JavaScript Stalled, AS3 Orphaned – Microsoft to Blame?

As you may have already read, the ECMAScript 4 standard, the standard on which AS3 is based, and the draft proposal for future versions of javascript has been rejected in favour of ECMAScript 3.1, which proposes small incremental changes to javascript for the foreseeable future.

This leaves Adobe in a somewhat awkward position. Firstly, it casts ActionScript back to being a proprietary language. Secondly, it means they have released an extremely valuable chunk of intellectual property (in the form of the Tamarin ES4 execution engine), without gaining the expected benefits for the Flash platform.

It’s also very disappointing for the web at large. This decision means that Javascript will effectively stagnate, and is unlikely to become a robust language for supporting rich/complex client side applications any time soon. Had ES4 become a ubiquitous standard, I would certainly have looked at doing a portion of our work in the AJAX space. I’m sure other Flash developers and traditional programmers would have done the same. I suppose from that perspective, this could be good for the Flash platform, but I prefer competition, options, and thriving innovation.

So why did this happen? When I heard the news, I analysed it in light of who has the most to gain, and in context of previous discussions / information I’ve read. I guessed that the most likely reason that ES4 was dropped, was due to Microsoft. They would have to either write a new execution to support ES4 (which costs money), or swallow their “not built here” pride to use Tamarin. By crushing the standard they would avoid having to do either of these and take a stab at their rival Adobe by pulling the carpet out from under AS3’s standard compliance. Being that they control 80% of the browser market, they are also one of the few groups that could unilaterally block adoption of the standard (having a standard that’s only supported by 20% of browsers isn’t very useful).

So to me, it looks like a power play by Microsoft. And it seems that I’m not the only one – Hank Williams over at has written an article mirroring my thoughts almost exactly.

These situations are frustrating for developers (well, for almost everyone, I imagine). Standards bodies are so hampered by politics and corporate interests, but of course they are the lesser of two evils (no one wants to return to the wild west of HTML coding). Almost makes you glad that the Flash player is a proprietary product, eh?

UPDATE: Adobe has just made their public response here. Quite candid, and definitely seems to follow the lines of my speculation with mentions of “a morass of bickering, infighting, and sometimes, out and out name calling”.

Grant Skinner

The "g" in gskinner. Also the "skinner".



  1. Grant, I agree that this is a very disappointing decision made by ECMA. It’s no surprise that Adobe and Mozilla were pushing for ES4 and Microsoft was pushing for ES3.1. More reason to support firefox over IE.

  2. Harry B. Garland August 14, 2008 at 4:36pm

    It suddenly hit me as I started reading this post:

    Adobe = Obama

    Microsoft = McCain

    One strategy is about doing good and giving people the best things possible without using controlling interest as a means of manipulation. It’s about working directly with the community and listening to what people need. It’s about seeking out voices of dissent and listening to the opposing side and making peace through a reasonable deliberation process.

    The other strategy is not about winning by making something better; it’s about winning by making sure that the competition is made worse. This is not what the American Free Enterprise system is about.

    Normally, I would refrain from mixing in deeply political opinions in a non-political forum, but this topic is ALL ABOUT politics.

    Maybe I watch too many Batman movies, but it just seems so obvious who the good guys are and who the bad guys are right now.

    At this moment I am reversing my opinion on Silverlight. While it is technically cool that there’s something else out there that’s similar to Flex, I will not be picking it up anytime soon. Because doing so would just make me a contributor to the problem. Microsoft.

  3. Agreed, weird, but if you can hang on for a little bit, there should be news from the Adobe braintrust later today. ( is my bet for where it’ll appear.)


  4. I don’t suppose there’s an appeal process so the development community at large can voice their opinions on the matter? I was looking forward to the change to ECMA 4.

  5. That sucks dude. I know it is pretty much speculation at this point (re: Microsoft), unless I missed something, but I see your points.

  6. While I certainly think Microsoft played an important role in bringing about this decision, they certainly didn’t do it by themselves.

    I’ve been following the ES4 mailing lists for a while and from what I have seen there a lot of people who do not want to see a lot of new features added to JS/Ecmascript. Apple certainly seemed to be pushing this position.

    I tend to agree with this post:

    Adobe should look at this an opportunity take control of ActionScript and evolve the language in ways that make sense for Flash.

  7. This just further illustrates a point I made a number of years ago when I was asked why I don’t become an AJAX developer:

    “While the browser makers are fighting over which version of JavaScript they should support, why and when, Flash looks to the future and is able to progress and evolve independently of the browser.”

    Is it lame that I just quoted myself?

    Anyhow, in a way though I can understand their reasoning. Remember how it through the Flash development community for a loop when AS3 was released. Then again, it also helped broaden ActionScripts appeal to other developers outside the Flash world.

    Is it lame that I’m arguing with myself now too?


  8. Sorry man, the obama/mccain comparison is really lame. I’d be offended if I was Adobe (or Microsoft for that matter). 😉

  9. Derek – I agree with that article from the perspective of ActionScript. It does free Adobe to evolve the language more freely, and tailor it more directly for their platform.

