Monday, October 1st, 2007

Buzzword: Ajax vs. Flash on the Word Processor

Category: Flash

If you’ve seen a demo of Adobe AIR or Flex recently, you’ve probably seen Buzzword, a Flash-based word processor. Compared to Microsoft Word 2007 or Pages ’08, Buzzword is unimpressive and underpowered. However, compared to any Ajax word processor, Buzzword is a revelation. A web-enabled word processor that doesn’t limit you to the incredibly basic typographical engine used in the live HTML editing everyone else uses? Hey, that’s pretty neat. In fact, Buzzword’s text layout capabilities are pretty dang cool.


Add to it some great collaboration features, animation eye-candy, and a well-designed, innovative, and polished UI and you’ve got people asking the question once again: wait, do I use Ajax or Flash?

Buzzword has been around for a while; why is it in the news today? Adobe acquired Virtual Ubiquity, the company behind Buzzword. And they’ll be integrating it into a new offering: Adobe Share, which is basically their competitor to all of the Web 2.0 Office Suite plays (and gives you a cool way to embed PDFs in your web page).

When it comes to Ajax vs. Flash, Dion and I have always been pragmatists; when we can use one to enhance the other, they should work together. While Buzzword is not yet embeddable into your own custom applications and not yet integrated with Adobe’s Share suite, it does make one wonder if the future of Web-based word processors is Ajax or Flash.

Do you think Buzzword is a compelling improvement over the Google Docs word processor or Zoho Writer? Or just what some would expect from the Flash of word processors: distracting eye candy that is ultimately useless.

Just a few years ago, I remember a client telling they needed a Word-like experience in the browser, and I remember telling them, “Sorry, it’s the Web.” Amazing how far we’ve come in such a short time…

Posted by Ben Galbraith at 8:22 am

3.9 rating from 37 votes


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Too bad it’s all just ActiveX…

Comment by Thomas Hansen — October 1, 2007

i bet they bought them on ebay. at least the application got the right name to it.


Comment by mhr — October 1, 2007

Again, people bashing a flex/air/flash application. Pfft. I’ve been using Buzzword over the past few days and it’s a breath of fresh air compared to google docs. The layout around images is a joy to use and print support is great. Distracting eye candy? I don’t think so. Try using it for a week, especially for a bit of layout. The collaboration functionality is a treat too.

HTML is old technology and AJAX has been around since early 2000 only to be revived by Gmail/Google Maps and the whole Web 2.0 thing. Javascript has matured sure enough but when are people going to admit that hacking something like HTML with Javascript can only get you so far when designing applications for the net. (D)HTML is not designed for applications such as word processors and it’s great to see Buzzword evolve the web and say enough of this madness! ;-)

Comment by DH — October 1, 2007

Active X? It is Flash+Flex

Comment by Rizqi Ahmad — October 1, 2007

It’s still depends on the user preferences .. like me i still prefer google docs interface cause i don’t need bulky and so cool looking stuff when i am in a hurry uploading a document. On the other hand Buzzword giving you streamlined beauty of interface so do people like it.. being practical i still think ajax interface is much more faster but flash based interface somewhat ensures security.. i apologize if i am wrong.. :) and end of the day it still depends on who likes what..

Comment by — October 1, 2007

@Riqzi ….. FYI..
ActiveX is a technology developed by Microsoft. With an ActiveX-enabled browser (ie Internet Explorer only) ActiveX controls can be downloaded as part of a Web document to add functionality to the browser (similar to Java applets). In particular ActiveX enables seamless viewing of Windows files of all types, eg spreadsheets, and in combination with other technologies such as Java and scripting languages, makes possible the development of complex Web applications. …

Comment by — October 1, 2007

More ActiveX!!!!

Comment by Oscar Antolinez — October 1, 2007

“do I use Ajax or Flash?”

It is no wonder Ajax has lost its meaning and become a confusing term. I believe this would better be “do I use DHTML or Flash?” even though DHTML isn’t considered cool anymore.

