Hands on with Macromedia Flex 2.0

Tim Anderson gives alpha version a spin

User comments on Flex 2.0

Thomas W. Gonzalez is managing director of Brightpoint Consulting, Inc., a company that specialises in business analytics and operational dashboards. The company has a Microsoft .NET background, so why is he interested in Flex?

“The pricing structure of Flex 1.5 made it prohibitive. With Flex 2, Macromedia is trying to hit the SME space as well as the Enterprise. From a technical standpoint, some of the features in Flex 2 are similar to what Microsoft is doing with XAML, which is having a declarative metaphor as well as a procedural or object-oriented metaphor. That gives us rapid prototyping and design.” So why Flex rather than XAML?

“It’s a hard decision and the jury is still out. What sways us towards Flex is Macromedia’s penetration, being on 98% of desktops as well getting to mobile devices. The second benefit is that the Macromedia footprint is very small. In contrast, Microsoft’s interesting work with XAML requires .NET 2.0, which is 30 to 40 MB. A lot of the Windows Presentation Foundation requires a whole new OS, Vista. We have to evaluate where the target platform is going to be. Right now, everyone is using Macromedia.”

Although Gonzalez intends to continue to use .NET and SQL Server on the server, he sees Flash as smaller and easier to deploy to clients. “We come from an almost exclusively Microsoft development background, right back to Visual Basic 5 and Windows DNA,” he explains. “Microsoft tends to do clunky types of integrations, whereas Flash is so ubiquitous and so seamless, I’ve not once had a deployment issue with a Flash solution. When I look at the history of the product development we’ve done with Microsoft, I can think back to myriads of situations where deployment has been an issue, in terms of browser integration, ActiveX controls, patches, compatibility issues, and DLL issues. My guess is that in order to use XAML you are going to need the latest Windows service pack as well as other products. Imagine rolling that out to a client base, even (say) a client with just 100 users. There’re now potentially 100 desktops that you are going to be forced to troubleshoot. With Flash, it’s simple.”

Independent developer Karl Offenberger is more interested in ActionScript 3.0 and E4X than MXML. “I am currently developing parsers and algorithmic art applications. The new ActionScript virtual machine has much improved performance.” Offenberger is less impressed with the Eclipse-based IDE. He considers it an improvement on the Flash IDE for ActionScript development, but “it will require me to compromise on many important workflows developers are used to from other IDEs such as Microsoft’s Visual Studio. Code completion is rudimentary at the most, and the visual form designers are on a level with Visual Basic 6. If Macromedia want to promote FlexBuilder as the framework for rich Internet applications, I believe it will need to look towards Visual Studio.”

Offenberger is also concerned that Flash is underpowered and may fall behind Microsoft. “Why is Macromedia so intent on keeping the Flash player small for fast downloads? People without broadband will hardly be looking at Flex applications. Why doesn't Macromedia offer full hardware acceleration of the graphics pipeline? Where's Flash 3D? Where's Flash Speech? I hope to see Flash and Shockwave merge into one improved platform and player that will contend with Windows Presentation Framework.” ®

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