Flex to muscle in on Internet development

Macromedia has begun shipping Flex, which features a presentation server and application framework for enterprise development teams to build more effective interfaces for Internet business applications, the company said.

Leveraging Macromedia’s Flash Player, Flex offers a declarative programming methodology for delivering rich user experiences. It combines the rich user interface of desktop software with the reach and ease of deployment of the Web, according to Macromedia. Developers can use the text editor or IDE (integrated developer environment) of their choice with Flex.

Flex is designed to provide rich Internet applications in situations where traditional page-based HTML applications are inadequate. Examples of applications that can be built include visual data dashboards, online product selection and configuration tools, and customer self-service applications.

A Macromedia official cited the distinction between Flash and Flex. “The Flash tool evolved out of being a design tool for creating animations on the Web. [Flex] is a new server built from the ground up,” that uses Flash as the user interface, said Jeff Whatcott, vice president of product management at Flex. The product uses MXML, a language for defining Flex applications.

“You can connect it to enterprise Java objects and .Net objects in the future without having to convert them to Web services first,” Whatcott said.

An early user of Flex at Montreal-based payment processor company Terra Payments said the tool expands development options without incurring additional costs.

“Flex enables us to be able to tie into disparate systems and represent that data within a single UI,” said Terra Payments developer Stacy Young.

Featured with the Flex framework are a customizable class library of pre-built components, effects, behaviors, and layout managers.

A new Flex development tool codenamed “Brady,” featuring visual layout, code editing, debugging and data connectivity tools, is planned for later in 2004. A plug-in for Flex to IBM WebSphere Studio Application Development Environment also is planned.

The Flex presentation server runs Java application servers such as IBM WebSphere, BEA WebLogic, Apache Tomcat and Macromedia JRun. A native version for the .Net platform is expected later this year. Flex pricing starts at US$12,000 (AUD$16,060) for two CPUs.

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