Category Archives: Flash

To each decade its Web abomination

In the 1990 decade,we got the imagemap. Some people decided to build an entire Web page as a giant JPEG backed by an imagemap for links. Mercifully, those are all gone, I think.

In the 2000 decade, we got Flash. Plenty of people decided that their whole site would be a Flash application. Some of these are still around and only now realizing their error.

In the 2010 decade, we got AJAX. As could be expected, we are now seeing sites entirely build as a JavaScript application. Which is just as wrong.

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Filed under Everything, Flash, JavaScript

A flash of anti-genius

Just this week, I saw two emails that painfully illustrate what is maybe the single worst thing about the way Flash is used on many web sites: the lack of addressability.

The first email was a request for help about finding a specific view on a Flash-based app (one that, I must shamefully admit, was created by Oracle). The answer came quickly, in the form of a screen capture of the Flash app with the multi-level menu open and pointed at the menu entry that produces the requested view. Does anything with this strike you as wrong?

If not, look at the email that arrived the following day. A fellow Oracle employee wanted to advertise for rent an apartment he owns in the new One Rincon Hill tower in San Francisco. In order to provide a link to the floor plan, here is what he had to put in the email:

Plan 5 – see (Lower right “Skip intro”, then follow the link on Residences and Views -> Condominiums -> Tower One -> 1 Bedroom -> Unit 05)

No need to comment on the “skip intro” part. We all know how stupid these “intros” are. BTW, it would be nice if you didn’t have to download the entire Flash file before clicking on “skip”. But this is a “no Flash, no service” site. There is no alternative. Ironic for a tower in which 95% of occupants own an iPhone (the remaining 5% are  Android-wielding Google employees, also Flash-challenged).

Even more ironic is that fact that Flash is used on this site to navigate menus (usefulness: zero) and when you get to the floor map it’s a plain static image. Even though that’s the place where you could provide innovative features in Flash (like having a list of typical furniture items that people can drag and drop to see how to use the space).

You could say, NRA-style, “Flash apps don’t screw up web sites, bad Flash designers screw up web sites”. Sure. It’s not Flash per se, it’s the way it’s used. There is a good case to be made for small areas of web pages being delivered through Flash for increased interactivity (rather than having Flash become a navigation mechanism). But just like with the gun, when you are on the receiving end the difference seems pretty academic.

In a blog entry three and a half years ago (an entry which, in retrospect, is a strong contender for “most obscure, pretentious title”), I recalled hearing Tim Berners-Lee explain in 1999 on the radio how he came up with the idea of a URL: before the Web, people would create small files that describe where to find information in a human-readable way. TBL wrapped this in a consistent format, the URL.

And now, more than 15 years after TBL’s invention, Flash-drunk nitwits are recreating the problem he solved and forcing people to again “create small files that describe where to find information in a human-readable way”. When WS-Addressing decided to deprecate URLs, they at least provided a replacement (the EPR). What is the Flash equivalent going to be? Who wants to write the DARC (Distributable Addressing for Rich Clients) specification?

[UPDATED 2008/10/3: Someone pointed me at the “solution” for this problem: SWFAddress. Looks interesting. Except that this is an extra step that the Flash developer needs to know about and implement. If your Flash developer has that state of mind and level of competency, you’ve already solved 95% of the problem. For starters, s/he won’t create your whole site as a Flash movie, s/he will just use Flash judiciously on the site. I don’t see how SWFAddress is going to help with the throusands of mostly clueless Flash developers who keep banging out Flash-only sites. If you really want a technology solution to the general problem, it would probably require something like a click tracker that generates a trail of crumbs and packages it in a URL. But I don’t think the solution here is a technology solution. It’s more a “get a clue” solution. After all, almost no web site has an empty, pretty-looking, entry page anymore (except Flash sites of course), even though those were pretty common at a time.]


