Adobe Flex, heralded by many as the coming of a newer age of web development, is evil.
I will admit right off the bat that the version I used was 1.5, and they are now on higher iterations of the product. I still maintain that, while in theory the concept of Flex is intriguing, it is way too seductive to web developers who simply don’t know what they are doing.
Flex promises to make it easy for web developers to build Flash applications for the web. The idea is that programmers do not have either the capacity to learn the animation-oriented Actionscript-based programming model of Flash, and so Flex is a simple alternative. Build a Flash animation for a website using a different method of programming, using an XML-based programming language called MXML. Then, provide little documentation on how it actually works.
The result was a rash of programmers back when Flex first came out who scrambled to jump on board. Some websites integrated Flex nicely, although I imagine (and know from experience) that it adds a layer of complexity to the maintenance of sites that use it. It requires a Java-based web server like Apache to run as well. This complexity is added when you consider smaller companies who are reliant on IIS learning both a new programming language, but a new web server at the same time.
The call of Flex is hard to resist, though. XML-based content delivery into a Flash file that is compiled from a command line interface? More programmers would be comfortable with that then Flash.
If you ask me, Flash programming is a strange combination of programming and web design. I think that web developers can program Flash, and web designers can program Flash, and that sort of makes Flex completely unnecessary and redundant. The one major advantage is that you can easily add dynamic content from an XML file – at least, that’s how some people sell Flex over Flash. Those same people, of course, don’t realize that Flash can do the exact same thing easily.
In the end, Adobe was only competing with themselves when Flex was developed. There was no real competition to Flash like Microsoft Silverlight is proving to be. There are a few differences between Flex and Flash, but even wikipedia is really stretching to list them. “Drag and drop” and “charts and graphs” are not features unique to Flex in the slightest. In fact, to me that sounds like marketing spin to try and make it sound like Flex is the latest and greatest in Web 2.0 (which most people associated with the term “drag and drop”, for some reason).
Flex is a needlessly complicated, redundant piece of software. In the end anyone would be better off hiring a Flash developer over implementing a Flex-based site. Flex can be nice for the occasional small integrated application, but is the overhead worth it?
Questions? Comments? Feel free to contact me, James Martin, or comment!
Email me, or leave your comment.