Flex, JavaFX, or Silverlight?

Which, if any, rich Internet application is right for you? Why?

Recently and rapidly, the combination of JavaScript and XML (Ajax) has improved the Web experience. Using Ajax, wholesale page reloads are unnecessary; feedback is more immediate; and browser-bound applications act more like desktop software. I use a number of Ajax applications (High Rise, online banking, Google Mail) and enjoy the productivity.

Alas, Ajax is not a panacea. The server still generates page content — now including code, too. Worse, browsers (and there are at least five in mainstream, widespread use) are consistently inconsistent, translating to a herculean effort to validate a Web application. (Never mind that HTML and CSS rendering in the browsers is inconsistent as well.) Further, Ajax security is dubious at best. (See Security Problems in JSON by Joe Walker.

Ideally, a Web application would be apportioned to match the strengths of each of the Web tiers: Interaction on the client. Business rules and persistence on the server. And indeed, that’s exactly the model proffered by three new development technologies: Silverlight from Microsoft, JavaFX from Sun, and Flex from Adobe. In each, an application is something like a video: it downloads from the server and runs in a specialized browser plug-in. And the results are impressive.

But why choose Flex over JavaFX? And why not use Silverlight, since Internet Explorer commands the world? What exactly did Adobe, Sun, and Microsoft release as open source? And, finally, is it just hype — remember Active X and the old Java mantra, “Write once. Run everywhere”? Are Rich Internet Applications here to stay — or are they just another Internet fad? Worse, do users get segregated because Safari on Mac OS X doesn’t run Silverlight applications?

I hope to answer some of these questions for myself in the coming weeks and will post thoughts and findings here. In fact, the new O’Reilly book Programming Flex 2 just arrived at my door from Amazon. Other Flex books are in the works from Apress and Wrox; I’ve not yet learned of books on Silverlight or JavaFX, but would expect Apress to have a Silverlight book shortly.

In the meantime, if you have information or an opinion I should consider, please send email to martin dot streicher at linux-mag dot com. In general, watch my blog for news, analysis, and opinions on open source and software development. I may even post a little code.

Update:I’ve received a handful of responses so far. Many reminded me about another rich Internet application technology: OpenLaszlo. I will add it to the grid. The same responses seem to indicate that developers are kicking the tires of each of the new software toolkits. Others have been using OpenLaszlo for some time.

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