AS to JS

Flash > HTML5

Hello campers! My portfolio site hasn’t been updated for an age. Mostly because I’m a lazy creature but also because I’ve been busy spending the last few months expanding my knowledge base into the heady world of HTML5. As a freelance developer working in London I’ve noticed a bit of a drop off in the number of decent AS gigs that are out there. Most of my contracts are still ActionScript but I thought it wise to get my head around JS and its bedfellows for future job security.

So how was the transition?

Well fairly painless really. HTML and CSS still infuriate me now and then. I expect too much of them. I keep thinking of them as programming languages instead of crude tools to make text look pretty. Nothing can get me as enraged as CSS. Nothing. This is mostly due to my lack of understanding and I’m sure it gets better and more fun with time. Otherwise why would so many devs choose to do it as their job? Right?

JavaScript is a piece of piss after spending any time doing ActionScript. Its initially a pretty revolting language when you’re used to a strongly typed, class based syntax like AS3, but once the feelings of nausea pass then it allows for a lot of flexibility. If AS3 is the serious, beautiful and dependable girl/boy you want to marry then JS is the fun, easy going (slightly dirty) fling you have when single. JavaScript can be written as beautifully or as badly as the programmer behind the keyboard likes. And that’s one of my problems with it. With great power comes great responsibility. For every coder who is interested in creating beautiful, pragmatic and manageable code there are three who don’t give a crap as long as it works. My job often involves picking through code bases developed by other people. This can sometimes be tricky but AS development in the freelance scene (here in London at least) has reached quite a nice equilibrium. Most people will use some sort of micro architecture/framework (RobotLegs/PureMVC) and a suite of other tools that manage asset loading, tweening etc. This is great! It makes the process of diving into projects, for sometimes only a few days, relatively simple. At the moment JS development still seems a pretty gun-ho affair, like the American Mid West a few hundred years ago, no industry standards have emerged and this makes some jobs pretty frustrating.

Something else that makes me sad about the slow-down in Flash work is cross-browser compatibility. It sooooo dull. I never realised how lucky I’ve had it all these years, only being at the whim of one massive corporation (Adobe) instead of a whole bunch (Google, MS, Apple et al). Cross platform problems are such a horrible waste of time and sap the joy of coding out of a project (for me at least, perhaps some people enjoy the challenge).
So far I’ve been lucky enough to mostly work on html projects that are for one specific device or targeted at one browser but its only a matter of time till I have to deal with cross browser compatibility regularly.

Finally my biggest disappointment with making the switch is the massive step backwards in fidelity that the transition to HTML5 means for me. As a creative developer its been great working with flash, constantly being on the edge of what can be made and consumed over the internet. Regular increases in Flash Player performance over the years have meant regular jumps in visual fidelity for the things I make. Delivering high quality video and audio, accessing web cams and, more recently, having access to a users GPU have meant things look better and better and the amount of power available to me has been growing and growing. Brilliant. Now I feel I’m taking a big step back in what is possible with the technology I work with which sucks. And when I say ‘what is possible’ I mean what is possible for the average browser on the average users’ computer that Johnny CEO specifies. Of course I could develop projects that work exclusively on version X of browser Y because it allows me access to computer feature Z but that wouldn’t be very in keeping with the idealistic-open-non-proprietary-down-with-adobe viewpoint so popular with HTML5 fanboys?

Anyhow. Enough ranting. I could go on and on.

The transition has been helped immeasurably by a bunch of people. Neil helped me get my first HTML5 gig and, along with Phil, put up with lots of stupid HTML/CSS questions. Weir&Wong took a chance on me and let me help out on the final stages of a project they launched recently.The chaps on the null&void email group have also given me lots of food for thought around HTML5, the rise of the one page JS site and other related topics so thanks for that!

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