In The Brain of Peter Elst: The evolution of the Flash Platform & ActionScript 3.0
Review: The evolution of the Flash Platform & ActionScript 3.0 at Skills Matter, Sekforde Street, London 18:30 to 20:00
This was my final London Web Week event, my curiosity for Flash had been piqued somewhat by my attendance at the onAIR London event even though I don't usually follow developments in this area, so I hoped this would be a good talk for getting me more up to speed.
I was late for the start of the talk, but I don't think I missed too much. When I got there Peter was talking about the use of Flash in digital art installations, I assume as part of a segment on 'good' uses of Flash. He then moved on to some of the new features in ActionScript 3, some of the highlights of which are: a new, more consistent, API based on ECMAScript 4; E4X; a new Event model; and support for binary sockets (which allows connections to arbitrary network services). Peter then discussed the many tools available for authoring and delivering Flash content with AS3, one of the refreshing things about the list was the number things on it which had recently been released as open source.
Next, common Flash myths were addressed. The first was the SEO issues - while it's true that search engines will struggle to crawl an all Flash site, they can, thanks to the Flash Search Engine SDK, extract the static text and links from Flash movies. Adobe are currently working with Google and others on ways for search engines to extract dynamic text and understand context. A related myth is that it's impossible to do deep linking on a Flash based site, but with the SWFAddress library it's possible to provide URLs for particular elements of your movie as well as support the back and forwards buttons in the library. Flash has traditionally required non-validating markup on its underlying HTML page, but with SWFObject that is also a thing of the past. Finally Peter expressed his frustration at people continually comparing AIR and Silverlight, AIR is a cross platform runtime environment whereas Silverlight is a browser plugin (actually, more like Flash) - they are different things and there's no point comparing them.
Having covered the current state of 'stuff based on the Flash runtime', Peter moved on to look at the future directions for the platform. One of the big changes is Adobe's drive towards open source, some of the key projects which have been open sourced are:
- Tamarin Tracing - a version of the virtual machine which uses trace trees to optimize JIT compilation (pdf) and should be suitable for 'constrained environments' such as low end mobile phones and other embedded devices
- Flex SDK - previously an enterprise application server selling for big bucks, now free to download and plug in to Eclipse
- BlazeDS and the AMF file format - similarly, an enterprise solution for feeding live data to Flash front ends now freely available
- The Open Screen Project - possibly the most exciting of all, Adobe have removed licensing restrictions on the SWF and FLV specifications, making it legal for anyone to develop a Flash player for any platform (64bit Flash here we come?), and removing licensing fees on Flash and AIR to encourage adoption in the embedded space
The last demo we saw was a guy at Adobe who'd written a C/C++ to ActionScript cross compiler, which allowed him to compile popular C libraries, such as libxslt, to ActionScript and make use of them in Flash movies - adding features which are just not available in native Flash. The culmination of his talk was a demo of Quake running in Flash after being ported to ActionScript from C. Most of the videos we saw are on Peter's blog if you want to check them out.
Overall this was a pretty good talk, I got what I wanted out of it. It was quite difficult to hear what was being said on the videos as they were just using his laptop speakers, but I grapsed enough of what was going on from the video bits. I give it . out of 5
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