> Hong Kong Java User Group, 31 July 2002

Venue: INETS, 2 Floor Chuang's Enterprise Building, 382 Lockhart Road, Wanchai


Rich Internet Applications on J2EE

Sunny Lun, Macromedia

Click here for Sunny's presentation

In January 2002, Sunny Lun of Macromedia showed the Hong Kong Java User Group how to use Flash Generator to dynamically create Flash content from a Java servlet.

Things change fast in the tech world, and in the first half of 2002 Macromedia revamped practically all of its product offerings under the 'MX' banner. With MX, Macromedia seems to be trying to position their products as a complete client-server solution for the Web, and in Flash MX the emphasis has shifted from 'generation' (a content-oriented approach, not ideal for highly interactive applications as it could lead to heavy bandwidth usage) to 'remoting,' in which a Flash client talks to server-side components such as session beans using a firewall-friendly, HTTP-based protocol. The application server can be Macromedia's own ColdFusion MX or JRun 4. Macromedia plans shortly to release components that will allow other application servers, based on J2EE or Microsoft's .NET, to use Flash remoting.

It looks as if Macromedia is hoping that Flash MX can succeed where Java applets have, so far, largely failed—as a universal rich client for the Web. The case has some merit—not only does Flash boast rich development tools that are oriented towards designers and user interface experts, but it could prove easier to deploy. Macromedia claims that something like 98 per cent of Web clients are Flash-enabled, although the figure for Flash 6, the only version that supports remoting, is substantially lower.

On the server side, ColdFusion MX has been re-engineered to run on J2EE, which means much tighter integration with the Java language that in previous versions, while JRun 4 is compatible with J2EE 1.3, supports XDoclet, uses a JMX service-based archiecture and Jini-based clustering, and offers Web services support. However, while Flash remoting uses an HTTP-based protocol, it is not SOAP, and connecting Flash to a Web service requires going through Macromedia's proprietary middleware. When asked whether future versions of Flash will support the ability to access Web services directly, Sunny was doubtful. This position is perhaps not surprising given that Macromedia gives away the Flash player and makes money from middleware; however, the industry seems to be moving rapidly towards SOAP, and in the face of increasing competition from Web-service enabled Java and .NET clients, it will be interesting to see for how long Macromedia can sustain this position.

With the MX product line, integrating Flash clients with J2EE becomes a real possibility, and the combination promises to be a powerful one. As usual, application architects will need to weigh the benefits against the drawbacks of using proprietary technologies.