So Adobe made a series of announcements yesterday regarding changes to the Flash roadmap, and typically some of those decisions have had the Flash community up in arms again. Last year I made a conscious decision not to get involved in these often heated debates but I thought that one major piece of news from yesterday was worth blogging about. That news of course is the abandonment of ActionScript Next (AKA AS4) and the new accompanying virtual machine.

I was sooooooo looking forward to ActionScript 4. As far as I’m concerned, ActionScript performance is one of the last remaining bottlenecks and Adobe’s plans to eliminate that impediment via a new version of the language was a mouthwatering prospect. So as you can imagine, I was more than a little upset when I read over the new roadmap changes only to discover that there will be no new version of ActionScript.

For most, the development of ActionScript Next was a declaration of intent from Adobe. It showed a long term commitment to the Flash platform. Understandably yestreday’s news has once again got the community in a spin with many believing that this is another strategic move away from Flash. Perhaps it is. I just don’t know.

Now while I’m upset by the news, I actually find it quite hard to argue against Adobe’s decision. For the last six months or so I’ve had continuing nagging doubts regarding the validity of a new ActionScript. Here are a few of the things that were playing on my mind and I’m sure Adobe’s too.

Transitioning between language versions

The process of transitioning from one version of the language to another isn’t always smooth. I know many developers who never managed the leap from ActionScript 2 to 3. I even know people (mostly designers) who found the jump from ActionScript 1 too much.

Personally I was pretty late to take up ActionScript 3 due mostly to the fact that my work at the time was focussed on legacy AS2 code and the same could likely happen with AS Next. It’s not always easy convincing an organisation to ditch its existing codebase and start all over again. In fact, one of the reasons we adopted AIR for some of our mobile projects at WeeWorld was because we had an existing ActionScript 3 codebase to work from. ActionScript Next could have blown all that away making our case for using AIR weaker.

Lack of third-party libraries

A new version of the language brings about another problem. Initially there will be a distinct lack of third-party libraries. For starters, Starling, Feathers, and Away3D, which are all part of Adobe’s Gaming SDK, would all have to be re-written. I’d imagine it would have been highly unlikely that all three would have been ready for AS Next’s release. And that’s just for starters. What about other great libraries/frameworks such as Box2D, Nape, Citrus, Minko, Facebook’s Graph API, and Greensock’s tweening libraries? We could be waiting years for everyone to catch up, crippling those wishing to develop with the new language.

Classic display list

My final concern was Flash’s classic display list. There were rumours that ActionScript Next would completely forego the classic display list in favour of Stage3D. While I’m all for Stage3D, I think ditching the classic display list would have been a mistake. It’s perfect for prototyping and Flash Professional provides an excellent workflow.

Now I know the classic display list was never intended for mobile devices but it still has its place for many types of mobile applications and games. At WeeWorld we used Flash Professional quite heavily during the development of Match Mee for iOS. While we considered using Starling and Stage3D, we concluded that the classic display list was the better choice, mainly because it put the visuals and layout firmly in the hands of the designer rather than the developer.

Of course, if Adobe were to announce tooling for Starling that was similar to what Flash Professional provides then my opinion here may be different, but to date there have been no such announcements. In my opinion, completely dropping the classic display list would have been a mistake and would have driven more people away from the Flash platform.

Good or bad?

I’m still not sure whether dropping ActionScript Next is good or bad. If I was given the choice, I’d still rather it saw the light of day but sadly that will never happen. Perhaps we’ll see some incremental updates to the language over time but to be honest I find that I can get by with AS3 just the way it is. It’s significant performance improvements that I really want to see. Let’s hope Adobe can deliver on that front instead. Although perhaps AS3’s dynamic nature will make that unlikely.

There were a few other significant developments that came from the updated roadmap. If I find the time over the next few days then I might post my thoughts regarding a few of those too.

  1. Chris,

    I’d be interested to know how you feel about adobe aligning AIR with Flash features and giving it’s focus to gaming & video alone.

    They seem to be suggesting that they are no longer encouraging regular “non-gaming” app development, and leaving the community to it via ANE’s.

    Do you think this is just the first step toward Adobe abandoning development of AIR for iOS / Android etc in favour of PhoneGap.


  2. Chris,

    I agree with your concerns, specifically with classic display list and Flash Pro’s role in design and development.

    I think Adobe have no clear vision for future of Flash platform. They think and decide overnight of the features and APIs. Adobe’s obsession with iOS since Apple rejected it initially is also hurting support for other platforms. For example BB10 is completely missing support from Flash Pro even its the only mobile OS which comes with AIR and FP built in.

    I might write a detailed blog post soon to share my concerns as well.

    // chall3ng3r //

  3. @Mike Focusing AIR for games is pretty old news so I’ve had quite some time now to get used to it. In fact, personally I’m okay with it. Although apps like Photoshop and Picshop do show that AIR can and should be used for more than just games. Ultimately there’s nothing stopping you writing non-game apps with AIR.

    Basically I believe that Flash’s future will be determined by the quality, quantity and success of the apps that are made with it. I also think the success of Windows 8 and popularity of Windows 8 tablets will also have a bearing when it comes to Flash Player penetration.

    Christopher (Author)
  4. @chall3ng3r I look forward to your blog post.

    Christopher (Author)
  5. @chris .. Yep fair point! It just makes me feel uneasy I guess.

  6. @chris interesting you mention Windows 8 given that they’ve dropped Windows 8 RT from the plan, and have no plans for Windows Phone 8. That just leaves the diminishing intel desktop version. Not exactly a promising future 🙂

  7. Yup that’s a good point regarding Windows 8 RT Dave.

    Christopher (Author)
  8. I just found your article and wanted to comment… I find your reasons not to develop a new version of AS rather weak. If you’ve been a developer for any real amount of time, you’ve learned many languages and new versions of those languages. Over a 30 year career, I’ve learned probably 15 different languages and double that of different versions of those languages. Developing new versions of the languages keeps developers from moving onto other languages which have more features or are newer. In the long run, Adobe may keep their designers but will lose developers to languages which allow the developer to do more. My biggest problem with AS is that is is severely limited compared to other languages and even Silverlight is going to surpass Adobe if they don’t upgrade AS eventually. Microsoft has really been aiming toward crushing Flash. A few years ago, I saw many .NET applications using Flash as the front end. They are using Silverlight now.

    Third parties? Are you serious? That’s how the third parties make money too, by selling upgrades!! And, companies such as Adobe and Microsoft give the third parties plenty of time to upgrade their libraries before an official release…

    The software business is an ever changing business and if you stop to drink a second cup of coffee, you are no more. he world needs social workers and government employees too, as a former professor of mine used to say when half of the class dropped out in the first week.