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Flex 3.0: Update From Adobe's James Ward

by Jon Rose on Feb 25, 2008 |
With the production release of Flex 3, InfoQ sat down with Adobe’s James Ward to find out more about Flex 3. Last year, Ward gave InfoQ readers an overview of Flex 3 and discounted a number of Flex misconceptions. In this interview, Ward discusses Flex and open source, along with a number of items from the Flex ecosystem.

InfoQ started by asking Ward for a breakdown of what has been open sourced in Flex, as well as how the community has reacted to their open source efforts.
Adobe’s Rich Internet Application platform consists of a number of open source projects. The primary RIA development tool for desktop and web applications is the open source Flex SDK. The Flex SDK includes the Java-based compiler, a debugger, the framework classes, and a number of other smaller pieces like Ant Tasks. The Flash Player, the web runtime for Flex applications, includes the Mozilla Tamarin virtual machine. Adobe has also recently announced BlazeDS - an open source library used to easily and efficiently communicate between Flex front-ends and Java back-ends. The new Adobe AIR runtime for desktop RIAs includes the Mozilla Tamarin virtual machine, the open source SQLite database, and the Webkit HTML engine. Some Flex developers choose to use the commercial Flex Builder tool which is based on Eclipse. Flex Builder 3 Professional also includes the Advanced Data Visualization components including the AdvancedDataGrid, OLAPDataGrid, and the Charting components. Adobe’s customers are very satisfied with the level of Adobe’s open source participation and contribution. They are also happy that Adobe has methods of sponsoring the continued development and evolution of Adobe's the RIA platform.
With Adobe giving so much of Flex away, how does Adobe ever monetize the platform?
Adobe’s products and services related to Flex include Flex Builder, LiveCycle Data Services, ColdFusion, and consulting services. Adobe is also building many of its next generation products with Flex.
Is Adobe supporting the third-party Flex tooling efforts (i.e. Intellij / BEA Workshop / FDT)?
Adobe supports these products and others by providing the open source Flex SDK. The BEA Workshop Flex Builder Bundle actually includes Flex Builder.
What is BlazeDS?
BlazeDS is an open source set of libraries which can be added to Java-based web applications to enable a more simple and efficient means of communicating between Flex and Java. BlazeDS includes an RPC style remoting library and a realtime messaging system. Learn more at: http://adobe.com/go/blazeds
What is Thermo?
Thermo is a new tool that Adobe is working on which helps designers to be more integrated into the development of Rich Internet Applications. Enterprises which want to allow designers to quickly prototype applications and allow developers to focus on development instead of designing will benefit from Thermo. Learn more at: http://adobe.com/go/thermo
How large is the Flex developer community? What does this community look like?
It’s hard to tell how many active Flex developers there are. Some percentage of Flex developers are on the Flexcoders Yahoo! Group which now has almost 9000 members. There are also now over 600 Flex related blogs being aggregated by MXNA and there are over 200 live, public facing, Flex applications in the Flex Showcase. The developer community is very mixed - some hard core developers, some web developers, some designers. It also contains a huge mixture of developers using different back-ends like Java, ColdFusion, PHP, .Net, Ruby, Python, etc.
What does it take for a Java developer to become a Flex developer (how long, what’s the roadmap, can they still use their Java skills)?
Most Java developers learn Flex very quickly since the languages Flex uses - MXML and ActionScript - are very similar to what most Java developers are already familiar with. Many companies looking for Flex developers are finding Java developers and putting them through 2 weeks of Flex training.
How would you compare Flex 3 with the other platforms for building RIAs (Silverlight, AJAX, JavaFX)?
Flex 3 is the most advanced and mature toolset for building RIAs for the web and the desktop. This is evident based on the types of applications which are being built with Flex today - everything from word processors to enterprise software. I haven’t yet seen very many real production RIAs using Silverlight, Ajax, or JavaFX - at least according to my more conservative definition of RIA. So it’s hard to compare Flex with those other technologies.
Since Flex and AJAX can be compatible, can you give an overview of how a developer would integrate AJAX into their Flex 3 development?
In Flex 3, the Flex Ajax Bridge is now a core piece of the SDK. Flex Builder 3 also includes support for the Flex Ajax Bridge. In Flex Builder, setting up the Flex Ajax Bridge is only a few clicks. Many people are integrating Flex and Ajax to build RIAs which take advantage of the strengths of each technology.
Video has taken over the web. What role has Flex / Flash played in this?
Flash Player is the primary method of delivering video on the web. Developers using Flex can easily take advantage of Flash Player’s video capabilities which now includes the H.264 codec. Video is becoming an integral piece of RIAs - even business applications.
What additional functionality comes with Flex Builder 3 Professional?
The Advanced Data Visualization components include a number of different chart types like PieChart, BarChart, LineChart, AreaChart, and PlotChart as well as components like the AdvancedDataGrid and OLAPDataGrid. You can see many of these new components at: http://labs.adobe.com/wiki/index.php/Flex_3:Feature_Introductions. Flex Builder 3 Professional also includes the new Memory and Performance Profiler and automated testing support.
Anything else InfoQ readers need to know about Flex 3?
Find out more about BlazeDS and the Flex SDK at http://opensource.adobe.com

Flex Builder 3 is still free for students and educators. There is also a 60 day trial of Flex Builder 3. Download it here: http://flex.org/download

Let us know what you think of Flex 3! We look forward to seeing what you build with it!
Read more about the Flex and AIR release at: http://www.infoq.com/news/2008/02/air-flex-release.

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