Filed under Everything, Flash, Off-topic, Tech

Less bloat, more oxygen

I follow Coté for his coverage of the IT management market. He also covers the so-called RIA (“Rich Internet Application”) playground, so through his blog (e.g. this post today) I involuntarily get news and comments about Flash, AIR, Silverlight and other I-hate-the-Web technologies. And I keep thinking “I hope they won’t mess up the Web too much for the rest of us on their way down to failure”.

Every time I run into a “no Flash, no service” site, I have a flashback (if you think the pun is funny then consider it intended) to 1995. That’s when Jean-Michel Jarre (the French musician, of Oxygène fame) launched his first web site, (now de-commissioned). As a pioneer of electronic music, it wasn’t surprising to see him be one of the first artists to use the Web. As someone who likes to illuminate entire cities with laser beams, it wasn’t surprising to see him use overkill technology. So his Photoshop-wielding consultant created an entire site where each page was just one big image, with embedded text. It took forever to load and the stupidity of the approach shocked me so much that I remember it 13 years later. All the links were based on server-side image maps (the x/y coordinates of the pixel that you clicked on get sent to the server where a map links these coordinates to a target URL). The way HTML was at the time, you couldn’t use fancy fonts, colored text and elaborate wrapping (but you could blink!). And we all know that you simply can’t provide dates and locations of upcoming concerts without colored text, twisted fonts and a fancy layout.

The Internet Archive doesn’t have a copy of this original Jarre site, I don’t know if it has survived anywhere other than in my scarred-for-life brain. And if you go to JM Jarre’s current site, guess what? It is a Flash-only site. With my non-Flash Firefox all I get is a black page with a sentence (in French only, and not even grammatically correct) pointing me to the Flash download page. Looking at it with my Flash-enabled IE confirms (after a long wait for the Flash content to download) what I expected: other than a few videos (which could indeed use a simple Flash player embedded in the HTML page), there is no value whatsoever in using Flash for this site. The photos of his 80’s haircut would look just as good/bad in HTML.

Just like there are some usages for which image maps are appropriate, there are some for which Flash and friends are the right tool. But if they were only used where they belong, there wouldn’t be nearly as much hype around them. Poor Coté would have to spend more time with boring IT management geeks and less with Flash hipsters.


Filed under Everything, Flash, Off-topic

A sign of life from the CML working group

In a recent entry on this blog I remarked that “apparently restaurant owners are easy preys for incompetent Web site designers” because they often end up with stupid Flash-only web sites. Well, it’s not just restaurant owners apparently, it’s also leading technology companies like IBM, Microsoft, HP, Cisco, etc. For proof, have a look at the web site for the CML effort:

The only reason I would subject you to this awful site is that there is some news about CML. The group of companies involved in this effort has released a white paper to explain what CML is. You can spare yourself the Flash part by getting the white paper directly. If you want to spare yourself even more, you will also skip reading the white paper and just read my not-so-enthusiastic summary bellow. And you need neither Flash nor Acrobat to do so.

CML is going to solve parts or all of all problems related to IT management, and it will be based on SML. So much we can tell from the paper. Any other information that we glean there is contradicted somewhere else in the same paper.

No, really, isn’t CML a set of model elements expressed in SML? Yes, it says so:

“At its core, CML is a collection of models which are expressed as XML documents that describe IT entities and their relationships. As the basis for common modeling elements and semantics, the models describe information which can be exchanged between management tools and managed resources. This information is about IT systems and includes infrastructure (e.g., servers, application servers, Web services), logical entities (e.g., software license, incident reports, IT roles), and relationships (e.g., hosted, is hosted by, supplied by).”

But the next paragraph says:

“However, CML does not attempt to present a single model or single set of models which will ensure integration. Instead, CML provides a means for creating new models or extending, combining, or evolving existing models.”

