April 23, 2007

Flex Course – Day One

Rob, Sara, Paul and I attended the first day of our Flex training course today. Most of the day has been spent going ‘ooooh’ and ‘ahhh’ at Flex Builder 2, which is based on Eclipse. I’ve been a bit scared of Eclipse previously, but realised today that this was partly due to using Rob’s Java-and-loads-of-plugins version. The ‘clean’ basic version used for Flex Builder is a far less fearsome beast, and I’ve been positively salivating at all that code-hinting goodness, a proper debug environment, perspectives and views. I’m switching to this IDE pronto, at least I will once I know more about the new Actionscript VM2 and AS3 tomorrow.

The new AVM2 is much quicker than the old one, but the real plusses are in the way Flex makes development easier by levering all the good bits of Flash (like components), and adding nifty things like the style chooser (allows you to pick and modify object styles then take the resulting style code into your app), the design/code views (drag a component into the visual environment in design view, watch the code magically appear in the code view (and hush all you VB people who have been doing that for years)), the container markup process and a much better event-handling architecture will make creating and managing RIAs far easier than it’s been for us previously.

Rob was typically measured in his response; he feels that the fundamental shift in development architecture and codebase with Flex/AS3 indicates that Adobe feel able to move the goalposts freely, representing a need for caution when adopting this technology. I understand his point, but it’s worth noting that Flex is trying to address exactly the very things that were missing for ‘serious’ developers, namely a robust, strict language and a decent IDE to work in. Plus, Flash Player 9 has two VMs, one for legacy AS2 code and one for AS3, maintaining backwards-compatibility within the player for either codebase – I actually think Adobe/Macromedia have a good track-record on this one.

So all in all, I think we all liked what Flex represents and the way it works, with the odd reservation. The consignment of _root to the dustbin has got to be a major step forward in anyone’s book. Tomorrow we move onto more coding in AS3.

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