ColdFusion is dead, long live ColdFusion!
Before I knew it a simple twitter post about free ColdFusion workshops in Brussels turned into a heated debate on whether or not ColdFusion is a dead technology. Thought it was worth doing a blog post with my perspective on the discussion.
I'm not what you would call a typical ColdFusion developer, in fact other than installing the beta releases and experimenting with the most interesting features I have very little hands on experience with the product. Things changed about a year or so ago for me, I did some sessions at conferences like "Scotch on the Rocks" in Edinburgh where they primarily target ColdFusion developers and got to know several people in the community.
To say that ColdFusion has a passionate community is an understatement to say the least. It's kind of like Apple fan boys. Its amazing how passionate they are. They love the latest I phone 4, MacBook and other iProducts no matter what, exactly what ColdFusion fans are like. To the untrained eye they come across as guardians of the holy grail ready to smite anyone who dares criticize their beloved technology and to an extent that is even the case. If you look at the history of the product coming from Allaire through Macromedia to Adobe it is understandable that there is a certain level of anxiety about the survival of the product and what direction it is going to take.
I for one have not given up on ColdFusion, while there are obstacles along the way with the right approach it is here to stay and can see a grow in marketshare.
For the last few releases ColdFusion seems to be focusing more and more on enterprise level features. That's great and Adobe needs to build on its enterprise offerings along with the LiveCycle product range but it seems to be a somewhat artificial push in that direction and in the process neglecting a huge user base outside of the enterprise.
Arguably ColdFusion is the easiest way to hook up your Flash, Flex and AIR applications to backend services -- what about making it easier for your run of the mill Flash/Flex developer to get started with ColdFusion?
Pricing and open source
From what I've seen over the years, succesful developer technologies at Macromedia and Adobe have always relied on three pillars:
- free SDK
- commercial developer tools
- enterprise offerings
I think the same needs to happen for ColdFusion, there needs to be a free of charge and preferably open source CFML engine. That does not exclude any further commercial and even proprietary offerings on top of that but the barrier to entry must be way lower than it is right now.
I have to admit that, eventhough I like to think I'm well versed in all things Adobe, ColdFusion does have some gems I am yet to discover. Talking to my friend Cyril Hanquez, who incidentally works in government and enterprise and has been doing ColdFusion for almost a decade I've found out about some amazing features that I can't wait to try out as soon as I have the time.
Likewise, I regret to say that at least some portion of the ColdFusion community seems to be quite conservative and closeminded to what is happening around them. Technologies evolve and perspectives change, I would strongly advise any ColdFusion developers to look at what is happening with the Flash Platform as well as the AJAX world with jQuery and the likes.
Thirdly what I would call the "web 2.0 extremists" ready to dismiss anything that doesn't fit the general style guide of the latest iteration of the web (copyrighted by O'Reilly Media, Inc.). This honestly might be the most difficult group to evangelize to since its judgement is usually not based on any objective criteria but rather a general trend and developer interest. The only thing I can suggest there is to rename the product to coldfus.io and stick a "beta" label on it.
There are encouraging signs that many of these points are being addressed, but there's still a long way to go -- more so with marketing the product and winning developer mind share than growing the technology.
In the current economical crisis I have a feeling Adobe is going to be weary of any further open source initiatives but I would urge them to continue on that path. ColdFusion needs to get more closely aligned to the Flash Platform products and the enterprise will follow.
Think about what happened with Flex when it was originally launched as a serverside MXML compiler with pricing clearly aimed at the enterprise. I think it is fair to say that wasn't a huge success. Then in April 2007, the big turnaround with Flex going open source and becoming an almost instant hit with a lot of Java developers and increasingly large corporations which leads on to LiveCycle Data Service ES sales etc. We need a similar revolutionary approach for ColdFusion.
Open Source CFML engines are on the horizon, Adobe is working on a dedicated IDE for ColdFusion and serverside ActionScript support is to be added in the next release of the product codenamed "Centaur". These are not signs that Adobe is throwing in the towel, on the contrary -- if anything this is the time to start looking at ColdFusion and help shape its direction.
Just consider this as an "outsiders perspective" on the current state of ColdFusion, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.