I have this love/hate thing going with Flex off late (if you know me personally, this would be no surprise to you). While I do love the Flex IDE with code completion and language intelligence, the Flex apps that I see on the web are a far cry from the kind of experiences that got me into Flash. So when I heard Keith Peters, aka Bit-101, gave a talk on “Bringing the Flash back into Flash” at Flash Forward ’08, I pinged him over Twitter asking him if he could share what he presented (as I am sure others did as well). So he did and it was a good read, I strongly recommend reading it here.
Having worked a lot with both technologies, I kind of feel let down by both of them just about as much. Unlike Keith, the experience I would like to see isn’t the ostentatious experiences that made 2advanced and such studios famous. While they definitely caught the eye, the crazy zap zoom effects wear thin on the second or third visit. The experience I would like to see Flash/Flex enable is closer to the experiences that Apple seems to enable (disclaimer: I am no Apple fanboy, and find a lot of things they do completely wrong). They are simpler effects but dont make you stop doing what you are doing and wait till the animation ends. I love my IPhone and just compare the experience there to any other Flash experience on a RIA. Both Flash and Flex fail pretty bad on that front. Here is why:
- Poor user experience by default
- Really hard to extend core components
- Tightly coupled framework
- Transitions/Effects an afterthought
- File Size
I dont get it how the core Flex 3 experience is acceptable by Flex developers. Non scrolling lists ? C’mon ! No control over itemRenderers in List controls (can you grow one’s width and height without having it clipped off by its neighbour ? ). Hacks to get any kind of custom Tooltips ? These are few in a long list of gripes I have with the framework
Its really amazing how hard it is to extend any Flex component, so much so that entire frameworks have been built just to do that (read about OpenFlux here). Flex 4 promises to ease this but thats still a year away.
It really kills me how tightly coupled the Flex framework is. There is no way to use, for example, just the collections framework without pulling in the UI framework. Why cant dataBinding be used in pure AS3 projects ?
Out of the box, Flex has no effects or transitions built in. So you have to explicitly create transitions but I wish out of the box some effects were enabled.
The huge swf size of a Flex app makes it unusable for any kind of widgets or smaller dimension swfs, and Flex 4 will not change this (their roadmap states that Flex 4 files will be around the same file size as Flex 3). The size of the swf goes beyond the load time. Heavy core objects mean they are more taxing on your CPU, which explains why complex animations with more than a few UIComponent objects stutter.
- Really poor code editor
- Version control nightmare
- Write everything from scratch
The quality of the code editor is really poor in Flash, enough for me to never use it.
Any code within the timeline is a nightmare for version control so you have no idea when your project is a few months old what the changes were. Same thing with any changes to a graphical element.
I am not a fan of the Flash components architecture, which offers less capabilities than the Flex component set. So I end up writing components from scratch.
So what I am really looking for is a framework I can use in Flex Builder that is lighter than Flex and is more expressive by default. I have been working on a project that may enable those features that I am hoping to release soon, so do stay tuned.