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Flash apps are taking over--Phoenix is the latest proof

Who needs Photoshop?

There are invitations to Phoenix, the new app discussed in this post, set aside for Webware readers. Read on to learn how to get yours.

As I reported from Demo 2008, new Flash- and Flex-based Web apps are putting traditional desktop apps to shame. The database Blist, the widget maker Sprout, and the photo manager Joggle are all Web-based apps that give up almost nothing to run inside a browser.

Flash-based applications are inherently cross-platform, because there are Flash runtimes that work in Internet Explorer and Firefox; on Macs, Windows, and Linux. (There are even Flash runtimes for mobile phones and set-top boxes, although Adobe's expensive licensing schemes for those platforms do a lot to keep Flash apps off them.) With Adobe's new AIR runtime environment being basically a wrapper for Flash and Flex, we can expect that many of these Flash apps will be released as independent app-like products, but with Flash's cross-platform and Web-native advantages.

Flash has its downsides, of course. It's yet another layer of platform software for an app to run on. For the most part, today's overpowered personal computers and fast broadband connections punch through this inefficiency. However, in some cases, Flash just doesn't offer up enough performance. The personal finance app Voyant, for example, eschews Flash for Java; a Voyant developer told me it's faster at the math his app needs to perform.

Online apps in general have other advantages. Most offer Web-based storage and built-in access to the world's largest collaboration network: the Internet. Nobody likes hassling with LAN-based workgroup software installations, and with Web apps you don't have to.

And I'll tell you this: I'm not seeing nearly the same creativity today in traditional software that I am seeing on Flash and in browser-based apps. Flash-based apps are finally beginning to compete head-on with standard software. Many new Flash apps aren't just different. They're better.

Even rich media apps will fall

Case in point: the Aviary suite of graphics apps, coming out soon from the team at Worth1000. The first app, the image editor Phoenix, will make you question the value of your Photoshop license. Not that it's a drop-in replacement for Photoshop today, but it gives you a strong indication that the need for expensive apps licensed on a per-PC basis is ending.

Who needs Photoshop? CNET / Rafe Needleman

I experimented with Phoenix a bit. I can't give it a deep review, since I'm not an expert in image editing. However, it certainly does a lot of the things I've done when poking around in Photoshop: It has rich tools for selected image elements, layering items you're working on, and transforming parts of the image. Lacking, of course, is plug-in support and Photoshop's snappiness when it runs on a fast PC. But the capability to open an image directly from a URL is pretty cool, and I would fully expect to see the capability to write files right back soon as well.

Other Aviary graphics apps to come include a color palette creator, an "algorithm-based pattern generator," a vector editor (competitor to Adobe Illustrator?), a 3D modeler, and other non-graphics tools such as a word processor, an audio editor, a "music generator," plus a network file storage system and a marketplace for the exchange of creative works.

The full rundown of tools the team hopes to build sounds hopelessly ambitious and reminds me of Zoho, which has a too-big suite of not-quite-developed online productivity apps. Probably a better strategy would be to focus on the key moneymakers and open up a plug-in platform so other developers could add to the ecosystem. But I don't really want to critique the company before the first app is even out of beta.

In fact, I want to encourage this crazy ambition. If Worth1000 can build a suite of professional media creation and management apps all at once using new Web platforms--and even if it tries but in the end cannot-- it could encourage other developers to stretch beyond today's current Web 2.0 apps. We certainly could use more real Web apps, and fewer me-too social networks or developers' resumes masquerading as products.

See also: Picnik; and watch for Adobe's own Photoshop Online.

If you want to try out Phoenix, there are 100 early-bird invitations set aside for Webware readers. Go here to enter your e-mail address. You have to click over from this story to get on the list--cutting and pasting the link won't work.