ajax: Article

Adobe Flex 2: Experience the Revolution

An Interview with David Mendels

At SYS-CON Media's SOA Web Services Edge Conference in New York City, we had a chance to sit down with David Mendels, general manager of Adobe, to discuss Adobe's acquisition of Macromedia, Flex, RIA, and more.

SYS-CON: Where should we begin, David, with the Adobe story segueing after the Macromedia story? I think many of the people probably expected at least a hiccup of some sort. There has been none. Is it that there is a hiccup that we don't know about or that this synergy between Adobe and Macromedia wasn't just talk, it existed and that's why?

David Mendels: I think the synergy did exist. I was with Macromedia for 13 1/2 years and now with Adobe over 14 years, so I was with Macromedia a long time. There are plenty of hiccups internally, I won't bore you with them, as you know how processes work. In terms of the strategy and the products, there really hasn't been. From the beginning we got together and there was a clear, common view of what we should do, how the products should come together. The management team now is a real mix of people who came out of Macromedia, people who came out of Adobe, and actually a few people who are new. I came from the Macromedia side and other folks came from the Adobe side. There was very little overlap and an incredible amount of synergy.

If you think about the tag lines of the companies, Adobe was about revolutionizing the way people communicate, that people in business communicate. At Macromedia our tag line was experience matters. Those things really are highly related, right? So now what we say is that Adobe is about revolutionizing the way that businesses and people engage with ideas and information. It sounds to me like a perfect mix of the two and it didn't require us to give anything up or the Adobe side to give anything up. They fit together very naturally.

The technology is about how people can involve other people in their businesses, so how you can involve your customers in SYS-CON through SYS-CON.TV with the Flash technology and so on.

SYS-CON: There's a little win-win ecosystem as well as a huge win-win ecosystem. Because of the Macromedia side you're well versed in what Flex is and was, and it was waiting in the wings just as that merger came. I'm hearing a lot of buzz; Ajax is on fire; we have everybody talking about anything that has four letters and an "x" in it, and you had Flex all ready. Where does Flex fit in? Was it lucky timing or was it skill?

Mendels: We've been building Flex for years. We've been at this for a while. We started talking about this idea of Rich Internet Applications back in 2000, 2001, around when Macromedia acquired Allaire; Kevin Lynch, Jeremy Allaire, and I and several other folks started talking about this idea of Rich Internet Applications, about people wanting to build applications that had the deployment characteristics of the Web, where you could get them out to everyone and reach all your customers, partners, and supply chains and you don't have to care what platform they're on; about richness and UI qualities and the data qualities of desktop applications, so they're more interactive, more engaging, more effective. People started to do it and push the envelope with what they could do at the time with Flash. And we said, hey, that's great, let's help people do it better. We realized that the Flash tool wasn't the only answer. It was a great answer for a class of people of a certain development model, and we said let's step back and see how can we help people who come from more traditional development backgrounds who were building more traditional enterprise applications, forms-oriented applications, workflow applications, data visualization, dashboard, customer service, and help those teams of people build these things.

So we started building Flex four years ago.

SYS-CON: That's important. We want people to understand that. This is not jumping on a bandwagon; you were the bandwagon. I suppose the next worry is, has it gotten away from you? Did Ajax sort of steal the thunder of RIA or are we talking peaceful coexistence or even more than that, a collaboration.

Mendels: I think it's a sequence of all three of those. Certainly from a mind share perspective this frees Ajax. This was coined by Jesse James Garret, I think, February 18 of last year so it's a little bit over a year old, just took off as a word, so that's fantastic. From our perspective, on the one hand, from a communication perspective, it came out of nowhere and sort of takes your breath away. On the other hand, it sort of immediately made mainstream this idea that Web applications have to be more responsive, more interactive. They shouldn't be refreshing the page all the time. Now everyone is starting to take that for granted.

Now we're saying, well, how do you do that? What are the different ways you can do that? From our perspective, we're not religious about any one technology. We've had lots of technologies over the 14 years I've been at Macromedia and now Adobe, and I think there's a continuum from Ajax to Flex and both. We're invested in Ajax. We have an Ajax framework called Spry Flex, and Ajax is great if you're incrementally adding things to existing HTML-based Web applications and you want to add a little bit more interactivity into widgets and data without refreshing the page every time.

Flex is great for building really complete, rich, scaleable, larger-scale applications that might have rich media, might have collaboration, which are data-interaction, data push and publish and subscribe; what we're focused on now and we released a couple of months ago in open source, is something called the Flex-Ajax grid, which is a way to bring them together so that you can call all of that Flex stuff from an Ajax application or vice-versa. We want to blur the lines and we want to say, use what's best for you. It's a toolbox. You have a hammer and you have a screwdriver and you have a saw, and use what's best for you.

