|Flash as a stand alone browser|
Dave Winer had this to say in his high traffic blog [scripting.com] on March 27:
|What did Macromedia do that was so bold? They broke out of the browser. Now Flash is a browser on its own. We don't need no stinkin HTML, DHTML or whatever. And they support XML-RPC and SOAP 1.1. Nice. |
What is he talking about? Anyone know?
[edited by: tedster at 4:40 pm (utc) on Mar. 29, 2003]
An earlier "set up" comment:
|Later today Macromedia will announce a new product, one I've been wanting for seven years. I'll wait until the press release runs before explaining why it is so important, why it will be controversial, and why the controversy won't matter. |
Looks like you've found it, Jeremy. I look forward to Winer's comments.
Just read most of the article - my head is already spinning with ideas. Imagine an offline 'interactive' component of your site - if you have ever really wanted to do a 'whiz bang' like flash intro - but you didn't want to scare away customers this could be good.
One site I am involved with could really use something like this, it could dramatically improve the interactivity and perhaps enjoyment of the user interface for some of the web services.
In the past, I worked on a site that had some downloadable flash games - which were hugely popular for well over a year. After seeing the success of that, I have been very interested in flash, but use it only sparingly in design - as I think online it works best that way.
Extending a web site to a user whilst offline - in the highly interactive fashion that only flash can do could be make the web a very exciting place, even offline.
Thanks for remembering that Macromedia was set to announce the flash extension - looks like they are calling it Macromedia Central. ;)
A while ago I discussed with a friend the idea of Flash becoming powerful enough to deal with basic HTML. Then recently, I suggested Flash to Eric Meyer [meyerweb.com] as a solution to his font problems with browsers.
Just think - Flash has the potential to become a browser. What this means is that we can finally use any font we want and have it smoothly rendered. But more importantly, Flash looks the same in all browsers! Because it uses the same engine, you don't get problems web designers face every day, such as large differences between browsers in layout, spacing and usability.
Flash offers the chance to finally rid ourselves of the browser battles, which get worse with every new version release.
You can also have a layout that the user can resize depending on their screen size. It works so well too, because Flash is based on vectors. Naturally, this makes shapes easy too - no need for SVG plug-ins.
Accessibility has been improved in Flash MX and will surely be strengthened again in the future. XML support is already there, so database connectivity is possible, along with network support. I believe forms are also able to be used.
What do we need to make this happen? Obviously a translator to take HTML code and display it in Flash. Or perhaps we should now be producing our code as pure XML and serving it to Flash or a standard browser (as XHTML) as required?
I had the idea for a new language - FHTML - Flash HyperText Markup Language. This would be basic at first, dealing with headers, paragraphs, images, links and so on. But enough to translate simple web pages into Flash.
An option might also be built in to allow for small screen sizes such as PDAs, plus font and colour choices.
Forgive me if I'm barking up the wrong tree here. If I've lost the plot big time, let me know. Only I've considered this to be an inevitable route for Flash to take. Exciting stuff.
I am curious how this will affect director. What difference are we looking at between shockwave and Flash now? When can we see the big merge? If Flash goes off line and supports some sort of executable, it will just take on Director functionality and not really break any new ground.
I think Flash is ok, if used carefully, but it has its own set of problems:
1. Non-spiderable content.
2. Single screen design means having to reinvent the scrollbar!
3. More difficult to track user behaviour.
4. Version compatibility problems. Not everyone is on MX.
5. Designer bloat - 'Does making the product spin like that explain it any better?
6. Bizarre navigation systems - 'I have to drag it over to the strange amoeba thing and drop it in its mouth? Silly me..'
We design some major sites and have been sucked into the Flash trap on numerous occasions (clients want it). Every time Flash has been central to a project the user satisfaction has not been as high as would be expected. Users get put off by things that 'Don't work like other sites'.
We tend to use Flash as icing on the cake when a user has reached the destination on a site. It's ok to have a Flash movie to illustrate the benefits of a product, but (D)HTML is best used to lead them to the product in the first place.
Designers love Flash because it lets them play at being games developers.
I love (D)HTML built sites because there are common design conventions that you can use so that your audience 'gets it' quickly and doesn't have to stop to think about whats going on. Ooh - hark at me! I sound like Steve Krug..
This sounds similar to Java Webstart. I know there is a lot of interest in the Java community about using richer GUIs for applications that are Internet enabled and launchable, and Webstart fits this niche. Folks figure this is one of the reasons Sun is fighting so hard to get the current Java runtime on Windows (now that is on Mac OSX as well).
It is also interesting to look at this in light of other GUI platforms like Mozilla XUL that are now extensible, Internet enabled and launchable.
From the software developer perspective, I know a lot of people who feel Flash's movie origins make it less suitable for application development than working in more traditional software development tools.
What I think is really interesting is how, or to what degree, any of these non-browser GUI applications can combine to be part of an overall Internet user-experience. Up until now, there contiues to be something of an "either/or" dynamic of online browser experience vs desktop application.
Flash, as potentially being better suited for creating "virutal world" experiences than other GUIs, may be able to do something no one else can in facilitating a way to maitain and possibly extend the "cyberspace" user experience between the browser and the Flash player.
If you could take folks from your sites into a richer experience, what kinds of things would you want to do besides whizzy drop-down menus and streaming a/v?
This will be interesting, Macromedia has a history of bungling the direction of their products - I can see the need for Joe Blow the Web Designer to have a controlled framework where he can keep purchasing plugin apps (which is my take on the MM Central app), but of they already have Director and Lingo, which are light years ahead of Flash for scripting... But they appear to be letting that avenue die the Authorware death...
At best, this is a great opportunity to soak corp clients who always want eye-candy closed source stuff everytime they have some budget money burning holes in their pockets!
An article on Mac Central [maccentral.macworld.com] yesterday also mentions this development. It's mostly a regurgitated MM press release from the look of it, but some details do get filled in.
|Macromedia Central will be free and available for end users this summer. Some Central applications will be free, while others will available for purchase. Developers interested in creating Central applications in advance of the product's availability can contact Macromedia for access to a Macromedia Central Software Development Kit (SDK), due for an April release. |
Nothing new from Dave Winer today.
The question is - do we want to replace the browser, or create a whole new product? Thinking about it, it might seem pointless to make an exact copy of say Mozilla, when that has taken years to get where it is today.
It might be better to focus on a limited, more specific interface. I was interested to see on the BBC News recently a graphic of a map which was drawn over with lines and symbols. Strangely, they chose to show the device that was used to draw over the map, being a small screen with a series of about 6 buttons at the base, and 3 tabs on the screen. From this, the user was able to select various graphics with a pen. I thought why aren't browsers like this? Do we need all the redundant buttons and wasted space? Look at the toolbars, restricting the viewing window.
Having said that, sites that offer their own navigation buttons are a turn-off.
Kai's superb interfaces are a possible source of inspiration. The rounded menus and smooth Helvetica fonts seen in Bryce for example make me lust for a browser like that. Or one with a whole new interface design. Do we really need to continue to emulate Netscape 4?