Flex Website: Pillar Data Systems

I didn’t think to make an entire website in Flex. There are only a very few genres of websites that can pull off an entire site done in Flash and not have it adversly affect the user. For such sites, Flash is appropriate.

Typically, a hybrid approach seems to work well, whether for rich advertising, or for useful widgets like in-page video players, real-time voting polls, or rss readers.

So, to see an entire website built in Flex… well, my reflection on it is, the JSP guys I guess found their replacement for Spring, or whatever it was they were using.

Although a few things were different, my initial reaction is it works and feels like a real website; real being I knew it was Flex because they told me it was before I saw it. I view Flex as an web application creation product, not a webpage/website creation product. I think it’s really nice.

…then I seeked my budding Information Architect wife on it, who does usability and web design in her day to day job. Feedback like this only helps to improve Flex. Her comments with mine mixed in below:

  • inital loading time exceeds the 10 second rule. Subsequent loading times to do not. Perhaps Flex’ deferred instantiation could help this by loading in content as dynamic vs. embedded?
  • no cookie trail, or highlighted selection on navigation to let you know where you are once you navigate somewhere. Perhaps the link control can be upgraded/extended to a more web-esque, obeying how HTML links work with color & underline, highlight, and a change in color for visited.
  • boxes on the right do not indicate what they do; this is site specific, but because it uses SWF, there is a lot of flexbility & creativity one can implement here.
  • back and next buttons work; rock on. An enhancement would have them not have the same name in the history, but rather, have section specific names.
  • navigation disappears when you click it… why not keep where you are there and highlighted?
  • bookmarking a certain section does not take you to that section when you return to the bookmark; perhaps capture this via FlashVars to let your app know which section to initialize too?
  • the search field does not show the text cursor when you roll over it; set it manually via the CursorManager.
  • middle mouse does not scroll text boxes, nor does the cursor indicate it’s text, even though you can select it. Perhaps the app is stealing focus?

Over all, awesome example of how Flex can be used as a front-end to backend services for use in creating a website. Curious how much is dynamic content, how much is static, and what were the reasons to use Flex instead of JSP and/or HTML alertnatives?

Pillar Data Systems via James Ward.

11 Replies to “Flex Website: Pillar Data Systems”

  1. It looks really, really good, and that looks like some mighty fine Flex coding, but as a site, it seems like a bad idea. A site is not an app. This seems to me like using Flex for the sake of using Flex. The site takes a while to load, it’s sluggish and there’s a lot of useless stuff. I’d think of it as a counter-example of Flex usage.

  2. I’m with you G, but again, I think Java back-end programmers are loving the fact they now have a way to easily get a phat GUI for their front-ends vs. static HTML… whether this GUI is used for a web app or a website is where I agree with you. From this, their’s clearly people wanting to create front-ends that look like this easily without using the Flash IDE. Again, there must have been some back-end data they are pulling to justify using Flex beyond the presentation part.

  3. Well there’s a client area in there and I’m betting it’ swhat motivated them to use Flex in the first place. Otherwise ther’s not much data to be pulled in this app. On my system it takes about 10 seconds to initilalize even though everything’s cached. That’s doesn’t seem right. Would like to see the client area though. GUI’s fat but could easily have been done (except the datagrids) via HTML.

  4. Nicely done, although a bit static. Also check out the new bmw.com. It has a broadband version totally in flash.

  5. This is terrific example of using a technology innappropriately.

    1) The load time alone is a killer. If I was going to the site to evaluate the company, I probably would have left and gone to a competitor by the time the page loaded.

    2) The minimum requirement for Flex is Flash V7. There is no alternative wat to evaluate this company if a user has a lower version of Flash Player. Say good-bye to up to 15% of your audience.

    3) Say goodbye to Google and all other search engines. There is no indexable text on the site.

    4) There is nothing on the site that could not have been easily done with HTML,CSS, JavaScript. For a whole lot less $$$

    5) I certainly hope a potential client does not want to print information from the site to distribute at the meeting where they are selecting a vendor…. OOPS…. can’t print anything.

    6) I could go on

    The two things that bother me about all this are:

    1) this looks to me like a case where the developers of the site put their desire to ‘Do a site with Flex’ ahead of what is best for the client.

    2) Flex advocates are reacting to this site as though it is a great example of what Flex can do. It is not. It is a great example of what you should not do with Flex. If this site was done with any other technology, and had the issues outlined above by me and others, it would be ridiculed, and would not be garnering any attention at all.

    That’s just one developer’s take.


  6. I think this is a bad example, just because it is poor execution. It’s not bad because of technology per say. Though, I agree that I would probably pick xhtml and css over Flash for this type of site, for several reasons. Flex is good for particular types of solutions, but even those solutions may be bad if poorly executed. However, alot of things Brandy points out are issues with the designs usability and not the technologies, because they could easily translate to the same issues in an html site. She does point out on large technical issue, bookmarking. That one is a big technical challenge. In addition, you have indexing, extremely poor performance, large files, etc.

    I don’t think Flash is great for complete sites, but if used it needs to be used intelligently and perform faster and provide more benefits to the user than a standard site does. Its the whole knowledge set of use whatever technology fits the problem, rather than use what technology you want to solve the problem.

    In 2000, I had a client I freelanced for that insisted on having a Flash site. So basically, I set up one content system and ran 3 sites, one text, one flash, and one html all of the same system. Each implementation took about 2 hours to actually write. Checkout http://www.madisonkeats.com. You’ll see that the Flash version abides by the usability issues that Brandy points out, it is actually faster to load, and more efficient. I didnt agree that it should exist, but if I was going to make it, it was important to make it just as good or better than the html site. Again, a lot has to do with implementation, so don’t rail on those points. But also I agree that you need to pick the technology that best fits the problem, don’t use it for the sake of using it.

  7. wow you guys took it a lot more seriously then I did, heh. Jesse I am the only nerd who calls it a cookie trail, its actually a breadcrumb trail. Sorry my slang has rubbed off on you, DUDE! :) (revenge is sweet).

  8. Hi,

    I think your being a little hard Kenny, eh? I mean this is one of the first public websites on Flex, but its not on Flash. I agree it has its weaknesses as you’ve described. BUT, let’s also agree that as far as spurring on RIA development and having sites to show clients these folks are providing a great service.

    As previously mentioned, I do agree, there must be something under the covers alla Flex under that login.

    Therefore, let me get the developers over here to comment on some of the above concerns and questions and get to the bottom of this.

    I for 1 would love to see some screen shots of the behind the scenes app if there is one (blanked out sensitive info. of course).


  9. I just pushed out some updates to pillardata.com which drastically reduce load time. It’s about 4.5 seconds on my computer. :)


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