Adobe Flex 2 Shows Its Muscle

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The new Flex 2 environment represents Adobe’s effort to clean up browser-based development and make Flash Player 9 an even more desirable place for delivering business applications to consumers.

Senior group manager Ben Watson of Adobe’s Technical Evangelism Group started off our chat about what was the forthcoming release of Flex 2 by illustrating a couple of points the company wanted the development platform to address.

First, they had to solve Flash building issues with constructing business applications. And second, with back-end functions collapsing into service-oriented architectures (SOA), there was a need to expose functions as services.

Flex 2’s strength comes from preserving that SOA backend, Watson said, while permitting application developers using the platform to deliver a clean app to the client side in Flash.

That’s part of Adobe’s continued evolution toward find a “best of” ground from the worlds of client/server and web-based applications. The effort, part of what Watson dubbed Adobe’s Engagement Platform, aspire beyond the desktop and notebook to places like the mobile phone, and embedded applications.

The simplified, abstracted development environment enabled by Flex 2 offers deeper integration points with other applications, Watson said. From there, Adobe sees the next move for applications to cross-phone/portable devices and on-demand desktop applications.

Flex 2’s environment has its roots in a very familiar one: Eclipse. The Flex Builder 2 product was built on top of Eclipse’s framework, a decision that offers the prospect of better management of the development process.

From Builder, the developer can completely design, compile, and deploy applications, all from the environment. Builder generates code essentially as XML, and the developer can insert ActionScript into the applications as desired too.

Flex Builder 2 with Charting may be purchased to have access to its chart creation functions. The XML-controlled charting permits the developer to include more useful representations of data in applications, delivering an experience familiar to regular users of spreadsheet software.

The Flex 2 SDK, including the framework and command line compiler, has been made available free of charge. Another component, Flex Data Services 2, is available in an Express version, a single full production license for a single CPU machine, free of charge.

Flex Data Services 2 represents a significant accomplishment by Adobe’s development teams. They have boosted the speed and performance of the data services, 20 to 30 times faster than the previous version.

Also, Data Services offers robust messaging and quick data paging. The latter allows the client-side user to conduct rapid data sorting, as Watson demonstrated during the conversation.

Flex 2 drove development of Flash Player 9, also available today. Flash Player 9 contains two virtual machines, one for processing older ActionScript 1 or 2, the other for ActionScript 3.

Watson said that multiple instances of Flash applications would run in their separate VMs. That should translate nicely to reduced memory usage and the ability to effectively handle web services processing in Player.

An external API permits developers to integrate Flash with other applications. Those apps can “talk” through the API and change what appears in the Flash Player by setting new values in the client-side application. Also, Flex can potentially use every keyboard or mouse event to drive actions.

Ajax components are being built for Flash. We have already seen these combinations online, like the Google Finance service or the addictive video experience of YouTube as examples Watson cited.

I asked about security, since the focus of Flex is on enterprises and business applications. Watson said Flex calls data based on the security of the data model. Security classes can be set within an application, so multiple users of the same app can be differentiated by their permitted level of access.

The massive beta test of Flex 2 included the efforts of 70,000 testers in the program. Adobe crafted Flex 2 to allow developers to see verbose error reporting so apps can be fixed as needed.

Developers do not have to write database controls in Flex. That along with the features of the environment should let non-Flash developers get into Flex quickly. There is still a learning curve developers will have to overcome to become proficient.

Working toward that proficiency will reward the developer in the long run. Adobe has to meet the challenge of convincing developers to do things the Adobe way, and comply with ActionScript standards.

Do so, and the payoff will be in the performance, Watson said.


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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

Adobe Flex 2 Shows Its Muscle
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