Flex finally appeals to engineers, but at Flash’s expense?

It’s official; Flex has made the .swf a legitimate and respected solution to application developers. Coders from all walks of life, be it Java, C++ and even Ajax/JavaScript, are now acknowledging Flex as the stellar platform that it is. Yesterday’s announcement on Salesforce adding Flex support for their Apex Platform is solid evidence that Flex is now recognized by developers outside the Adobe-herded development community as an efficient, robust and true solution.

3 years ago I was working at Fidelity (in Boston), trying very hard to get Flash adopted by the development teams. Flash was already being used favorably by the design groups, but ActionScript 2.0 was still too new to gain respect for Flash amongst the engineering crowd. That’s around the time when Macromedia starting calling (out of their Newton, MA office), announcing that they had a new Flash-based solution that would appeal to developers.

As they came in to demo Flex, it appeared to me and others that it was being marketed as a Flash alternative, not so much a complimenting framework to the Flash Platform. It became obvious that this was Macromedia’s tact, to position Flex as something new, somewhat adverse to the timeline/stage/symbol world of Flash. Until then, the interface that designers came to know and love was never sneered at, but appreciated as a full-on-controlling design environment for Rich interfaces. [As I’ve said many times, with my Film/Television background, I clung to Flash mostly because the IDE reminded me of staging a movie.]

Many of us got defensive, claiming Flex took longer to develop with and wasn’t as ‘flexible’ if your intentions were a custom interface. It turns out, we didn’t need to create much of an argument. Flex’s pricetag alone was enough to deter the early adopters. With the exception of apps like Yahoo! Maps, practically no one deployed any front-facing Flex apps.

Flex 2 has ushered in a world of difference for Adobe’s ‘complimenting framework to Flash’. Initially, though, it was slow going for its adoption. Ryan Stewart reported, upon the release of Flex 2, that seemingly nobody noticed. But things sure have changed. With Ted Patrick driving the adoption of Flex to amazing heights, there seems to be countless apps out there and many more rolling out. What’s more is I am hearing that many companies, frustrated with the lack of Flex talent, are converting ‘willing’ C++ and Java developers to work with Flex. This further leverages, in my mind, what the single best move Adobe did with Flex 2 was: releasing FlexBuilder 2 on Eclipse!

Once again, though, I feel that the ‘greatness’ of Flex has come at a price to Flash. I am anxiously awaiting Adobe’s new flows and integration concepts, which hopefully continue to position and sustain Flash as a valuable tool in application design and development. While Flex has deservingly been crowned as the king sh*t application for Apollo development, we still need Flash very badly for turning out sleek and custom UI assets.

And you may argue all you want, but I still think that super-talented artists that can do AMAZING THINGS in Flash will always be even harder to find than any Flex developer could be. So, please don’t throw Flash under the Flex bus. Viva la Flex, but long live Flash as well! Don’t let Flash authoring become a lost art, otherwise, all our Flex applicaitons may wind up looking the same.

chuckstar

8 Comments

Josh Tynjala

“Flash Authoring” is more accurate terminology to use considering that Flex is Flash. 🙂

chuckstar22

Think of it as IBM-compatible vs. PC. True at present time, but the labeling of “Flash Authoring” had not been invented when Flex was initially rolled out, and the notion of casting Flash into its own category was only beginning when Flex 2 came out.

Keith Peters

Another insightful post, Chuck.
Try as I might, I have still not gotten very excited about Flex. It’s wonderful for what it can do, but the kind of things I WANT to do are not necessarily the things it is made for.

Scott Morgan

There will always be a need for both. In a world of RIAs and HCRIE (Highly Creative Rich Internet Experiences (I just created the worlds worst accronym)) both Flex and Flash can live, and both types of developers can live. Sure there will be some overlap, they both use actionscript. Flash developers will need to know about the timeline, how to use it to their advantage, worry more about animation optimization, and dynamic animation effects. Where as Flex developers (not saying never) will not have to worry about this. Flash developers will be creating more creative interfaces whereas Flex developers will be creatively be working with data and components. Sure some will be great in both arenas. I don’t think you are going to see a C++ developer become a Flash developer anytime soon. It’s like those job postings looking for an expert C++ developer who is an amazing designer, with top notch photoshop, illustrator, after effects, and quark express experience, those type of super humans are only in the movies.

Myself, I like both worlds. I’m a bit partial to the Flash world because that is what I have been doing for the last hundred (give or take a few decades) or so years. I love the creative possibilities. At the same time I like the power of application development within Flex and now Apollo. With Flash 9 now available I think we are going to start to see some good hybrids. Very exciting times indeed.

Who knows if any of this made sense. Good posting none the less 🙂

chuckstar22

Thanks for the great feedback. Something you said, Scott, made me think that I may have been remiss in my post by not mentioning it. The term “Flash Designer” is growing in popularity, seemingly replacing the concept of a ‘Flash Developer’ and further creating this Flex is for developers, Flash is for designers segregation. I’m hearing the term ‘Flash Developer’ much less these days.

David Mendels

Hi Chuck,

I couldn’t disagree more. Flash Professional was getting bogged down in features like the forms stuff we did in MX 2004 that weren’t quite right for most developers and yet were taking most of our focus off of great design and animation features. By having Flex in the stable, we not only were able to really focus on getting a product right for code centric developers, I think we also freed up the Flash authoring team to do a lot of the right things to make the tool more expressive and powerfull for designers. (Of course, there is a blurry line between “designers” and “developers”). Now, we are working on bringing teams using both products together and it will be super powerfull for both sides–all the creative power of Flash authoring and all of the developer productivity, maintainability and power for Flex coming together to create the best experiences. Someone sneaked next weeks Labs release here:

http://blog.everythingflex.com/2007/04/18/flex-component-kit-for-flash-cs3-wow/

and

http://lordbron.wordpress.com/2007/04/18/flash-exodus-is-over/

and

http://www.peterelst.com/blog/2007/04/18/flex-vs-flash/

We are investing heavily in both Flex and Flash authoring and the best work in the world will be done by teams that use both.

-David
Adone

chuckstar22

David, So exciting to hear the Flash/Flex integration kit is finally coming out and I can’t wait to use it. I can tell you right now it’s probably going to be REALLY valuable in my next project.

Please tell me, how does one get a ‘sneak preview’ of lab releases like the folks you linked to above?

Tom Ortega

Bravo to David Mendels post. I think separation of church and state is good. The Flash Authoring environment is powerful, I know this. I used it back in the day to build some early RIAs. However, let’s face it. Flex code is 1000 times more easier to maintain that crazy ActionScript code tied to MovieClips and frames of MovieClips. Flash Authoring is awesome for it’s richness and for those times that a timeline is necessary. However, when you have 50 some layers with movieClips nested in MovieClips and all of it tied to 1 frame on the timeline…you know something is whacky.

I’m thrilled that Flex Builder can continue to grow as the tool of choice for coders and that Flash Authoring can now put most of it’s time and energy into becoming the best design tool on the planet. With both of them truly speaking the same language and recognizing each others components and output, the RIA space is about to get a whole lot sweeter.

Bravo to Adobe for making the hard decision and supporting both developers & designers with two stellar products, rather than continuing to try to mix them both into one mediocre tool.

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