    I don’t agree from the perspective of JS. Javascript has been largely stagnant for the past 5-10 years, with its main technical gains coming just from better browser consistency. This announcement means it will effectively stagnate for at least another 5-10 years. Standing still for that long is not going to be good for the development of standards based rich web applications.

    Consider if someone handed you code from an ActionScript project from 2013 in 2003 – you’d have been blown away by the capabilities and enhancements. Given the same scenario with JS, you might not even notice a difference. Good for legacy support? Sure. Good for innovation? No.

  10. I’m not very good at this political/technical issue. One of the gains comes from better browser consistency you were saying Grant. I agree, but I have a hunch this won’t happen any time soon. My logic is very basic and limited. Better browser consistency in my opinion means that all browser’s interpret markup in the same manner. Excluding various features that don’t have anything to do with rendering pages, they should be the same, so the competition would be fierce. Microsoft might loose and they don’t seem to like that at all. They seem to hold on everything that stands in they’re power to enforce their products and policy. Live search invading Vista, microsoft updates can only be downloaded using Internet Explorer (there’s an error page if you’re using Firefox), Genuine something and all sort of updates I find useless when installing Media Player 11, etc… There are a lot of examples.

    In my opinion this doesn’t promote their products and themselves very well, in fact it does the opposite. It seems like an old man dying kind of strategy.

    I didn’t imagine Apple would be involved in this to be honest. Also I remember they were pretty reticent on the Flash Player for the iPhone. Do they see a threat in Adobe ? One area I could see a threat is flv vs mov online, other than that there’s not much crossing my mind.

    Anyway…back home we have saying: “Tot raul spre bine.” Maybe this unfortunate event will lead to something better. Instead of embracing everything new, this tangled problem need to mature even further before growing exponentially like the rest of the technologies. Who knows ? We can hope, right ?

  11. Harry, you were correct when you said you should refrain from bringing politics into a non-political forum.

    I’m sure that many of us that are united on this front come from different political stand points that have nothing to do with this subject.

    That being said, this is a huge blow to Adobe and the internet at large.

    I agree with Danny P that this should be even more a push for FF.

  12. Harry B. Garland August 16, 2008 at 1:31am

    ok, please disregard my earlier parallel if you’re not an obama fan. i didn’t intend to imply that our national politics are tied to our software politics. i should have been more clear about my message: IF you happen to have both of the opinions I expressed and implied, then it’s an interesting connection. to be clear, i work perfectly well with people who have widely varying opinions about software and politics. and they too don’t always like hearing all of my opinions. 🙂

  13. Whilst there is a lot of wild theories floating around as to whom is to blame and why, let me point out that Microsoft wasn’t alone and rejecting the proposal, several others (Yahoo!, DOJO, etc) also agreed this wasn’t the right fit.

    We will continue to be an active participant in the ECMA technical committee 39, and will continue to work on ES3.1 and beyond, just the current proposal wasn’t the right fit.

    Scott Barnes


  14. I agree with a lot of what was written in the “Side-stepping ES4” article, but it would have been nice for Javascript developers to have an option.

    So the popular line is that MS are doing this to spite Adobe. Could it also be Microsoft pushing Silverlight, by deterring rich application programmers from using JavaScript. Obviously this wasn’t the only reason, MS may have just seen it as a positive side-effect.

    Somebody on the ‘Open at Adobe’ blog suggested an in-browser ActionScript interpreter. Whats the point? Just use the Flash platform! In an ideal world, Flash Player would be bundled with browsers anyway.

  15. If MS wants to play hard ball: CS4 Linux Edition. Imagine the implications.

  16. Ah…

    Philip Bulley said… “Somebody on the ‘Open at Adobe’ blog suggested an in-browser ActionScript interpreter”… this is already happening. Firefox and Adobe have an open source project going to make ActionScript(3) a valid ecma-style scripting language valid under FireFox. Mind you that this is just a language spec we are talking about. It would have a different HTML oriented set of objects and would do what JS does, just in all of the AS3 syntax. I guess we wait to see if this will die now.

    As for Microsoft… I think we are being anti-MS fanboys if we get too poller here. In reality, JS is a part of the toolset used to create Silverlight work, so imagining that Silverlight competes is just a misunderstanding. Javascript compliments MS Web Development in reality and is used in nearly all of their solutions (,, silverlight, etc.)

    As for the political mumbo-jumbo above… I think I am starting to hate the state of politics and the way they kill our ability to be reasonable people. I am throwing down the gauntlet here:

    Stereotyping, be it political stereotyping through generalized emotive rhetoric devoid of truly debatable issues, is the lowest form of propoganda.

    It is one thing to discuss and debate issues… “Why are we rejecting the ECMA 4 proposal?”

    It is entirely something else when we reduce our discussions to “slinging”… “Microsoft (Obama) (McCain) is to blame!”

    A reasonably intelligent person will eat those comments, speculations and rhetoric for breakfast! Stuff like this makes us all look stupid.

