Around two years ago, I wrote a little article about OpenLaszlo, a promising RIA framework, for richability.com in which I compared it to Adobe’s Flex platform.
Since a lot of time has passed and many things changed since then, I think it’s time for an updated sight on this technology.
Back in the days when I wrote that article, my main arguments were (summarized):
- Flex can only target the Flash Player while Laszlo offers both, a Flash compiler as well as a DHTML version.
- Flex is much more popular than OL (OpenLaszlo).
- Costs for OL development are lower since Adobe’s Flash Builder (formerly known as “Flex Builder”) is quite expensive while OL does not require a dedicated IDE.
While arguments 1 and 2 still apply, I need to correct my statements about #3:
Now, regarding argument #3 from above, it must be said that actually no money is required in order to develop Flex or OpenLaszlo applications, since both compilers can be invoked from command-line, similar to the “javac” command in Java. In order to create the source code, a random editor of choice can be used. In my arcticle on richability.com, I must admit that it looked like if OpenLaszlo development was completely free of charge while Flex always requires money. This was not correct. It is possible to create both, Flex and Laszlo applications, without paying a single cent.
Now, regarding coding comfort, it must be said that a special IDE for Flex/OL development would be nice. This is actually where things change: While Adobe offers the so called “Flash Builder”, a pretty expensive (but in the same time awesome) Eclipse-based tool for creating Flex applications (which is also available as a plugin-version), the OpenLaszlo founders do not offer a comparable IDE. There is a free 3rd-party alternative available though called IDE4Laszlo.
To sum it up: Flex development does not have to be more expensive than Laszlo, but it probably will be since serious application developed cannot be done without a good IDE these days.
- Static type-safety
I really wished, OpenLaszlo would support a better programming language, like for example Java or C#.
Update: Thanks to P T Withington for the note below:
Some days ago, a guy called Femery Arnaud from France sent me an email asking why the Flash-compiled versions of Flex are so much bigger than the ones from OpenLaszlo. According to a test made by him, a sample project consisting of a DataGrid, a tree component and an image required 2.5MB on Flex and only 250KB in OL.
To be honest, I didn’t really have a quick and smart answer since I never had a closer look into file-size related issues between both technologies. My guess was that this has something to do with the efficiency of the framework-compilers as well as the complexity and size of the UI component libraries but I couldn’t say for sure.
However, it seems like OpenLaszlo applications require much less space then their Flex-pendants if they are compiled into Flash. This fact should not be disregarded since there are still many users out there with small bandwidth internet connections.
The rise of the underdog
To be honest, I have similar thoughts going around my head and I don’t have a real answer to this, but there are some facts which we are already aware of today:
- HTML5 definitely has the capability to be a replacement for many use-cases which made Flash required on the web.
- HTML5 is still in its baby-shoes. Neither is its specification finished, nor are the implementations in today’s browsers perfect.
- There are still some users out there surfing the web with HTML5-incompatible browsers.
- Flash requires a plugin which implies the fact that some users, who do not have it installed, are being prevented to access Flash content.
- Many people do not like Flash due to instability reasons. I know, this is not a hard fact, but I hear this complaint pretty often.
- HTML5 has no support for binary sockets and web-cams.
Keeping these informations in mind, I wouldn’t say that Flash gets completely “killed” by HTML5 but I think it’s reasonable to say that it will probably reduce the demand of Flash (and their developers) in the future. It is just a matter of time.
Now, here comes the bridge to OpenLaszlo since its one huge advantage compared to Flex is its compiler feature of giving the developer the opportunity to choose between Flash and DHTML output. According to rumors, even Silverlight and SVG output is being planned.
So, what does this mean to the developers? – Actually quite simple. Learning OpenLaszlo gives one the ability to target different platforms with one code base. Your customer does not want Flash? Flip the DHTML switch and you’re done. This feature makes the requirement of learning multiple additional technologies like GWT or Silverlight redundant and could give Laszlo a big boost regarding popularity among RIA developers.