Adobe favours HTML over Flex, retreats from its enterprise app platform

Adobe has stated that Flex, the xml-based language for developing applications that run on the Flash runtime (also known as AIR) will gradually give way to HTML 5:

In the long-term, we believe HTML5 will be the best technology for enterprise application development. We also know that, currently, Flex has clear benefits for large-scale client projects typically associated with desktop application profiles.

The company is also giving the Flex SDK to an open source foundation:

we are planning to contribute the Flex SDK to an open source foundation in the same way we contributed PhoneGap to the Apache Foundation when we acquired Nitobi.

though Adobe will continue to contribute to its development. Adobe also states that it will continue to develop the Flash Builder IDE for Flex.

I am surprised by this announcement. I understand Adobe’s reasons for abandoning Flash for mobile devices, but since you can use Flex with the packager for iOS or the captive runtime for other mobile devices, it is not necessary to abandon Flex as well.

But is Adobe abandoning Flex? Not as such; in fact the statement linked above says that Adobe is still “committed to Flex” and “committed to Flash Builder”. The problem though is that there are several clues showing that Flex is in decline and no longer strategic.

First there is the statement about HTML5 versus Flex in the long-term.

Second, Adobe says it is not sure what is happening to the Flex roadmap as discussed recently at the MAX conference in Los Angeles:

The Flex roadmap will be determined by the governing board once it’s been established. We plan to contribute framework features previously highlighted as part of Adobe’s Flex roadmap, into this new project.

Third, the delivery of a project to an open source foundation can be interpreted as a signal that a company wants  to distance itself and lacks commitment to its long-term success. I would not make that argument with respect to PhoneGap, but for Flex I am not so sure.

It may already be too late. Imagine you are an Adobe partner trying to sell a Flex project to your customer. What answer do you have when your customer says, “but isn’t Adobe moving to HTML 5?”

When Adobe made its first announcement about the change in its business model I came up with the phrase more publishing, less programming. That view was further strengthened by CEO Shantanu Narayen’s recent post:

The future of the Internet comes down to content – creating it and monetizing it. This is where our customers rely on Adobe, and it’s what is shaping our strategy moving forward.

I take this then as not only a retreat from Flex, but a retreat from enterprise application development in favour of content creation tools.

Charles Humble at InfoQ has an informative post on this issue here.

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