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InfoQ Homepage News Adobe launches Flex 2 RIA platform; Flex SDK is now free

Adobe launches Flex 2 RIA platform; Flex SDK is now free

Adobe has released Flex 2, its platform for ajax-style enterprise rich internet application development that runs on Flash.  As part of the announcement, Flash 9 has also been released and features a Just-In-Time compiler built into the Flash runtime which Adobe claims has reduced memory consumption and increased performance 10 fold.  In a pretty major move, Adobe has changed it's licensing to make the Flex SDK free. Flex consists of three parts, the SDK, Flex Data Services (which includes new real time messaging and pub/sub between client and server),  and the new Eclipse based Flex builder. Flex applications are written in MXML and ActionScript (compliant with Javascript/ECMAScript 4) and Flex apps compile to Flash SWF files (much like Java classfiles) which deploy multi-browser and multi-platform thanks to the almost ubiquitous installbase of the Flash virtual machine. 

The SDK is free for use and contains the full Flex framework which provides vector graphics, drawing APIs, rich media (video/audio) and UI widgets, as well as dev tools such as SWF compilation, debugger, etc.  Flex 2 can run without any special components installed on the server; Flex apps can be deployed as SWF files and talk to backends using the HTTPService or Web Services.  "The SDK is free for use just like the JDK",  Adobe's Christophe Conraets said to InfoQ in a briefing.  Flex applications can also fully integrate with Ajax/DHTML via tight Javascript integration provided by the Flex-Ajax bridge.  Flex 2 brings the portability and features of Flash to enterprise client developers, and now that it is free. 

While the free SDK is aiming for mass adoption, Adobe provides enterprise clients with the new Eclipse-based Flex Builder IDE for $499. The Flex builder allows an integrated debugging environment; developers can set breakpoints in Flex code and trace through to Java code and back.

Finally, for enteprise customers, Flex Data Services is the repackaging of special data connectivity between Flex clients and server sides applications and includes messaging (data push, pub/sub), native remoting to Java, and data sychronization (suitable for offline uses).   New in Flex 2 is real-time messaging between client and server over the RTMP protocol (which has been used for Flash video). According to Christophe, the real time messaging overcomes problems Ajax apps have with polling or long lived HTTP Connections and makes Flex apps suitable for enterprise uses such as real time collaboration (changes in one UI being propagated to N others) and real time monitoring applications.  Flex Data Services costs $20,000/CPU and an express version is available for free for 1 CPU. Flex Data Services also include a Hiberrnate adaptor which sychronizes local objects with server side equivalents, taking care of persistence.

"If you listen to what some of the Ajax visionaries say about what's missing in the browser today, performance almost always comes first, then the lack of a JIT, messaging, vector graphics - all things where [Flex] provides added value" said Christophe.   It should be interesting to see what impact this has on the rich client development space; while Ajax and DHTML widget toolkits continue to be developed, Flash although proprietary is ubiquitous and free, making Flex a compelling option considering the portability and performance issues common with Ajax/DHTML apps. In related news, Adobe recently leaked plans around Apollo, their vision for integrating Flash and PDF to allow rich client apps to run on the desktop, directly competing with Microsofts Windows Presentation Foundation efforts.

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