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Old 11-30-2009, 10:17 AM   #1
daveystew
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Default Experienced AS3 developer looking to learn Flex

Hi there,

I'm sure this question probably comes up fairly regularly, so feel free to point me at other threads, if you'd rather not repeat yourselves

A new client is yet again asking for a Flash site that would be far more suitable in HTML/PHP, but they are convinced they want it in Flash. As such, I'll go down the usual route of reinventing the wheel, building an MVC structure, and all the other custom components that go with it, such as menus, skinned buttons, liquid backgrounds, etc.

I was under the impression that Flex was a tool primarily aimed at making structuring and building the more "traditional" site fairly straightforward. As such, I figured maybe it's time I got into Flex.

Unfortunately, they want it built by Jan 2nd, and they reckon it's a 3 week project. That gives me an extra week or two to both learn what I need to lean in Flex, and have a Christmas break.

I'm sure Flex will provide both freedom and constraints, but do you think this is a sensible approach?

If anyone has any links to learning resources where I could take inspiration from as well, it would be much appreciated.

Thanks very much,
Dave
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Old 11-30-2009, 03:19 PM   #2
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When you say Flex, do you mean the framework, or the SDK? If you have used SDK to compile your projects before, then, it won't be to much of learning, however, if you used only Flash, then it's a big change, and single week won't be enough for it... well, it wouldn't be enough for me
If you need examples / tutorials:
http://blog.flexexamples.com/
And you can try to find Flex SDK people's blogs like this one, I think Alex Harui also has one, etc... I'd say it is the quickest way to learn + remain updated.
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Old 11-30-2009, 04:00 PM   #3
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Yeah,

What I mean is switching from the CS4/FlashDevelop/FlexSDK way of building sites and move into the FlexBuilder/MXML way of building sites.

At the moment I build a lot of sites in PHP using an MVC framework, and when I come back to Flash it just feels like reinventing the wheel every time, and layout is always such a pain.

The whole layout plus interaction components seems to combine the best of HTML and the best of Flash into one easily managed environment.

I saw this today which looks pretty interesting.

http://www.adobe.com/devnet/flex/vid...ing/flex4beta/

I imagine the broad strokes may be fairly easy to pick up, but it will be the details, gotchas and general background knowledge that could trip me up with such a tight time-scale.

Perhaps I should build the site how I know, and learn Flex on the side.

Incidentally - am I correct in my assumption that using Flex makes building the more "traditional" kind of website easier in Flash?

Cheers,
Dave
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Old 11-30-2009, 04:41 PM   #4
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Hi Dave,

I agree with wvxvw that 1 week won't be enough to learn Flex. It might be enough to get a basic understanding of it, but that's kinda it ( if you were an experienced WPF developer or something similar, then 1 week might have been enough to get you on the right track fast ).

Back on topic: Flex is not really used for building websites ( although examples exist ), mainly because a website usually needs a great appeal and Flex doesn't really give you the tools to design your stuff ( usually, you'll do the design in Photoshop/Flash/Illustrator and so on, and once the layout is done, you can start wasting time with skinning Flex components... which can get quite a pain in the... and also time consuming ).

Let's not also forget about the additional overhead that Flex brings... Since it's a framework, you like it or not, most of the stuff in it will be added to the final .swf file... meaning that even an empty .swf file with only the framework can be 200 kb ++ which is definitely not a great thing if you are kean on filesize and load time ( obviously, if the people you are targeting are more "select" and not using dial-up, then +200-300 kb is nothing ).

The good thing in Flex is that it does come with quite "a nice bag of components" that are ready to be used out of the box. Even better, you can extend those components and build your own, add your own features and so on. So, Flex is definitely good for most projects, but again, it really wasn't designed to be used for websites ( at least not in my opinion... but there were a few Flex websites out there that were quite nice - like the Wolksvagen website )... when it comes to software, RIA and other widgets/apps, it definitely is great, but when aesthetics have a big word, it might not be the best tool ( it's definitely possible to create appealing stuff in it, just that it usually takes more patience and time then with a tool that was designed to build appealing things ).

Since your time-frame is short, I personally would not risk using Flex. The unexpected can happen at any moment and when a nasty deadline is sitting at your back with a knife, it's hard to get the job done well and maybe even on time...

In the end, it's your decision to make.

Best wishes,
Barni
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Old 11-30-2009, 05:47 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by daveystew View Post
Yeah,

What I mean is switching from the CS4/FlashDevelop/FlexSDK way of building sites and move into the FlexBuilder/MXML way of building sites.
I say, you ware on the right track, hard to believe you'll make much use of Flex framework in such case... IMO, the framework is good for 2 things:
- fast prototyping.
- as a first step for non-AS coders to get involved with Flash. In a sense, like Borland builder made C++ / Delphi more accessible to a wider range of programmers.
But, if you need an efficient application - that's not something I would choose to use... the keywords are: bloated, slow, buggy...
Again, if you want to compare it to .NET - take ASPX and .NETAJAX as an example - it offers great opportunities for beginner, but, at a more advanced level, you realize it is absolutely not what makes a good web application... Some would end up patching codegeneration, or rewriting bits of it by hand, some would switch to another framework / technology etc...
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Old 11-30-2009, 10:26 PM   #6
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Wow guys, I really didn't expect such a scathing review of Flex! Thanks for your honest and frank feedback.

