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Why Flash isn’t AJAX – and why you should care

by | Jan 31, 2012

No one questions the value of the web for disseminating information to friends, users, customers and partners.  Whether it’s personal information or business information, the medium has proven to be the dominant one for communication, certainly beyond fax and courier services, but also supplanting the phone and apparently for some people, even email (replaced by Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter).

The ease of using a simple browser to access information and communicate has universal appeal and businesses keep looking for ways to increase its usage.  Quite a number of years ago, browser plug-ins were the rage because you could enhance your browser to add PDF reading capability, view other kinds of documents, play games, and add any number of innovative software tools.  But with the diversity of browsers and the maturing of the PC industry, there are now so many combinations of PCs and browsers that it’s a logistical nightmare to keep this technology current and attempt to work with the majority of the users. Plus, support costs can be huge.

Many enterprises are now looking at differing solutions for information retrieval via the web– choosing one method for internal use and another method for external or portal use.  So an insurance company for instance, might choose to have a robust applet solution running for their internal users but might want to offer an AJAX, installation free solution to the thousands or even millions of customers they have.

As with all such demands, solution providers sometimes offer confusing or even misleading answers.  For example, Snowbound offers applets and AJAX viewers among other viewing solutions.  The applet requires a Java environment to run, but fortunately many systems already have that, especially corporate workstations, desktops and laptops.  But for general-purpose document review on a web-based customer portal, an AJAX solution that depends solely on the unmodified capability of any browser makes more sense.  There may be a few things that you can’t do with an AJAX viewer but its ability to run on any browser, no matter how configured, is a powerful determinator.

So where’s the confusion?  Well, we call AJAX a zero footprint or ‘pure HTML’ installation free viewer.  There is literally nothing to install or add if you already have a browser (any version) on your system – and given that’s standard on a PC, Mac or Linux operating systems, that’s easy.

But there are other offerings that claim to have a zero footprint and installation free solution but use Adobe Flash.  And what they’ll argue is that most computers have Flash installed and it runs automatically.  So if your browser encounters a Flash document or video, it automatically plays it.  That seems pretty good – so what’s the issue?  Well, if you’ve been reading news from Apple and Microsoft, neither are great fans of Flash. Apple isn’t offering or allowing Flash on most of their products and Microsoft isn’t allowing it on the upcoming Microsoft tablet OS – Windows 8.  Both claim Flash is buggy and destabilizing.

And if you have Flash on your system, have you ever noticed how often it needs updating?  Those are usually security issues that are being fixed.  So can you afford to depend on a client viewing solution that requires installation and frequent updates?  What part of your target user market does that exclude?  Hmmm…