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RollOut: Adobe's Flex 2.0

The Upshot

Adobe Flex 2.0 simplifies development and deployment of rich Internet applications by providing a large number of prebuilt, browser-agnostic components for interface design, data display and manipulation, and audio and video output. In addition, the ActionScript language provides procedural control of the application when declarative MXML won't do. Finally, Adobe Flex applications are, at their core, Flash applications, and therefore supported on the vast majority of browsers.

Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) is all the buzz in enterprises. To some, it promises the best of thick-client desktop applications combined with thin-client Web pages. To others, it's yet another in a long line of hyped technologies that don't live up to their billing. The truth, as always, is somewhere in between. Ajax, when done well, does combine the best of the desktop and the Web. The client handles interface tasks, letting users keep working, while the server performs much of the heavy lifting, crunching data and returning results. The problem is, coding Ajax is, well, hard.

Adobe has taken a different tack from other vendors regarding browser support, relying on the ubiquity of the Flash player to power its Ajax offering on the client. By making the core SDK freely available, it stays aligned with competing vendors (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft) that provide free toolsets as well as the open-source community (Dojo, Rico, Zimbra's Kabuki). In addition, Flash is perceived as being more secure than client-side scripting. However, there's no getting around the fact that using Flex locks you into Flash player, a constraint some may find unpalatable.

Adobe Flex 2.0

AJAX development is difficult even under the best of conditions: Browsers implement the DOM (Document Object Model) in different ways. XML is an open-ended construct that can be hard to manipulate. No browser renders Cascading Style Sheets in perfect W3C compliance. JavaScript still has flaws. All this can make Ajax development--especially without the benefit of frameworks or toolkits--the sole domain of the IT guru. But with its release of Flex 2.0, Adobe simplifies matters and allows for the rapid design, creation and deployment of rich Internet apps.

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