SYS-CON: Let's just take a kind of worst case scenario, someone says, I can really get a turn about how Flex is the coolest thing but I'm going to be locked into it. We're going to hear it. You've heard it. What do you say to that?

Mendels: Usually there are three reasons why people talk to us about lock-in and why they care about lock-in. One is price. They don't want to find out later on that they're paying a tax or something over and over again. Second is skill set; they don't want to have to learn some siloed skill that's not going to pay off for them when they go and use something else. The third is interoperability. They're never running any one technology by itself. It usually has to connect to a lot of things. So in price we made the core Flex framework free.

SYS-CON: That's pretty straightforward.

Mendels: There's no lock-in there in the sense that there's no tax. In terms of skill set, we decided to standardize the core engine on ECMAScript. We joined the ECMA committee, the European Computer Manufacturer's Association. It's a standards body. ECMAScript, for those of you who don't know, is also what's known as JavaScript. We joined the technical committee. We actually are the leaders of that technical committee, what will be called probably JavaScript 2. We call our implementation ActionScript 3. It's a full standard now. We're committed to sticking with the standard so you're not siloed and locked in to some proprietary funky language. Then the third is interoperability and things like the Flex-Ajax bridge. You can call into Flex from anything outside of Flex and call out of Flex into anything else.

SYS-CON: That's quite recent so there's a possibility that many people may not know that so it's important to understand and we can find out about the Flex-Ajax bridge on the site. This is real. It's not like it's just an overnight...

Mendels: Yes, and one of our challenges is getting the word out because when we first launched Flex, it wasn't free and we didn't have the Flex-Ajax bridge, and this has been a big sea change over the last year. Our aim here is, we're not interested in being a niche technology. Adobe is obviously a very large company. We have millions and millions of customers, and our aim is to have millions and millions of developers using the Flex framework. Some of them are going to use it embedded inside of Ajax applications; some of them are going to use it for standalone, larger scale applications; some of them are going to use the server and the data services stuff, some of them aren't. Not everyone has to use everything but you can pick and choose your parts, and we're going to make it possible for millions of people to get into.

SYS-CON: One of the pleasures of that is what I see is this agility, which we are constantly exposed to. I am wondering whether what people could take from this interview is that they have a chance to connect with a company that is this agile, that does respect them. And in terms of size, you probably are going to be the next huge, huge software company.

Mendels: We already are a pretty big software company, but I appreciate your point about involvement in the community. That's always been a key part of how we approach, how we build our software. I think it's always been a key part, but actually over the last year or two we're trying to do more. We opened what we call Adobe Labs last fall where we put alpha builds of Flex out to the public and we did that with Lightroom and we did that with Spry, and we're doing that with more and more products. Increasingly you'll see us releasing our products long before they're commercially ready, for free, for people to test out, to provide feedback, and we've had 50,000 people in the beta program for Flex. We have 100,000 people downloading other products on labs. We have tons of activity and tons of feedback and it's having a huge impact.

What you'll see, I think, from many of our teams is that we are much more open about how we build our software, moving to shorter development cycles so we can talk about what we're doing and then release it and then talk about what we're doing and release it, as opposed to these long, monolithic, secretive, 24-month schedules that's more traditional in software. I think as a commercial software company we've always tried to be very open and engage with the community and engage with our developers and our customers, but I think even there we have a long way to go. I think we're learning a lot from the open source community and from other types of approaches, and saying hey, let's do more of that.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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SYS-CON Brazil News Desk 07/18/06 04:43:35 PM EDT

At SYS-CON Media's SOA Web Services Edge Conference in New York City, we had a chance to sit down with David Mendels, general manager of Adobe, to discuss Adobe's acquisition of Macromedia, Flex, RIA, and more.

SYS-CON Australia News Desk 07/18/06 04:34:02 PM EDT

At SYS-CON Media's SOA Web Services Edge Conference in New York City, we had a chance to sit down with David Mendels, general manager of Adobe, to discuss Adobe's acquisition of Macromedia, Flex, RIA, and more.

SYS-CON Italy News Desk 07/18/06 04:27:58 PM EDT

At SYS-CON Media's SOA Web Services Edge Conference in New York City, we had a chance to sit down with David Mendels, general manager of Adobe, to discuss Adobe's acquisition of Macromedia, Flex, RIA, and more.

Web Developer's & Designer's Journal 07/18/06 04:19:34 PM EDT

At SYS-CON Media's SOA Web Services Edge Conference in New York City, we had a chance to sit down with David Mendels, general manager of Adobe, to discuss Adobe's acquisition of Macromedia, Flex, RIA, and more.