Comment by Ted Turner — October 1, 2007
Regarding security you should realize that’s it’s probably a lot easier to get a high degree of security in Ajax than in Flex and Flash due to the openness of the web and all the extensions that’s built on top of the web. Consider the fact that .swf is actually downloaded onto your machine meaning that it can be re-engineered and tampered with to a much higher extend than a server-centric Ajax solution with a strongly server-binded Ajax Framework utilizing stuff like SSL/TLS etc…
You can call it for whatever you wish but when shit hits the fan this is just a remake of Applets, ActiveX or whatever you’d like to choose it…
A fat client running locally in a binary proprietary format…
“Nothing new here, just keep moving…”

Comment by Thomas Hansen — October 1, 2007

I think you may be right about the remake of Applets but in the first instance, Sun really couldn’t deliver on their promises. It didn’t help the situation with Microsoft gunning for Java either. ActiveX was a security nightmare and didn’t really work over the web because of this. The difference with Flash is its installed base. Thanks to the likes of MySpace and YouTube, flash players are the norm on most computer systems.

Sometimes you need a fat client running on your machine. That is a good thing if it’s a word processor. In this instance, Buzzword can run in a browser, or on the desktop using AIR technology. Not being able to edit my document because of connectivity issues would be an issue for me.

DHTML has it’s place – I’m sorry I can’t call it Ajax because I called it DHTML back in 2000. There are plenty of examples of great usage – GMail, Google Maps, Flickr, Facebook are including some great pieces too plus a whole host I haven’t listed here. These DHTML effects really work well with web page usability – not having to refresh the page gives a more reactive experience.

The danger in my opinion is trying to use DHTML as a replacement for the desktop. We tried 5 years ago and failed, the technologies surrounding them really haven’t changed. The technology has matured enough and we have some great Javascript libraries but I believe we’ve come to a set of crossroads now. Do we still want to write full blown applications for a set of 4 browsers that don’t behave quite the same, or do you want to pick a new technology that promises an easier development path. I know which one I’d choose. I’d still use DHTML is my webpages giving a rich user experience, but if I was planning to write a word processor for the web, or even a spreadsheet, I’d go the Flex/Flash route. Just my opinion of course. :)

Comment by DH — October 2, 2007

Aughh! My eyes! The goggles do nothing! Stop the baby pictures! Having children is nothing to be proud of!

Comment by Tim Cooijmans — October 2, 2007

There’s a huge difference between now and 7 years ago. First of all the browsers HAVE matured (not as you say that the technology hasn’t changed, 7 years ago IE OWNED the market and MSFT didn’t want to see the web as an application platform succeed since that would cannibalize their entire revenue which is based on CD distros , now they’re forced into coop with FF, Safari and Opera and must either follow up or die a slow and painful death!).
Sure we could have even MORE conformance but that’ll change now that 90% of the world soon is Ajaxified some way or another. This can be contributed a lot to sites like youtube, MySpace, Digg, DZone etc…
Now the Flash Player has a wide spread, but that doesn’t fix it’s biggest problem though. It’s a proprietary binary distribution format just like ActiveX and Applets was. The web was popular due to the fact that it was a textual format (read Alex’s blog to understand why this is so important) and this makes your “application” easy to be indexed and searched by major search engines like Google and Yahoo. That is the main advantage of Ajax (and it’s not DHTML, DHTML is when you don’t speak to the server and can be compared in regards to Ajax like a JumboJet without gazoline and engines)
* Ajax is an open technology, flash is not
* Ajax is indexable and searchable by the major search engines
* Ajax is kept alive by a “gazillion” different players where Flash is maintained by only Adobe
* Ajax is based on standards (the .swf format is not, though the languages behind it is but that’s like standardizing a car without standardizing the wheels which are the crucial point)
* Ajax has WAY more momentum that Flash. According to a blog I read this other day Adobe Flex had roughly 20 000 users. Our library ( almost have the same amount of users and there are at least 10 other Ajax libraries that are bigger than ours. I know for a fact that e.g. ASP.NET AJAX has about 100 000 downloads PER MONTH! Not to mention the “gazillion” libraries that are SMALLER than ours.
Now for Adobe to battle the “rest of the world” alone in their proprietary, FUD stuffed “Ajax” Campaign with Flex and Flash is like a drop of water trying to battle the entire ocean by itself. Flex as an application platform will be nothing more than a historical sidenote in less than 2 years from now…
Don’t get me wrong, Flash and Flex is great for what it was supposed to be, streaming Video and creating games for Kids. But as an application platform it’s directly dangerous to bet your future on…
95% of most applications are CRUD forms and there Ajax outperforms Flex at a factor of “one gazillion”…