We are also told that even though it provides a model of a server, it doesn’t supercede CIM. Oh, and it may not be just models either, it will also tell you about on-the-wire protocols:

“recommendations in the documentation, including the need to transmit models in an interoperable manner via an agreed upon set of wire protocols”

The “CML overview” picture leaves us with the same impression that it does everything and across the entire lifecycle at that. And I must admit that the nuance between “common modeling elements” and “shared modeling elements” escapes me, even after reading the definitions. I sounds like they are all reusable but some are more reusable than others…

If you are looking for a ray of hope, I found mine in the acknowledgement of the potential role of RDF/OWL which, combined with section 4.1.5, can be seen as hinting at an effort towards creating some simple ontologies for management integration. Which could be very useful if well-scoped.

If you are wondering about timelines, you’re out of luck. When referring to CML the white paper mixes present and future tenses, and also throws in some conditionals for good measure. Hard to guess how much is real at this point. And the next steps are? More scenarios and some guidelines. See you in 2009 (which BTW is consistent with my little theory about Oslo’s impact on CML).

All in all, this doesn’t mean nothing valuable will ever come out of CML. It just means that the group still hasn’t figured out what it wants to be when it grows up.

[UPDATED on 2008/01/24: Good news! They revamped the site to remove the stupid Flash interface. I hope my rant provided ammunitions to those inside the CML group who pushed for sanity. Also, they have put out a press release to announce, retroactively, the white paper. No surprise in the content of the press release and the associated vendor quotes. I wish that whoever wrote the quote for my ex-boss Mark Potts knew the difference between “compliment” and “complement” though.]

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Filed under CML, Everything, Flash, Specs

Taking control of the Flash player

As far as I can tell, Flash is an advertising delivery platform for the Web. This is why I have not installed the Flash player in my Firefox browser. It saves me (especially when combined with the Adblock Plus Firefox add-on) from a lot of obnoxious animations. And a few security vulnerabilities too, (this latest one is what prompted me to write this quick entry to help readers protect themselves while retaining the option to use Flash).

Despite all the hype about Flash, I very rarely run into a page that requires it for something useful. A few sites are Flash-only (mostly restaurant web sites from my experience, apparently restaurant owners are easy preys for incompetent Web site designers) and when I find one I usually take that as a sign that I am saving myself a lot of frustration by taking my business elsewhere.

Still, once a while I need to view a Flash applet. Ideally, I would like to have Flash installed but disabled, such that I can enable it for a given page with a single click. This doesn’t seem to be possible (my guess is that Adobe knows very well that Flash is mostly used in ways that are not welcomed by users and that they would likely disable it most of the time if given the option). So here is a convenient way to achieve the same effect:

While I have not installed the Flash player in Firefox, I have installed it in IE. I have also installed the IE Tab Firefox add-on which allows one to switch from the Firefox rendering engine to the IE rendering engine within a given Firefox tab. It can be configured to place a small icon in the status bar. Clicking on that icon switches the rendering engine, which means that suddenly the Flash player is enabled for the page you are looking at. One-click enable/disable as requested!

You can also configure IE Tab to automatically switch to IE rendering for some pre-configured sites. So if there are Flash-dependent sites that you use on a regular basis, just enter them there and the IE rendering engine will automatically be used whenever you are on those sites. Again, this all happens inside your Firefox tab, it doesn’t start a separate IE browser. Enjoy.

[UPDATED on 2007/12/24: I wrote this entry to try to help readers and it turns out I am the one who’s getting helped after all. Many commenters pointed to the Flashblock firefox add-on which is designed specifically to do what I get done in a round-about way with IE Tab. I looked for such an add-on some time ago and didn’t find it, which is why I devised the work-around. Thank you all for the info.]

[UPDATED 2008/5/14: Another reason to keep Flash turned off: Crossdomain.xml Invites Cross-site Mayhem.]

[UPDATED 2008/6/9: Looks like Flashblock can be circumvented (in a way that my more basic FF vs IE setup cannot). BTW, I closed comments on this entry because for some reason it was attracting a lot more comment spam than all the others combined. Email me (see about page) if you want to post a comment here.]


Filed under Everything, Flash, Off-topic, Security