Flash vs. Processing

Over the past year and a half I’ve been hooked on the language Processing. I’ve even contributed a early version library for visualizing social network data.

For those unfamiliar with Processing, it’s a variant of Java.  Its distinguished by its emphasis on interactive media. The fundamental unit in Processing is a sketch, which is entirely and continuously redrawn at some given rate.  Sketches may be compiled into either standalone apps or Java applets.

Many creative types work with Processing–here’s some cool examples: The Dumpster, Thinking Machines 4 (pictured left), and Relations Environment. More can be seen on exhibition.  Its not hard to see why I was excited by the language.

I’m still excited by the Processing community and all the cool apps and exhibits they are turning out.  However, today I am much less excited by the technology.

  1. As an Internet content delivery mechanism, Java Applets are a poor choice.  They have a large memory footprint and so are slow to load, and they provide few options for communicating between client and server.
  2. Sketches are redrawn in their entirety with each tick of the clock.  There are no layers.  Why is this a problem?  This limits the number of graphical objects one can involve in a sketch without the sketch slowing down.
  3. There are no user interface components of any quality.  And Java Swing is not compatible with Processing.  While this is a real limitation, this is a somewhat hollow complaint, as I realize it is only a matter of time before quality UI widgets are created within Processing for Processing.
  4. Java 1.5 is not supported.  My concern here deals with the fact that one of Processing’s greatest strengths is that a developer may use Java.  I am wondering whether the Processing community will be able to maintain this integration over time.

Recently I’ve been looking into Flash (e.g., the chart in Google Finance is Flash) and have begun to believe that Flash is a better alternative.  It is great at content delivery, has convenient UI components and support, and the fundamental unit of Flash, the “movie”, can be redrawn using separate layers.

I am still learning ActionScript, the object-oriented language used for Flash.  My early impressions of it are that recent versions 2.0 and 3.0 are of a pretty high quality, but a far cry from Java.

I’ll post a follow-up to this in a few months after I have more experience with Flash and Actionscript under my belt.