When eWEEK labs reviewed Macromedia Inc.s Flex 1.0 earlier this year, we were impressed with many of its capabilities but noted that the product had a significant number of kinks and was, in some respects, unfinished. With the release of Flex 1.5 earlier this month, many kinks have been addressed and the product is now much more complete. In fact, Flex 1.0 now looks more like a beta release, and 1.5 looks like the official full release.Click here to read Labs reviews of two other rich Internet application platforms, Curl and DreamFactory. Probably the biggest new feature in Version 1.5 is the dedicated development environment. Using the included Flex Builder 1.0 tool, it was much easier to build and edit complex Flex applications and work in the MXML (Macromedia Flex Markup Language). As in the Flex 1.0 release, Flex 1.5 applications are deployed to and served from the Java-server-based Flex Presentation Server, whose already-impressive platform and server support has been extended to include IBMs AIX Unix. Pricing for Flex Presentation Server starts at $12,000 for two CPUs and includes five licenses for Flex Builder. Any Web developer already familiar with the Macromedia Studio products will immediately feel at home working in Flex Builder. The tool provides plenty of graphical design aids that made it simple for us to lay out our Flex applications and add components and actions to them. However, while Flex Builder 1.0 is new since our Flex 1.0 review, Flex Builder itself is not fully updated to the new Flex 1.5 platform. Many of the new actions and controls in Flex 1.5 could not be graphically shown in Flex Builder 1.0, although we could still work with them in the pure MXML code. In addition, in what is somewhat of a surprise for the normally cross-platform Macromedia tools, Flex Builder 1.0 is available only on Windows systems. In terms of functionality, the new charting capabilities are a big addition to Flex 1.5. These made it possible for us to write Flex applications that provided dynamic and rich data charts . From a fairly simple set of MXML calls, we were able to pull data from a variety of sources and create pretty much any type of chart we required. The appearance and design of components in a Flex application can be defined in two ways: graphically, using the Flash development environment, or programmatically, through code-based scripts and styles. Although Flash authors will most likely prefer the much simpler graphical method, Flexs additional sample files make it easier to learn how to use the programmatic method. In general, Flex 1.5 provides much more sample application and documented assistance for Flex developers. We also found it much easier to share components and applications. Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis in programming environments and developer tools.
Flex 1.5 still has some of the limitations that one expects from the first-generation release of a new product. However, given its improved development options and the reach of Macromedias tools platform, as well as the popularity of the Flash format on which Flex runs, Flex 1.5 must already be considered the big dog in the burgeoning rich Internet application market.