  17. as3 is more like java not js

  18. The whole not getting the Ecmascript 4 spec accepted as standard thing is very interesting.

    Look at Adobe and all Adobe friendly bloggers. What´s the general view there?

    Things in the vein of these things get said and repeated often:

    Big evil MS blocked getting it accepted as standard. The parties blocking this are only doing so to block innovation on the web!!! Standards are important. But yes, we will continue to innovate!!!

    Come, on, gimme a break!

    Let´s have a quick look at the history there: AS1;Flash 6: Flash´s scripting language had evolved till there, had become considerably closer to javascript, many people in the “serious” programming world working in java or C++ laughed, didn´t take flash´s AS serious as programming language, but with time they had to accept that the possibility to combine code and media with ease and flexibility like in few to no other environments allowed to rapidly create nice results not possible in java or C++ in a comparable timeframe.

    Flash continued its success story.

    Fast forward to today: Adobe obviously wanted to attract way more of the “serious” programmers and get AS respected as serious language, many changes were made then. Thanks to AS3 and the way the newer player/interpreter,GC etc work combining non code generated media with codeside has turned into way more work and has become more time intensive . Thanks to the changes in language flash´s AS is becoming more and more a Java wannabe clone.

    So again, Innovation?!? Where´s the innovation in turning AS into a Java clone?!?

    The reality is Adobe wants to turn Ecmascript/AS more and more into a Java clone and well, while some more used to Java like workflow like it, many many others obviously don´t like that.

    First it was more and more people from the flash community moaning, now The Ecmascript 4 suggested spec was declined by a big group of decission makers.

    Its understandable Adobe tries to sell their loss in the most positive way possible but yeah, saying “we want to innovate, the others block that” type things while you reduce more and more what made flash innovative and at the same time copy more and more of another language and forced workflow?


  19. It blows my mind that they would believe that lambda-code is easier to understand for ‘non-programmers’ than static type setting and classes. In the hands of amature coders: Welcome to ‘puke-code’ city.

    What is wrong with namespaces or packages that they had to remove them completely when both Microsoft and Adobe had already added them to their ECMA style languages?

    Who were the loud 3.1ers that led to this decision? I still can’t grasp this…. Its like there is someone, other than Microsoft (JScript), with vampire teeth. OR ECMA is so bad at negotiating nutral ground we should have them hand over the standard to a different organization to debate and standardize.

    The antics on both sides appear so foolish it is a wonder if anything will ever come out of the web that has not already been invented before 1995. Companies like Adobe and Microsoft will just continue creating their own languages anyway. Who needs ECMA? They cant control anything.

  20. I’m not going to jump into the arguments. I’ve been programming in AS3 for the past two years, and for me the benefits of namespaces and packaging and just a more logical structure blow everything in AS1/2 away.

    I do want to note however that M$ doesn’t have 80% of the browser market, they only have 47%, with Firefox occupying 44%.

    Granted, I’m not suggesting Mozilla go ahead with a different version of Javascript, but perhaps M$ will soon loose its behemoth status. I see sunny days ahead

  21. Sundev, while I don’t like it, the general consensus shows IE at roughly 80%. From the page you linked to:

    “W3Schools is a website for people with an interest for web technologies. These people are more interested in using alternative browsers than the average user. The average user tends to use Internet Explorer, since it comes preinstalled with Windows. Most do not seek out other browsers.

    These facts indicate that the browser figures above are not 100% realistic. Other web sites have statistics showing that Internet Explorer is used by at least 80% of the users.”

    Fortunately IE’s market share has been declining slowly but steadily over the past couple of years.

  22. Flash is a functional standard, because it is functional. in general i am afraid that this will change if he becomes official. that is a part of the web where i don’t recommend flash to enter. why? because new standards can became “mired in a morass of bickering, infighting, and sometimes, out and out name calling”. if there is a remote potential that Flash changes it’s course it must be avoided at all costs. i am not saying that we should rip out Flash from www and create wwf though i think in the future adobe will have all the influence to do it. and that is because there will not be any real obstacle to create and innovate with pure needs, functionality and speed in mind.

    but we have to wait. after my experience many of the web-dev companies do not realize the capabilities of Flash and AS3 (witch was the biggest revolution since the creation of shockwave flash). that was the case with mine. but now for example i create things that normally would be created with ajax. just because the data handling and acquiring capabilities of Flash tend to outrun even the servers. well not exactly outrun but surely makes it heck of a lot easier on the client side. why not share the load between millions of visitors? and then just test if the received data is correct, and done. and the good part, 1000 lines are made in 100.

    just make sure you keep up the GOOD work on the security part, and leave the official standards for others (i mean the battle for them), because flash and AS dose not need to be an official standard, for me it is official enough, as well as for other developers with their eyes open. i don’t think there will be anyone willing to take this candy from us (except MS).

    maybe i am a dreamer and not very good on digital history. but make sure that flash will run on browsers and above all to remain FLASH.

  23. how different the web would already have looked if what is described above some 3 years ago would not have happened. in light of what is happening with all the flash bashing now. I would not mind switching to html javascript, if javascript looked like as3 by now 🙂

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