Comment by Thomas Hansen — October 2, 2007

I would like to draw your attention to another alternative which is a paradigm shift for AJAX front ends. One should be aware that I am not, and do not pretend to be objective, never the less I believe that one can judge for himself. Visual WebGui is an open source rapid application development framework for graphic user interfaces of IT web applications. VWG replaces the obsolete paradigms of ASP.NET in both design-time and run-time which were designed for developing sites, with WinForms methodologies, which were designed for developing applications. Thus enabling designer that was designed for application interfaces (WinForms designer) instead of a word documents (ASP.NET designer). This provides the developer with an extremely efficient way to design interfaces using drag and drop instead of hand coding HTML. Visual WebGui is an AJAX frame work that doesn’t expose logic, data or open services on client requests and therefore is not as vulnerable as common AJAX solution. Visual WebGui is an AJAX frame work that doesn’t expose logic, data or open services on client requests and therefore is not as vulnerable as common AJAX solution. Visual WebGui is an AJAX frame work that doesn’t expose logic, data or open services on client requests and therefore is not as vulnerable as common AJAX solution. VWG presentation layer is de-coupled and instead of standard browser it can, and will run Silverlight.
NO!!! Visual Webgui is not!!
Not a component library – It is a complete revised approach to developing web applications.

not a JavaScript generator – It runs on the server controlling the browser using a small static JavaScript kernel.

Not for developing sites – It was designed to provide for developing IT web applications GUIs.

Not a closed / locked-in framework – It has many extensibility features, which allow integration of legacy resources (ASP.NET or DHTML resources) and the development of custom controls and behaviors.
Worth a look at,

Comment by navot — October 2, 2007

Hi Navot, I think something went really wrong with your pasting logic… ;)
Btw we should talk!
You know where to find me ;)

Comment by Thomas Hansen — October 2, 2007

@Thomas Hansen:
I think the question is not how many downloads per month, what is the (1)default search engine indexability, whether IE owned the net(2), who has the momentum now, or about some Flex at all, BUT whether we have any chance to move to the next level in UI design with the current HTML/JavaScript/AJAX trinity, or their next versions, should there be ever any.

Flash is _currently_ hard to develop UI/business/complex apps for and even harder to maintain, it has to be pre-compiled, it won’t do the cozy layout for us, it’s proprietary and the Flex/laszlo/etc. frameworks have horrible Look and Feel just to begin with.

But if we are ever going to see anything more than tiny incremental improvements on top of the Xerox UI from 1970’s, I think that Flash is the best candidate.

Example: just a concept, nothing overly usable, but opens the mind a bit:

1. how is data pulled from server by AJAX more indexable than Flash, given that Search Engines don’t execute javascript?
2. If Flash was to be as depended-upon as the browser has been, we would have an open source Flash already. In fact we are developing one now. Also, who knows how would web standards implementations look today if there was no Microsoft monopoly in the beginning.


