Adobe Flex 2.0 enriches the RIA development experience
Adobe adds a simpler UI, Web services connections, and plenty more
Builder’s code hinting proved first rate in composing MXML (Macromedia Flex Markup Language) interface elements and ActionScript code — the building blocks of Flex applications. Switching to Design View allowed me to drag, drop, and bind form elements easily and create view states with fine-tuning of layouts and property settings possible.
Easy coding of Flash transitions between app views created smooth animations and effects without ever touching a Flash time line. Plug in parameters; Flex compiles the rest.
Using Flex Data Services, I integrated and bound to JMS (Java Message Service) and server-side Java logic. Built-in aptitude for publish/subscribe messaging, automatic data push to subscribed clients, and paging on large data sets streamlined construction. Clients can communicate via SOAP Web services or REST (Representational State Transfer), but the Flex server is available to proxy cross-domain invocation hurdles.
I would like to see the addition of some widgets that offer pre-built functionality and behaviors, as well as live data binding to enhance development. Also, the chance to drill through subcomponents without spawning separate windows in Design View would make it easier to select components.
If tying data to dashboards is your thing, you’ll definitely want Builder with Charting. Although it adds another 50 percent to the price tag, the pre-built chart and graph libraries with built-in effects — such as mouse-over data pop-ups and support for CSS skinning — helped speed creation of professional-looking charts.
Parsing XML with Flex is a breeze. Thanks to support for E4X (ECMAScript for XML), walking an XML object couldn’t be easier.
The integrated debugger stood the test with features such as statement tracing, breakpoints, variable monitoring — the usual. A nice perk, however, was the capability to actually trace ActionScript and Java code side by side.
When all was done, I had several SWF apps streaming data and updating charts within my browser in real time, with only a modicum of effort.
There are some obstacles remaining for Adobe. Eventual deployment to mobile devices will be a necessity. Furthermore, Flex support for ActionScript on the server would alleviate Java coding requirements.
Onboard administration of applications and the Data Services component also needs improvement, offering little more than trace insights into open apps.
Microsoft, however, seems poised to inflict some eventual pressure with XBAP. The WPF-based approach to building distributable, sandboxed applications is already sporting some cool capabilities — such as isolated storage and 3D graphics libraries — that could give Adobe’s forthcoming Apollo desktop runtime a challenge down the road.
Today, Flex is an affordable solution for developing RIAs with an approachable toolkit and reliable delivery mechanism. Easy connections for Web services and Java objects, as well as solid messaging, help tie this package together as a very good choice for enterprise-case deployment of RIAs.