FLEX vs OpenLaszlo

You may have already asked yourself, which is better. FLEX or Laszlo? Where are the differences? What do they have in common and which is the right one for me? Let’s try to find out.
First of all, both have a lot in common like the xml based syntax, the component model, javascript/actionscript and the modularity for additional third party code. This means, that while you are actually developing your app, you will find a lot of similarities between both technologys. I personally believe that the most important differences are the license policy, popularity and compatibility issues.

  • License policy

This one is simple. Laszlo is completely free of charge. You won’t have to pay for anything while Adobe charges at least for the FLEX IDE which is a quite nice tool for developers especially if it comes up to skinning of your UI.

  • Popularity

After the assimilation of Macromedia by Adobe many common and well known webdevelopment-applications like Dreamweaver or Flash belong now to the creator of Photoshop, which makes it very easy for them to reach a wide popularity for their new products FLEX and AIR. Laszlo on the other side is only well known by insiders of the scene who seek for alternatives. Laszlo Systems, the creators of OpenLaszlo don’t have the financial power like Adobe to run big advertisement campaigns. This leads to a big problem: The less a development platform is known, the fewer developers will produce code for third party plugins and modules. While there are quite a lot of pre-made scripts and modules out there for FLEX, the laszlo developer will have to build a lot by own hand.

  • Compatibility issues

A big advantage of laszlo is the already mentioned ability to let the developer and/or the user choose wether to use a Flash version or the DHTML/AJAX alternative, where first mentioned requires at least Flash5. FLEX, on the other side, can only output Flash while its plugin must be at least version 7. This leads to compatibility problems with users, who don’t have an updated version of their flash plugin installed or maybe no plugin at all (Which doesn’t happen that often, tbh). Laszlo developers have the big advantage at this point to simply transform their code into DHTML/AJAX code, which should work in every more or less modern browser.

So, what should I take?
This one ain’t that difficult as you might think. If you’re already a FLEX developer and you’re doing fine, stick to it. There is no reason to switch if you like FLEX. The skinning abilities and the big community behind it make it a solid development platform for RIA’s.
If you’re short on money to buy the FLEX IDE or just like the idea of open source, you might want to check out OpenLaszlo, which has no real big disadvantage compared to FLEX. On top of that the OL documentation ist quite clean and lightweight, which makes it easier for beginners to start developing. The “Laszlo in 10 mins” tutorial is very very nice. You should definately check that out if you’re interested into OL development. The only thing you might miss is the wide popularity from Adobe’s counterpart product.

If you want to check out OpenLaszlo, the “Getting Started” Website of Laszlo Systems is a good spot to start.