It's so strange. I love Flash in many ways, but of all the technologies I use, maybe because of its complexity, yes - when the bugs do show up they are absolutely infuriating. And as such, I can totally understand how Flex could be even more infuriating.

What I could really do with would be a brilliant framework that takes care of the grunt work, and provides innovative solutions to everyday, repetitive "framework" stuff. Know of such a framework (for next time) ?
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Old 11-30-2009, 11:01 PM   #7
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Quote:
What I could really do with would be a brilliant framework that takes care of the grunt work, and provides innovative solutions to everyday, repetitive "framework" stuff. Know of such a framework (for next time) ?
I don't believe such a framework exists or will ever exist. There will always be problems that need to be solved, problems that require people to put some brain-power in there. I frankly really like ActionScript and Flex. I am aware of it's weaknesses and strong points and in the end, I believe that it comes down to "learn to live with the tool and use it the way it was intended to be used". I see too many developers whining when they switch to a new framework because they can't find the same things in the new framework that they got used to in the previous one... well, this is what draws the line between "good developers" and "great developers"... "good developers" can code and they definitely get the job done, but they are useless when change comes into play or when an additional effort is required ( like learning a new technology, learning new tools and so on )... the "great developers" on the other hand understand that "tools are tools" and each tool is good for something... so solving problems doesn't only mean "finding a solution" but it also means "finding the right solution, even if that means using a new technology or 2-3 new/different technologies"... this "adaptivity/flexibility" is what makes the "giant companies" want to dig deep in their pocket if needed just to hire/keep such a developer...

So, each tool is good for something, people just need to understand when, why and how to use certain tools. Just because someone feels comfortable with technology X, that doesn't mean that technolgy X is the "way to go" for all kind of projects ( even if it might be possible to solve all the problems with that technology ).

In the end, it comes down to "you"... Sit down for a while, relax, take a deep breath and think about "do I really need this? do I really want this? why would this be of more help then my current tools, or will it actually help?" If you can answer these questions, then it really does not matter what we think about Flex or AIR or Flash or whatever... what matters is that you have a clear goal and you understand why tool X is ( or will be ) best suited for you...

IMHO, the key words/ideas are "versatility, an open mind and a strong will to succeed". Not everyone has all three ( the really lucky ones may even have more ) but if you struggle to achieve at least 2 of the above, you're definitely a winner, no matter the framework or technology you'll end up with.

Best wishes,
Barni
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Old 11-30-2009, 11:09 PM   #8
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Well, I think, you'd hear similar opinions from long time Swing users or .NET users... the thing is it's not really that bad, it's that it is almost always like this: either you use something ready-made, then you loose in terms of efficiency, flexibility etc, etc, otherwise you spend a lot of time doing things yourself. Take for example even Flash Player - had you ever used AccessibilityImplementation class, or TextRenderer? But those are built into player and they add some X bytes to the player size
Or, another example - AS3 3D is barely useful, and because of it's implementation cannot even try to compete against any of nowdays 3D libraries for AS3, but you are forced to use DisplayObject classes that have a bloat of 3D-related properties, which are just basically useless...
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Old 11-30-2009, 11:46 PM   #9
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I agree with wvxvw's points. Adobe seems to need to improve it's management seriously because instead of actually improving things, at least in my opinion, they seemed to focus more on adding useless features to the existing ones... not saying that native 3D might not come in handy some day, but why bother with it when there are other people already offering that and much more?

Flex is definitely nice and it shouldn't be given a bad grade because the company's management that has produced it is not top notch. Again, coming back to my previous reply, I believe that you need to sit down and actually decide if you need all this or not... if you are looking for efficient components and speed then you'll be better of developing your own or being prepared to spend time trying to improve the existing ones... if speed and efficient components are important to you but not an absolute goal then Flex is more than OK.

Adobe improved the implementation of the components in the new Flex 4 framework but overall, I find it awkward... I was somewhat expecting to see a clean line between Spark ( Flex 4 ) and Halo ( Flex 3 ), but instead, Flex 4 is an awkward hybrid that I didn't yet got used to... for example, HGroup and VGroup just seem nuts... adding verticalAlign into one and horizontalAlign into the second but not allowing both verticalAlign and horizontalAlign at once just seems stupid... instead of writing clean MXML, I'm more feeling as if I'm writing hacks over hacks... Obviously, people could use VBox or Hbox from Flex 3 but where would the point in using Flex 4 be? Dunno what they had in mind when they designed all that, but to me, it's just awkward...

Ok, enough with the off topic Good luck!
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Last edited by Barna Biro; 11-30-2009 at 11:52 PM.
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Old 11-30-2009, 11:49 PM   #10
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All this just makes me appreciate the PHP framework I use, Kohana, even more. Now that is a good framework, powerful but never overbearing.

I bet my client doesn't even need a Flash site, anyway. I have yet to laugh at the brief.

The main thing I want is automated layout and decent state management. Thus I thought Flex might be a good choice.
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