Questioning the Viability of Flex

I often get private messages through the contact form on this blog. These are normally requests for advice, resources, or project inquiries. From time to time, a question comes in that I see as useful to a wider audience.

Such is the case with the email reproduced below regarding Flex. I’ve asked permission from the individual author but have blanked out his name for reasons of privacy.

Greetings Joseph.
I have several decades of programming experience on desktops and (in the old old days) mainframes, using a variety of languages and technologies.

I am interested in application development for mobile platforms, both Android and the Apple platforms. However I am unable to find anyone who can give an unbiased and straightforward answer to this question: Is the Adobe Flex platform (1) a good choice to devote my limited time resources to for learning mobile development (2) is it or is it not true that the Adobe Flex platform is dying / going away / not really a good choice etc. etc. etc.

Would you be kind enough to give me some guidance regarding this? I don’t have enough time available to learn every technology so I must focus and get the biggest bang for my buck.

What do you recommend?

Thank you so much for your guidance with this.

-Xxxxx

My response [though slightly modified for this public post] follows.

Hi Xxxxx.

I don’t think anyone has 100% fool-proof, solid-as-stone answers around this just yet… but I’ll answer you the best I can.

1) I believe that AIR/Flex is still quite valuable for mobile apps. Buried amid the 11/9 announcements is a repeated statement that Adobe is “doubling-down” on AIR for mobile. One of the reasons cited for dropping mobile Flash Player in the browser was to divert resources to mobile AIR. Furthermore, Adobe’s new line of Touch Apps for Android are (almost) all built upon AIR for Android (though my understanding is that Flex was not used).

2) Flex is now an Apache incubator podling. Assuming that the Apache Flex team is able to organize everything enough to put out a release or two (normally achievable over 4-6 months), the project is expected to graduate to full Apache project status – putting it on the same level as ANT, Tomcat, HTTPD, and other well-known, popular projects used worldwide. Note that PhoneGap was also contributed to Apache by Adobe directly after the Nitobi acquisition – so this is by no means a death sentence or dismissal of the framework.

With Flex in the hands of the wider community, there are actually more resources available in light of the number of individual contributors. Even if not an Apache contributor yourself, if you have a patch for Flex that would be useful for others – get in touch with a contributor to see whether they might see value in the patch and perform the contribution in your stead. Don’t forget that a number of contributors are Adobe engineers and that they the company has stated that even though the runtimes are still under their care – they will align releases in light of what is going on at Apache.

I am confident that we will see some great things come out of the Apache Flex effort from members of the Spoon project and the greater community.

I hope this is helpful.

-Joseph

I hope this is useful for others out there. If you want to gather information on-the-ground, be sure to check out the 360|Flex conference in April!

4 comments

  1. One of my concerns with mobile Flex going forward, is that how many people will be working on improving mobile Apache Flex. There certainly seems to be quite a few developers and corporations with developer resources outside of Adobe interested in supporting Apache Flex. However, I’m not sure that extends to mobile or if the focus is mostly on desktop Flex.

    Adobe made some great process in improving speed of Flex mobile and expanding the mobile component set, but there’s still more work to be done.

    I only got back from vacation and have not been following the Flex mailing list on Apache yet, so that mobile support could be there and I’m not seeing it. (On top of the project still being new and getting settled in Apache).

    1. I’m hoping that a general sweep / cleanup of unnecessary bits in the codebase will help with performance. I am also curious as to what might be lingering in there solely for Flash Catalyst support… since that’s all out the window.

  2. From seeing how our “new” Flex community is agile to restore Flex SDK and developer’s faith in Flex, I believe this year will be pretty interesting and I’m sure next SDK release will be going in the right direction ;)

  3. I suppose, as the creator of the MadComponents framework, I’m obliged to weigh in to this argument.

    Why does Flex for mobile even matter? It was a mistake. An aberration. And Adobe’s biggest mistake has been to make such a noise in promoting it. In doing so, they have jeopardised the reputation of mobile-AIR. Slow and bloated Flex apps will generate a poor perception of mobile-AIR in general). Also, they have drawn attention away from sleeker, more fit-for purpose frameworks that don’t have the Adobe branding, but result in much better apps, and do more to enhance the reputation of AIR on mobile.

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