Yesterday I had read this article
on Macromedia Central development and whether or not it is worth it. It made me consider some of the experiences I have had as a Flash Developer since Central has been available to develop for. I am a fan of Central, and I do believe it is something that users would benefit from, but something is wrong.
Many times I have presented Central to clients we have developed RIA's for and each time I met resistance. The RIA's for those clients were often prime candidates for the technology, but clients would rarely even express interest as it as an option. As a result, I have compiled a list of a few things that I think would really help Central succeed:
1/Destroy the Central Identity.
Central's biggest flaw is that it is another piece of software with a visible brand. Clients do not like the idea of downloading yet another application to interface with their content or applications. However, I do not really believe that it is the enviornment they are scared of, it is the fact that it is yet another enviornment with another name. "We are building a Flash app, why do we need Central?"
When we were developing the SNL Merger Model, this seemed to be a major issue. The client was unwilling to introduce yet another name and brand into the mix when deploying their application, even though the application would see huge benefits in the Central enviornment. The developers there though had worked with the .NET framework in the past to deploy applications, and were totally prepared to deal with an enviornment outside of the browser, but Central was not a sell because of it's visible branding.
They were amazed at how it downloaded through the Flash Player though, and realized that it was alot more efficient than a .NET deployment, but the branding was a show stopper.
So the solution to this issue in my mind is to destroy the Central brand. Instead, give the perception that what is now Central, will be just an extension of the Flash Player itself. Perhaps call it the 'Flash Application Player' (that is dumb, but up that alley), just as long as it looks like an extension of the Flash Player itself.
With this change developers and clients will be much more open to the concept.
2/Application Cross Communication is not relevant actually undesired.
Many of our clients were actully turned off Central, when they saw that it had to behave with other applications. Blasting data is a truly innovative feature but clients immediately get worried. First off, if a compeitor's application has the ability to consume your data, that is a show stopper. This feature does make sense but only in the context of a suite of applications.
Seems selfish but it is true. Our bigger enterprise clients are not in the business of allowing their compeitors to leverage their tools, so even though this is cool, in the real world it does not seem to sell.
Where Central can improve in this area, is to again destroy the idea that everyone's application should play on the same field at the same time. Instead they should focus on applications launching by instance rather than all together under one roof.
3/ Give me a framework, do not give me a template
Central's concept of an Application, Agent, Pod, Notifications are pretty cool, but they force you into developing an application that is only semi useful. Each element, especially agents, are useful, but all together force a template mentality that does not benefit the bottom line. By this I mean, my clients do not want to develop a Central application for Macromedia, they want Macromedia to provide them with better tools to develop their application.
There are times where I would love to launch another window, but that window definitely has no business being a Pod. Agents seem useful but they can be more of a hinderance than anything else. Using SWFStudio for example I can create an application that has the application window, but also can be running in the system tray if minimized or closed. This would be preferable to managing handoffs between Flash Player instances for the different components of a Central App.
So again the solution here, is to realize that there is a demand for Flash Applications with increased access to the desktop, but the demand for a preconcieved application framework is not there. Macromedia made a mistake with Central in guessing that the end-user would like to behave within the template framework they had layed out for Central. The truth is that most large application providers that would create the killer apps for Central, do not see that framework as one that caters to their application. So in other words, there is not enough flexibility in that framework.
4/ Take on the Competition
It is unfortunate that Macromedia is being forced into direct compeition with Microsoft here, but hopefully they will rework Central to join the battle. I have seen some amazing things done with Smart Client technology on the .NET platform. Things up the alley of web applications interfacing with Excel and Word exchanging data directly.
It seems that large enterprises select a platform and try to implement it accros the board, and as Microsoft starts rolling out more and more Smart Client technology, the Flash Platform is going to have a hard time nudging out that level of compeition.
Microsoft is really focused on making business more efficient with their future RIA strategy under .NET. I though, have always sang in the Flash choir, and I want to see them focus on similar objectives. Flash is growing into a very signifigant platform. It has advantages like total ubiquity, and mind blowing small file sizes, but it will not win the future RIA battle that is coming unless the bridge to the desktop is brought to the forefront. Regardless of how much we all want to get away from the desktop, the true power of future RIA's lie in embracing it.
This has been a major issue since the start. I think it should be irradicated totally. Above I mention that Central should really just be an extension of the Flash Player, or at least appear that way. That empowers the Flash Platform and provides more incentive to adopt it in arenas where Smart Clients will dominate. The platform must be as powerful as possible, and liscensing the runtime will kill adoption, and therefore kill the concept.
Make money on the tools for development and content creation, the runtime is the incentive to adopt those tools. On this one, I am not speaking from my perspective, I am speaking from the view of an outsider that would have deployed an application on Central without those constraints.
Maybe the issue with Central has been it's target audience. I feel that it should have been designed to empower enterprise rather than developers and everyday internet users. The enterprise-level needs the heavy lifting of the desktop shell, but at the same time needs total control of the enviornment.
Perhaps the current Central concept is to far ahead of it's time.
Now that Adobe and Macromedia are merging, I can't help but think of the fact that huge possibility lies in the idea of Central. The application Macromedia Central itself should be discontinued though. The reason for this,
No enterprise in need of high level RIA's will turn away from the idea of using one of their most familiar tools to run RIAs that bridge to the desktop.........
Welcome to Adobe Acrobat, your hopeful Macromedia Central of the future.
It would be interesting to see Acrobat evolve into something that blurs the gap between document and application. It could potentially change software methodologies totally, by reversing roles. Consider the idea of dragging an application on to data or content, rather than the idea of dragging a document onto an application.
You are working on a presentation, and when you are done you drag and drop a video conference right onto it and get started.
This would be a radical evolution for both PDF and Flash, but at the end of the day, you would be looking at a platform that could truly change the way that people interact with digital content.