Wednesday, 20 June, 2007

AJAX vs. Flash vs. Java

Every few years, the Internet lights up with a buzz about some new technology. A decade ago, that was Java. A year ago, it was AJAX. Now, smarmier sites like ‘The Register’ and ‘Good Morning, Silicon Valley’ have correctly echoed the assertion that AJAX stands for “We finally got Javascript to work!” AJAX is actually “Asynchronous Javascript and XML”. But really, is it better than Flash?

Between Java, Flash, and AJAX, we have three ways to make a web page less like a document and more like a program. But before we take a step further in deciding whether AJAX or Flash is worthy of competing with Java, maybe we’d better consider that we can have both!

Meet AFLAX. AFLAX, it says right here on the tin, is the way to combine AJAX and Flash and have them work together. If the demos are anything to go by, you’re going to see this catch on. The movie player is smooth, the flaming text is the best yet, and you will not see a transparent refracting glass object slide around with such ease and accuracy. Oh, and the developer has cooked up some kind of interaction with Google Gears. Buzz about the other stuff all you want; I’m keeping an eye on AFLAX!

Google Gears, by the way, is yet another innovation from Google based on Javascript/AJAX. If big corporations are anything to go by, AJAX is a big winner based on Google’s faith in it, while Flash will always be the fair-haired child of Adobe, and Java… Sun killed Java, and even open-sourcing it hasn’t raised it from the dead. Look, Java can do anything Flash can do, plus it can do desktop applications like Flash can’t. Yet a year after Sun open-sourced Java, under the same GPL as free Unix systems, and not one new Linux distro has bothered to glance at it. Free Unixes already reverse-engineered their own Java implementations, or moved on to AJAX.

Flash may stay in the running, but it is getting to where it needs to break out of the web browser window if it hopes to stay ahead. So far, Flash has been about games and cartoons - some web sites try to build their whole site out of Flash and have mostly gotten rejected for it, except for flashy portfolio sites. Artists are supposed to be showy, after all. The rest of the world wants something that is practical.

AJAX and AFLAX are practical, with AFLAX adding the chrome from Flash. And if Google picks up AFLAX, that will be the final shutout for Java, and Flash will only be along for the second-stringer ride. What about you, audience? What other web-based technologies give these three a run for the money?

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