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It's Time to Flex My Zorn: Flex 2.0 & Flex Builder 2

Flex 2.0 will change the web development sphere forever

In the early days of Flex beta (Royale), we were shown a fantastic new product that would allow folks to write rich User Interface (UI) designs via an XML style solution, named MXML.

Flex is a product that sits in your presentation tier, it's not a "server-side" solution; it's a dream product, as it now fully gives the average web developer the total power they need to create Rich Internet Applications (RIA) without having to worry about complex things such as "timelines" (which catches many traditional programmers by surprise).

Flex also brings balance to the force, in that it allows a backend developer the ability to generate intuitive UI without having to fall into the trap of it looking and feeling like a typical "programmer art" web application. I say web application as the web is not simply about "websites" it has more, and it's being used as a delivery channel for a lot of simplistic applications (RIA != website).

What Is This "Zorn"?
Zorn was a code word given to the next generation development tool, now dubbed Flex Builder 2, that will allow you the average developer a piece of that pie currently reserved for the enterprise market. Flex Builder 2 will allow developers or designers the ability to write MXML based applications without Flex Server. Flex 2.0 Server itself will have a lot more "enterprise" solutions on offer that you will not get in unless you pay for the "extras," so the two will live separate lives amongst the Macromedia product suite.

Flex server has been this forbidden fruit to many Flash developers, as its price has always been a sore point amongst the non-enterprise elite. I for one have often been vocal about it, but yet after spending a year or so looking at how its being used in the enterprise world, it's by far the cheapest solution (yes, it's cheap, and no, you cannot e-mail me abuse). Say what you will about the existing price model for Flex, one thing is always clear; the mainstream web development world just couldn't afford it, until now.

That is why Flex Builder 2 + Flex 2.0 Framework exists, it is Macromedia's way of capitalizing on a great product without backtracking on price points while at the same time giving the users more power in terms of generating non-enteprise specific applications around their motto "Experience Matters."

User Interface development is about emotion, it's the one sore point in many great applications as, without a clean consistent way of displaying backend systems, no matter how great and complex they maybe, people tend to associate its power with its UI, as it's the front-line component that takes most of the beating.

So yes, "Experience Matters" as it's the way things are slowly but surely heading. Recently Bill Gates was quoted saying "Focus on the User Experience" at this year's Microsoft PDC05 conference. Two similar messages, each asking for the one or same outcome: don't just build it but build it so that it's useable and with a bit more emotion.

Flex Builder 2 + Flex 2.0 Framework will offer a lot of folks the ability to back up these messages with Flash Platform as its delivery output. It has the potential to shift a lot of people's position(s) in the web development sphere to now becoming a hybrid "designer/programmer" in one, only now more formally in team environments. As, suddenly that guy/girl in your team who has always had this creative flair will now be able to execute the overall design vision more precisely and with minimal effort. This person will later take on the title "Creative Lead" among existing teams (or one of similar naming).

Flex Builder 2 + Flex 2.0 Framework will also give developers the ability to change pre-existing perceptions on how content is visualized, as existing plain "grid" metaphors can be upgraded and changed into something like images of documents even though the data may still be in grid form but remain part of the development process with known input and output.

Flex Builder 2 is the next-generation tool for Macromedia development but it will not replace Flash 8 Professional or its "liter" version - well, not for now anyway. I say that as who knows what the next steps post its release could be other than those mischievous Macromedia (soon to be Adobe) engineers and product managers have in store for it. Flash 8 Professional serves a purpose and it's more suited towards the multimedia side of things, where Flex Builder 2 is essentially placed in the more "application" specific world, yet the two could overlap depending on context.

There is a lot of room here for Flex Builder 2 to grow outward and it maybe the new lease on life Macromedia developers require in terms of using a simplified, functional editing tool to generate RIAs, something its previous counterparts have failed (excluding Dreamweaver 8, as finally that product has gotten it right!)

The Internet application field is changing, there are new tools coming on the market that are allowing people the ability to step outside the comfort zone of HTML and into the domain of multimedia. Macromedia's Flash Platform is so well seeded into people's machines around the world, that it just cannot be ignored as one of many useful delivery channels for an Internet based product. Microsoft is now coming to the table with their own technology centered on XAML, which funnily enough smells and tastes like MXML.

Armed with products like Flex Builder 2 + Flex 2.0 Framework, the hardest part one has to overcome, is working through the initial blank canvas. The white empty canvas speaks volumes in the design world, and with these two products it won't change, there will be a lot of crazy, stupid and masterful ways to visualize existing content, buried deep within complex backend systems. The time is ripe for RIA dreams to come true as with these products, maybe we can see more of those complex backend systems having a more usable / accessible unified view.

It's far too early to comment fully on Flex Builder 2 or Flex 2.0 Framework, and hopefully after MAX 2005 people will start seeing more information about how Macromedia plans on counteracting the "XAML" dream with products like these.

Flex Builder 2 + Flex 2.0 Framework will deliver a new breed of developers, who will be given the title "User Experience Developer," provided they are ready to learn the new world of ActionScript 3.0.

More Stories By Scott Barnes

Scott Barnes is Product Manager for the Rich Client Platform team at Microsoft, with a focus on Silverlight. Originally from the small outback town of Cunnamulla in Australia, Barnes was Microsoft's first RIA Evangelist, focused primarily on the Web space. He blogs at http://blogs.msdn.com/msmossyblog/.

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