Zoho CEO on Flash vs Javascript

Zoho is an online office suite. I was interested in comments from Zoho’s Sridhar Vembu on why it is coded using Javascript rather than Flash. He gives five reasons:

  1. Web standards. “Flash, for all its advantages, sits in a separate space from the browser.”
  2. Open source libraries more widely available
  3. Vector graphics can be done in browsers (SVG, VML)
  4. Mobile support – “one word – iPhone”
  5. Smaller size = faster loading

Note that he is not rejecting Flash in all circumstances; he merely regards it as less suitable than Javascript for his company’s premier product and web application.

Convinced? It’s a fair case, though I suspect you could equally easily make a case for Flash, citing reasons like:

  1. No need to code around browser differences
  2. Faster code thanks to just-in-time compilation
  3. More consistent font rendering across different platforms and browsers
  4. Easier coding of complex effects and layouts

Sridhar’s most compelling point

One way of investigating further is to contrast the Flash-based Buzzword with Zoho Writer. They are very different. Zoho’s user interface is busy and cluttered by comparison, though it has some ambitious features which Buzzword lacks (Insert Layer, for example). Personally I prefer the cleaner UI. But is that really because of Flash vs Javascript, or simply the outcome of different design decisions? Zoho’s apps are like its website, too much stuff thrown at the user. I count 25 products advertised on its home page – fourteen apps, four utilities, one beta, four add-ons, two uncategorised (iZoho and Zoho in Facebook). Overwhelming.

Users don’t care about Flash vs Javascript; they care about usability and productivity.

Another twist is what happens when these apps introduce offline support. Zoho has already done so, using Google Gears, but I don’t much like the implementation. It is modal and intrusive. I want offline synch to happen seamlessly when I hit Save; it should only raise its own UI when there is a conflict. There is also the point that Adobe’s Kevin Lynch made at the Max conference last month (and no doubt elsewhere): it is counter-intuitive to open a browser, when offline, to access a web application. Adobe has AIR, and Mozilla is also working on solutions to this. But to my mind Flash has an advantage here. Think: AIR, web storage, local cache. Whoever gets this right will grab a lead in the online office wars.

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3 comments to Zoho CEO on Flash vs Javascript

  • We rebuilt our online office solution with Google Web Toolkit, you can check it our here: http://beta.contactoffice.com

  • Tim,
    There is a design philosophy choice to be made. At Zoho we believe in rich, reasonably full-featured applications – and that is actually consistent with the goal for the RIA architecture of Adobe as well. So my post was in the context of enabling such rich applications just how far Javascript has come. We use Flash in the Zoho suite (Zoho Meeting relies on it heavily, for example), and a year ago, I remember thinking we would do a lot more Flash development this year than we actually ended up doing. That was really the gist of my post. It is never a religious issue for us.

    As has been pointed out often in the past, most users use only 20% of the features of an application like MS Word, but the trouble is that each person uses a different 20%.

    Having said all that, I concede that the Zoho suite can look cluttered (we have been criticized for insufficient UI consistency & integration across products). Partly it arises from our depth-first philosophy – the goal is to make each individual product usable and useful by itself, before we integrate.

    That issue is orthogonal to Javascript or Flash and any deficiencies in the way we use these technologies should not reflect on their intrinsic merit.

    On the off-line capability, it will evolve. We are working with the Google Gears team (I want to commend their excellent support!) to make the whole experience a lot smoother and more automated. What we have today is essentially a “life-saver” – I have to get on the plane, and I need my crucial documents at that time – kind of thing. That’s why we offered it in read-only mode first and have now extended it to read-write (with some limitations, which we will address over time).

    Thanks,
    Sridhar

  • Ok, I just tried buzzword. Cleaner UI? Maybe by the narrow definition of counting the number of widgets on the page. But it feels strange, alien because it’s not using my browser’s native widgets. The tab key didn’t even work in the login screen.. I didn’t get too far.

    I agree w.r.t zoho’s home page though. They’ve got to focus on a few of their products!