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Thoughts On Flex, Business Models, and Apache

Over the past few years a few friends have told me that I always have a plan. I didn't think about it much until it was mentioned to me, but I guess that is true. I'm always trying to think two steps ahead and plan my next move and carve out a path in life. Sometimes this is a lot harder than it is.

Gareth sent me a question through the Flextras site about the future of Flex, the availability of mobile components; and the viability of AIR.

Hi Jeff, I know things are a little bleak right now with Flex (hopefully with 4.8 SDK release things will perk up with the community), but I was wondering if you'd thought about still doing the mobile component creation. I'm still making AIR apps for mobile and have found the landscape pretty scarce when looking for various components [snip].

[snip] ...the flex mobile component still seems to be a viable model. I'll keep using Adobe AIR to make my cross platform apps until Adobe decides to get rid of that too :) I do the app thing as a supplement to my day job, so being able to purchase low cost components that will help make my apps more "snazzy" is something I'd look into (even at $5-10 a pop would be better than having to write it myself).

I've even considered the whole business model myself, but have not had the infrastructure set up to do it. Anyway, hope things are still going well with the Flex Components side of things. Just wanted to suggest something as I see your Flextras Friday Lunch, but haven't seen you on the "build" side of things recently.

I responded to this email after a very long day and about 4 hours past my bedtime. I think I was a bit blunt. I thought I'd turn my response into this blog post, perhaps with a bit more polish than the "late at night" ramble I sent to Gareth.

Things are a Little Bleak with Flex

I think I agree that things look a bit bleak for browser based Flash applications, and that has affected Flex. I also hope that Apache Flex can help turn things around; and I believe there are many ways to do this including improving performance on mobile applications (with AIR) and targetting other runtimes (such as HTML5).

There are also a lot of "little picture" things, such as bug fixes, that can help make Flex more pleasant to deal with.

I have faith in Apache and I have faith in the community. I just hope we can prove ourselves while Flex and Flash Player are still relevant.

Flex Mobile Components seem to be a Viable Model

I have been doing some Mobile Component development, but not much. There are some things in my Apache Flex Whiteboard. I have not wrapped up any of those components into the Flextras component set, though.

I wasn't sure what Gareth meant by Model in his original email to me. If he is referring to a "Development" model. Then, I agree. AIR offers a compelling offering. Right now it feels like there are lots of cross-platform development approaches for native mobile apps. AIR offers a good solution. I suspect over time, the market will condense and I hope that AIR is one of the success stories. I don't know if AIR will be the winner, but it has the potential to do so.

If Gareth was referring to a "business" model in flex Components, then I'm not sure a successful one ever existed. Or rather, I haven't found it yet. Selling Flex Components was never a viable model for Flextras. It grew to a nice side business, making roughly $10K a year, but that was not enough for me to do it full time. Even though I did do it full time for 2 years or so, though.

I had planned for a 70% drop in income to launch Flextras, then have it grow from there. But I actually had a 90% drop in income. At some point I stopped telling consulting clients to shove it.

Flextras was growing each year, although slowly, but Adobe pulled the rug out from under that. Generally we did 20% of the sales in December, yet after last November things just nose dived to nothing. That cut into revenues, of course. This year sales will be in the $2K range at best, most likely lower. There are a ton of different reasons for this; and not all of them are Adobe's fault. I could probably write a book on the many ways to fail in business.

What is the Future of Software?

The Internet will change software just like it will change music and movies. Boxed software is going to go away, just like CDs and DVDs.

The cost of duplication and distribution have fallen close to nothing. Creation of said software is, basically, a sunk cost that no customer cares about. Marketing is still needed, though. People have to notice you. But, as the cost of software drives towards zero; how does a software development company make income?

I believe the future of Flextras is in formal support services. I've been working on this for a while. I hope to have it ready in time for 360|Flex in Denver. In 2011. I could write another book on why this is so late. The vendor I hired to rework our shopping cart took 6 months past the deadline to deliver code that worked.

Delivering code to spec is a completely different issue; and that never happened. I've lost count of the number of times I've missed the goal of "Flextras selling Support Services."

What Have I Been Up To?

I should be spending my summer seeing if I can make the new shopping code do what I want it to do; or if I should throw it out and start from scratch. But for reasons of personal sanity; I put that aside. I need to crawl back into my cave and refresh.

I've been trying to spend my summer riding waterslides at the local amusement park, going to as many Soul Asylum concerts as I can, and catching up on some video games I hadn't played yet. Check out the new Soul Asylum album; it's great.

What is the Plan?

Ideally, I'll come back to the shopping cart in 3rd quarter of this year, ready to tackle said problems with a fresh mind. Then I'll have 1-2 (or 6 or 12) months to finish the infrastructure problems that would allow Flextras to sell support services around Flextras and [in theory] Apache Flex.

Once that infrastructure is in place; I'll turn my head back to promoting said stuff and building new components. I have even consider launching a Kickstarter [or two or three] to 'fund' my Flex development time.

I'd love to create a Spark Alert class that works well on Mobile. I think I can do better than what is already out there. I'd love to create a ViewStack that easily supports Spark Components, MX Components, and even non Flex Display Objects because why does a ViewStack need Flex dependencies? I'd love to create a Spark port of the Flextras Calendar. That can be mobile optimized easily.

But a lot has to happen for any of this to come to fruition.

Make sure you're signed up for the Flextras Monthly Newsletter if you want to know when stuff like this moves forward. It's the best way to keep up on any Adobe Flex or Flextras related news I have to share.

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