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Move On To The New Power – Adobe Flex

Have you ever wanted your web-app to look cool? Have you ever wondered how your website could be made to make your users drool? Have you ever thought about how to increase traffic to your website? Have you even given a thought to such questions that I have just put forth? If you haven’t, do so now. This article targets people just like you.

The days of yore are gone, so are the days of those traditional apps you have browsed. These days are the days where people just like glamour, be it anywhere, any field. X-factor counts. These days are the days of what you call, the Rich Internet Applications (RIA).

RIA, a term coined by Macromedia Inc in the year 2001. A great part of foresight by the said company which is now part of Adobe Systems. Macromedia brought in the RIA era by introducing Flex 1.0.

Some of you might even ask this, yes, this is a question that will arise eventually in anyone’s minds. Do not hesitate. Ask yourself. Oops! What’s the question anyways?

The Question – Why need Flex when there is already Flash? What are the differences?

The Answer – Very Simple.

Flash is used by those developers who want just animations on the website, just to look and feel good, you know. Flex on the other hand does things programmatically. It can be, say, used completely for web designing purposes and also for some dynamic access and data management. There are some things that Flash can do easily but in Flex, it is a little more than a struggle. There are some things in Flex which is not feasible to do in Flash. But the comparison is simple, whatever you can do in Flash, you can do in Flex (but the complexity varies). Whatever you can do in Flex, you struggle to do it Flash. But both are compatible with each other. You can just use a Flex component, make some modifications using Flash, and the resultant component / service, you can use that in Flex. Great?

So how would I define Flex? Well, Flex is simply a programmatic way to produce pre-compiled Flash applications. What Flex lacks is the timeline feature which is there in Flash, which is what makes animations so easy in Flash whereas in Flex, you have to resort to extensive coding.

Flex has moved on. The next version was Flex 2.0. It was released as soon as Adobe took over Macromedia and made slight modifications to the earlier version. It relied heavily on the usage of Action Script 2.0.

Then came Flex 3. It is a major re-work on the earlier version. Action Script 3.0 is used in Flex 3. And also, its counterpart: MXML. Now, for those of you traditional web designers, this might seem difficult, but believe me, it is not. Consider MXML to be a brother of HTML. MXML is used to design components. Want to see a sample example?

<mx:Button id=”btn1” name=”Submit” label=”Submit”  click=”sub();” />

Looks familiar to:

<input type=”submit” name=”submit” value=”submit” onClick=”sub()” />

But trust me, the mx:Button looks more cooler.

MXML is used to design UI components, as said. Now in the above example, we are creating a button whose id is btn1, name is Submit, label is submit. The click attribute specifies the Action Script code that will be called, in this case it is the sub() function. This sub function will be written in the <mx:Script> workspace

<mx:Script>

<![CDATA[

private function sub()

{

//your code here

}

]]>

</mx:Script>

Simple code? Easy to understand? Say MXML = HTML and Action Script = Java Script.

But Flex is not that simple either, there might be complex code and it gets more complex when you get to understand the various cross platform features of Flex.

But do not worry, it is easier to understand and like any other language, if you can just get the grasp of it, its flow becomes easier. If you are a Java programmer, then all the more easier. You would see many similarities between the codes you write in both the languages.

But Flex was not so popular in the beginning. The time was when Java and .Net started occupying major shares of the Internet development market. The situation became further troubled when PHP started becoming a serious contender in the web development scenario.

And what’s more, as is Microsoft’s wont, it responded with its Silverlight program that came with the .Net framework. For those of you who are working with .Net, I would still prefer you choose Silverlight over Flex, as Silverlight modules can be easily integrated with .Net. But it’s not that Flex cannot be. It can. Flex can be integrated with any of the server development technologies, whether it be Java, .Net or PHP.

All this was affecting the market of Adobe Flex, not that it was a bad product; it was a good product, in fact much better than its counterparts. It was expensive. You had to pay for the license. But all that changed. Adobe decided to go open source with Flex. This was and is, I deem, a very good move.

The Flex SDK now comes free of cost and can be downloaded from www.adobe.com

Since Flex became open source, programmers were relieved and the RIA’s entered a new era. Flex became more and more programmer friendly, when Adobe introduced its Flex Builder, which sadly, does not come free of cost. But the software is worth its cost. It comes in two versions: Standard and Professional.

The Standard version contains lesser features than the Professional one but it is far from weak. The Professional version contains additional features like Advanced Data Grid etc. The Flex Builder provides drag and drop facilities for UI components and it is an Eclipse based IDE.

For those of you who have worked with Eclipse which is a strong Java IDE, Adobe Flex Builder will be just more than a cruise. Its profiling, debugging and code generation features are similar to that of Eclipse.

But Adobe Flex has one more surprise for you web designers; Adobe Flex creates SWF files which run in a flash player in the browser. So to run Flex applications, then you need to have a flash player installed, probably the latest versions.

Also, Adobe Flex extends RIA features to desktop applications. Yes, you can create desktop applications too. Well, flex desktop apps run via the Adobe AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime). My strong foreboding tells me, the way Adobe Flex market is progressing; it might just take over the market from Java Swing or even .Net. With its cool and flexible features, Adobe Flex is really the coolest thing on the developer’s market.

For students, it is a good secondary skill to have along with primary skills like Java, .Net etc. Want to know what’s hot in the market? Spring + Flex. A very good combination. Very powerful.

There are some counterparts for Adobe Flex like OpenLazlo, Mozilla Prism, Microsoft Silverlight; but these aren’t so popular among us developers.

Now, now, I am praising Flex so much that I have forgotten that I am barely 2 – 3 week old into Flex; I don’t know that much either. But I used these two or three weeks to clear my concepts of Flex. Well using Flex 3 now even though the latest version is 4.1 (also there is new IDE called Adobe Flash Builder 4 – a very powerful IDE that supersedes the Flex Builder). What I liked about Flex is:

  1. It has got a very powerful IDE to support it. Its Eclipse based features were a great attraction to it. Since I have got considerable academic experience with Java and I am well versed with the Eclipse IDE, I found the Flex Builder an invaluable tool with powerful features.
  2. The coding style – I loved the MXML designing and the Action Script coding. Since I am a Java programmer (I have been loving Java for 5 years now), I found Flex very flexible.
  3. The cool thing is that Adobe Flex runs with Java on the server through the Adobe LCDS (Live Cycle Data Services) or most importantly the open source Blaze DS server, thereby providing easy integration with the language I love. I believe, with Java on the server and the Flex on the front, it is tough to match such a combo.
  4. Open source and object oriented.

Actually, I pay my sincere thanks to my cousin who introduced me to this wonderful technology.  Well, I was looking for a crazy project and when I just got that, well it is a flat customization project and a platform for bringing interior designers together, when I had thought of using Java applets for imagery and effects (I know, sounds crazy), he introduced me to Flex. He gave me some reference. Well, I would be more than happy to share. Go and take a peek at the Nissan Micra Site (choose the high bandwidth mode). You get to know the power of Flex.

Given time, I have absolutely no doubt that Flex will succeed. I want it to. Actually, it is getting more interesting for me. I am just loving it. Hmm, perhaps I should be saying it for McDonald’s but what the hell, I can say it for Flex too anyways, and so can I for Java.

So if you are looking for something crazy like me, if you are looking to make your customers drool, if you are looking forward to delivering the X-factor, if you are looking forward to increase the traffic flow, if all the if’s mentioned are true for you, including this, then you have landed upon the right development product. Yes, there is nothing better than Adobe Flex. Choose It, Try It, And Once You Do, I Don’t Think You Will Shun It.

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