I mentioned in an earlier post (about the recent Henry Stewart DAM Symposium) that one of the big trends right now in the DAM world is a shift toward client apps built on Adobe Flex technology. Sometimes it's hard to tell the Flex from the non-Flex players, however, because the grey-on-grey look and feel can also be achieved with ordinary HTML and CSS, and some vendors have actually used those technologies to achieve a distinctly Flex-like appearance for their new UIs.
MediaBeacon made a conscious decision to avoid Flex, not so much for technology reasons per se, but for larger concerns around Web standards. The company's CTO, Jason Bright, explains it this way: "Flex, like ActiveX, Silverlight, and Java Applets before them are, in a sense, replacements to the browser. Each replaces the web browser in a proprietary way. While I love Flex as a technology, I do not think it is a good strategic decision to throw out the traditional browser for a new client-server model no matter how attractive."
Part of the issue, says Bright, is the fact that Flash requires a plug-in -- it's not a browser-native runtime (any more than Java is). He adds: "Things like AJAX and HTML, driven by powerful libraries like Google Web Toolkit, allow apps to have just as much power as Flex, without replacing the web browser's native rendering capabilities." Plug-in technologies, Bright seems to be suggesting, do not steer the direction of web development. And historically, that's certainly been true.
But by the same token, web-apps that run inside the firewall (WCM and DAM apps in particular) are not necessarily subject to the same constraints as public-facing web-apps. An enterprise can choose to standardize on (or mandate use of) Java -- and Java applet technology -- or not. The same is true for Flex. Inside the enterprise, the rules are different.
Just bear in mind that the vendors who are switching to Flex are taking a gamble, and if you go that way, you're taking the same gamble. Plain old AJAX and HTML, right now, are the "tried-and-true" technologies of the browser-client world, and likely will be for a while. Bear that in mind as you go shopping for "new, improved" WCM and DAM systems.