Adobe Flex 2.0 enriches the RIA development experience
Adobe adds a simpler UI, Web services connections, and plenty more
Flash forward from my 2004 review of Macromedia Flex 1.5 — a product plagued by limited, proprietary features, clumsy development opportunity, and a hefty price tag — and you’ll find a refreshed suite sporting more than just a new proprietor.
Adobe Flex 2.0 demonstrates a solid advance in support of RIA (rich Internet application) development and delivery, comprising an updated components framework and SDK, a new Eclipse-based IDE for drag-and-drop layout and code management, and a separate data services application for mediated server-side messaging and data integration (see also a screencast of Adobe Flex 2.0).
With Flex, developers can create Flash-based apps with features such as chat, real-time dashboards, reliable messaging, and data push services designed to run in the revamped Flash Player 9 virtual machine. Flex 2 now supports serverless, stand-alone app deployment as well — good for offline apps in need of periodic connectivity.
On the downside, companies with an investment in earlier versions of Flex face a bit of a migration hurdle. Although Version 1.5 apps will continue to run in Flash Player 9, they will need to be recompiled under Flex 2 to take advantage of any new capabilities, so prepare for some code parsing.
And, although the new Flash Player shows performance tweaks, debugging, and improved XML support, it is currently available only for Windows PCs and non-Intel based Macs — making this somewhat less flexible in customer-centric deployments.
Notably, Adobe is also working on an AJAX bridge and has done a 180 on its licensing structure — making Flex available free of charge and opening its source code to developers.
Specifically, the framework, SDK, and a basic version of the server-side data engine, Data Services Express, are free. For more than one CPU or clustering support, you still must invest in the full Data Services 2 app. The Builder 2 IDE is an added expense, but it’s well worth its cost, as it eases the learning requirement of Flex’s new ActionScript 3.0 language and provides a developer-friendly foray for Flex into IT departments.
In all, I found Adobe Flex 2 a superb choice for streamlining development of enterprise-grade, data-driven RIA applications. With good built-in capability for real-time messaging, collaboration, and graphical data binding, Flex’s muscle will help businesses break free of the constraints confining today’s Web-based application delivery.
Getting started with Flex was straightforward. Wizards guided setup of the Builder and Data Services components along with a developer version of JRun 4 — with the option to configure alternate J2EE app servers as necessary.