Comment by ypct — October 2, 2007

@Thomas thanks for the insight :) and i still don’t prefer flash by myself.. it has more backlogs than ajax/dhtml. and i definitely forgotten about the fact that flash/activex/applet stuff don’t get indexed.. :]

Comment by — October 2, 2007

Wow the was a truly amazing website ,)
I spent a LOT of time there exploring…! :)
However interesting it was and in fact also developed in Flash I am pretty certain 98% of the whole concept could just as easily be implemented in Ajax instead of Flash. And that would give you the advantage of getting hits from search engines on the content of the page. Now if you go a little bit ballistic with SVG and Canvas (which is a standardized and non-proprietary solution) you could even write Doom ports (I’ve seen Wolfenstein written in JavaScript using SVG)
And as a side note to implement e.g. URLs that have JavaScript parts to use Ajax functionality by the browser but maps to a link to the same page with GET parameters to change the content of that same page (could even use URL filtering and map the GET parameters to friendly readable URLs to further optimize it if you’re REALLY interested in SEO) for search engines is not even hard…
And if you use non-intrusive JavaScript the search engines won’t even see the difference between your site and Wikipedia… ;)
But as I said, Flash is fun for Videos ,)

Comment by Thomas Hansen — October 2, 2007

Thomas, in my designs I’m lately leaning towards separating the web application UI to two parts: 1. first-class unlimited ajax/flash UI, 2. search-engine accessible and people w/ disabilities accessible bare HTML UI. The search engine is detected and served based on the user-agent string. That way: 1. developer is not limited, 2. the site is accessible, 3. extra work put into the accessible UI is not additional 100% as you save some time by not having to make your first-class UI accessible. Now, I didn’t try this approach yet from the developer’s perspective, so maybe I’ll find myself bitching about having to keep 2 webs in sync, but the concept looks sound if only for the folks with brail readers.
SVG wolfeinstein? :) I will check it out.. However – let’s not forget that Flash gives us things like sound, x264 video, and camera/microphone input. Not mentioning the SVG non-support in IE.
One problem I see with Flash though, is the lack of interoperability with existing HTML content, in the sense of displaying HTML content inside Flash – for example in a Flash webmail implementation.

Comment by ypct — October 2, 2007

Flash IMO has a much more difficult degrading process than AJAX. Flash degrading = rebuilding an entire site in HTML. AJAX degrading = proper AJAX design. It is fairly simple to have an AJAXed site have plain HTML forms that will pull DB data for a search engine, but is enhanced when AJAX is available. Flash is a whole ‘nother beast.

Comment by Charles — October 2, 2007

@Tim: I support photos of cats in place of photos of babies. Cats at least have the potential to be extended into lolcatz, or even a lolrus, but babies != many lolz. I hearby motion for lolcatz, they are much more Web 2.0, anyway.

Comment by Charles — October 2, 2007

From a designer and non-developer perspective, i think a flash-based word processor makes as much sense as one written with Ajax. A word processor app doesn’t have to be search engine friendly or degrade gracefully, just easy to use and feel like a desktop application.

All developers/companies should deliver user-centric solutions, not technology-centric.

Comment by Jonas — October 3, 2007

Have you even tried Writely?
To say that searchable doesn’t count before trying out Writely is like saying we don’t need wheels on a plane since it’ll fly anyway…

Comment by Thomas Hansen — October 3, 2007

I would like to suggest that the end user does not care what the technology is behind any given application. Do they care if something is XHTML compliant? Do they care if the video is encoded with one codec over another? Do they care if it’s being served from a Unix or Windows server? No, they do not. The only thing that an end user cares about is how easily the application meets their needs. So it really does not matter whether something was built using AJAX or Flash or SilverLight for that matter. They just want it to work on their computer.

Comment by James Eberhardt — October 5, 2007

I agree with James and Jonas. The technology doesn’t matter to the end user, a good designed web application needs to be user-centric and have process-driven navigation. We develop in both the Adobe and Microsoft arena, but when it comes to web applications that need to be real-time and interactive, the Flash technology is the first and last word spoken by our clients. There have been people like Thomas declaring Flash just a footnote in development history for the last ten years and there will continue to be such zealots in the next ten years that Flash continues to grow and mature. We develop ASP.NET 2.0 for clients on a tight budget, AJAX for people who need a bit more, and Flash/Flex for those who want their site to give a true rich internet experience.

Comment by James Wallis Martin — October 26, 2007

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