By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2004-04-12 Print this article Print

In past reviews, weve said one of the biggest threats to rich Internet application platform vendors is the growth of Macromedia Inc.s Flash and its entry into rich Internet applications. With the late-March release of Flex 1.0, that threat is now here.

eWEEK Labs recently looked at two of these rich Internet application platforms, Curl Corp.s Curl platform and DreamFactory Software Inc.s DreamFactory Enterprise 6.0. Click here to read the reviews.
However, somewhat to eWEEK Labs surprise, Flex isnt heavily based on Flash. In fact, a developer with no prior Flash experience can build a Flex application using an XML-based scripting language called MXML (Macromedia Flex Markup Language) and working entirely in an XML editor, without ever using the Flash authoring environment.

Although Flex doesnt depend on Flash on the development side, it does leverage Flash where it counts most—on the client side. Flex applications are deployed within a browser to systems running Flash Player 7. Running on Flash also gives Flex applications broad platform support on the client side.

Although it is possible to develop Flex applications using only MXML, most developers will likely use a combination of MXML, Macromedias ActionScript scripting language and components developed directly in Flash.

This architecture provides a great deal of flexibility, letting developers build pieces of Flex applications in whatever way works best for them. However, it is also a potential weakness, as developers will constantly have to bounce between environments when building Flex applications.

This will be less of a problem in collaborative environments, where one developer focuses on XML, another on scripts and another on Flash. But some developers may find it tedious, and for developers who are well-versed in Flash, sticking with Flash and skipping Flex altogether might be the best option.

Macromedia expects to release a Flex development add-on to Dreamweaver before the end of the year that will provide an integrated environment, officials said.

eWEEK Labs was impressed by many of Flexs features, especially its strong XML and Web services support. However, Version 1.0 has many kinks in it; the product will need an upgrade before it reaches its full potential.

The main application component of Flex is Flex Presentation Server. This server runs on top of any Java server application, and it is simple to install and set up. Pricing for Presentation Server starts at $12,000 for two CPUs.

The servers primary function is to deliver Flex applications to clients. Although it is simple to set up, we would like to see at least some basic management and analysis features.

Despite the lack of a dedicated IDE (integrated development environment), we found Flex applications simple to build. Because it is based mainly on XML and ActionScript, which is similar to JavaScript, any experienced Web developer should be able to build a Flex application in no time.

Flex 1.0 came with a good set of sample applications, and more are available on the Macromedia Web site. Using these applications, we could learn best practices in building a Flex application and could edit the sample applications to fit our needs—for example, we created a simple RSS (RDF Site Summary) reader using only Flex.

However, when moving through the online documentation and API listing, we were often unable to find the information we needed. When we ran into problems, it took substantial trial and error to solve them.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

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Jim Rapoza, Chief Technology Analyst, eWEEK.For nearly fifteen years, Jim Rapoza has evaluated products and technologies in almost every technology category for eWEEK. Mr RapozaÔÇÖs current technology focus is on all categories of emerging information technology though he continues to focus on core technology areas that include: content management systems, portal applications, Web publishing tools and security. Mr. Rapoza has coordinated several evaluations at enterprise organizations, including USA Today and The Prudential, to measure the capability of products and services under real-world conditions and against real-world criteria. Jim Rapoza's award-winning weekly column, Tech Directions, delves into all areas of technologies and the challenges of managing and deploying technology today.

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