As an application delivery solution provider focused on securing, accelerating, and optimizing web applications, we pay a lot of attention to web application development trends. Languages, environments, and technologies are all of significant interest because in many cases the decisions regarding development affect the security and performance of applications deployed in production.
AJAX-based applications, for example, can have a significant impact on performance of the application and on the network (and vice-versa), so we pay attention to its adoption and use and are always looking for new ways to secure and accelerate applications using the technology.
Back in August, Stephen Shankland discussed "the Web app war" but came to no conclusion except that the war would continue. That's safe to say, I think, and a nice neutral position to take.
When most folks discuss Web application technologies they discuss it in terms of capabilities and the technology. Can it easily handle audio? Video? Graphics? What's the environment like? I'm not ignoring these very important facets, but I'm also not ignoring what everyone else seems to ignore - the business of web application development.
Flash is awesome stuff, it really is. But Adobe, despite its great business acumen, has always failed to recognize the impact of cost on adoption of development environments and languages. The software giant continues to price its products out of reach for everyone but the most dedicated hobbyists and enterprise markets.
A college kid or general hobbyist is just not going to be able (or willing) to afford Adobe's products.
That's important because it is generally the next generation of developers who drive the revolutions development. They have the time, the energy, and the passion to learn new skills and environments, and they do. They experiment, they innovate, they learn and then they take those newfound skills into the world of IT and share it. This eventually generates a lot of forward momentum and galvanizes young developers into pushing for this new technology whenever possible. Web 2.0 adoption was, and is, driven primarily by "digital natives", the next generation. The same holds true in the world of development. It is the next generation that drives the "next big thing."
What they don't have is cash. Unfortunately Adobe expects quite a bit of it if you want to develop Flash applications. Yeah, yeah, I know the Flex SDK is free. But the development environment is not, and open source alternatives have been slow to come to market because Adobe is not completely open with many of the specifications for its underlying technology.
Even Microsoft, who traditionally offered only discounts to students and hobbyists for its development environments, came around and realized that in the war for Web apps you have to win the "hearts and minds" of developers, and to do that you have to give them the chance to play with the technology. For free. Microsoft and Adobe were essentially the last two holdouts in the "pay to play with our technology" game (IBM had already adopted Eclipse and moved to offering free, community editions of most of its popular Web application development tools and platforms) and Microsoft recognized it needed to attract and hook the next generation and hobbyists so it began offering up express editions for free. That left Adobe to stand alone, unwavering in its decision to charge handily for its development environments.
Couple this with the fact that HTML and AJAX really need no environment. Notepad (or vi if you're me) will more than suffice for developing applications. If that's not enough, there are plethora of free editors and environments available; no charge at all.
With Microsoft's Silverlight nipping at Adobe's heels with its ability to easily integrate video and audio and manipulate graphics, Adobe needs to reevaluate its strategy in the War for the web if it wants to gain ground. But historical evidence suggests it won't.
Therefore, Flash is unlikely to ever "win" the war of the Web application. The technology will continue to maintain its entrenched position at the apex of Adobe's hill, while the rest of the combatants go around them and continue to pick up more troops.