Post NCFUG Flex 2 Meeting: Flex, Levels, and AJAX

Had some good discussions about various topics after the Nashville ColdFusion User’s Group meeting. Common themes were:

  • Where can I learn more about Flex 2?
  • What is the difference between the SDK, IDE, and Server?
  • How does AJAX fit into this?

I answered these questions, and had good discussions afterwards. I think it’ll be beneficial to have these documented here.

Where can I learn more about Flex 2?

To learn more, download the Flex 2 bits from They have some docs included as well as some small samples and brief tutorials; enough for a beta.

Secondly, join the Flexcoders mailing list. Good group of diverse people from various backgrounds, both technically, and business wise which is very well managed and has a good Adobe presence.

What is the difference between the SDK, IDE, and Server?

Flex 2 is currently in public beta. Things are subject to change, but here’s how things stand currently.

The Flex SDK consists of the Flex compiler (mxmlc & compc), and the Flex Framework 2 (ActionScript & MXML UI framework components). This is free with no license restrictions on use, nor dependencies on anything else other than requiring the Flash Player 8.5, also free, to run on.

Flex Builder 2 is the IDE that Adobe is working on as a plug-in to Eclipse, as well as standalone version. This will be priced under $1000, and includes built-in debugging capabilities.

The Flex Enterprise Server is both a real-time messaging component as well as including the Flex Server (built-in proxying for Flash Player’s security sandbox, whitelisting, blacklisting of sites, named services, etc.).

I don’t know the specifics on what of FES you get if you already own Flex 1.5, nor how FES ties in price wise, but I believe if you already own Flex 1.5, you are in good shape.

If you want to create Rich Internet Applications using the Flash Platform and do not want to spend any money, you can use the Flex SDK.

If you want to do the above, and use an awesome IDE, you need to purchase Flex Builder 2 (which includes the above).

The Charting Components 2, Flex Server, Flex Enterprise Services, etc. I’m still fuzzy on.

How does AJAX fit into this?

This question keeps coming up in terms of hype, and I’m really glad because I like when people question the status quo, especially enterprise developers.

The context was, what is so good about it from a business standpoint when Flex 2 combined with ColdFusion clearly owns?

My response was basically paraphrasing what David Mendels had said in a similar email thread on the AJAX & RIA Email List run by Johnathan Boutelle.

Basically, with AJAX, for little time investment you make major gains. Flex 2 has more of a time investment dealing with the learning curve of existing teams, even with the familiar concepts.

Case in point, you have an existing website application. It’s large, been around for awhile, almost legacy, but you are looking to improve it. Your login screen refreshes the page to an error screen, or a success screen depending success of the operation.

You decide to change the form post to an AJAX call, set some progress text in a text field, and show a previously hidden DIV indicating an error happened and why. Suddenly, the login system has a more responsive interface, the login happens quicker (both success and failure), and you end up with a better experience vs. the “magic white flash surprise – is it a success or failure… let’s wait and see!”.

And you didn’t have to re-write your web application that already works. The cost of entering and improving existing apps with AJAX is extremely low. Even new applications can have post-backs as a fall back plan.

Flex 2, on the other hand requires you to re-create your existing application if you did the whole thing over. If you replaced just the login with Flex, there really wouldn’t be a point because you could do the same thing with HTML. You additionally can use existing libraries out there with short learn time, and small risk vs. learning MXML & ActionScript, and compiling the two.

So, bottom line, AJAX is very attractive in that respect because you take extensive amounts of already existing applications, and make them better. Not being locked into the same mindset of how web applications are built in the past allows you to apply even greater levels of AJAX innovation with newer web applications.

Obviously there are many merits of Flex 2 over AJAX, such as a runtime that allows companies to more quickly take advantage of newer features that their customers can use; 6 months for Flash Player auto-update to propagate to millions of machines vs. utilizing the Firefox 1.5 Canvas and hoping in the next 2 years, it’s prevalent enough to hit a decent user margin.

Still, it’s good to know why the hype is placed in context to Flex 2 and even better to see how the two can integrate enough so you can do less-risk implementations of Flex rather than full-blown application implementations like I do. A lot of creative room here.

I awoke at 2:45am to the sound of Bach. I drove from Nashville, Tennessee back to Atlanta, Georgia safely in 4 1/2 hours, but frikin’ tired. I’m only hitting my inbox today, so if you are on mailing lists, I’m just recuperating and coding and will be back in the mix tomorrow.

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