One reason why I’ve been keeping an eye on Silverlight is Expression Studio and XAML. Microsoft have a set of designer tools that create design elements that can then be used directly within Visual Studio. Adobe have nothing like this, which is why Silverlight has been so interesting, and why I saw it having a reasonable chance of ultimately beating Flash. Why do I say Adobe has nothing like this? Adobe has an amazing range of design tools, but there is a complete disconnect between them and Flex. Flash Pro works with incomprehensible – to this developer at least – time lines and binary .fla files, which mean nothing in a Flex environment. Photoshop etc can be used to draw pretty pictures, which developers then have to re-engineer into Flex solutions etc. Flex 4 is set to completely change all of that.
It all starts with MXML, specifically a subset of it called FXG. Adobe have expanded MXML to include graphic primitives, animations etc, ie all the designer stuff that Flash Pro had, but that Flex lacked. Next, Adobe plan to provide support for FXG inside their various design tools. This means a designer can draw a pretty picture in Photoshop for example, and then export it as “code” that Flex can used directly.
Not content with FXG, Adobe have gone further with Flex 4 (or Gumbo as it is code named). Gumbo contains a bunch of components built on FXG, with the unofficial, but wondrous, name of gumbonents. These gumbonents can be skinned to the same n’th degree that Silverlight components can, and so Microsoft lose one of their precious few competitive edges.
Finally, just in case you thought that Adobe were happy to match the Silverlight/ Expression features, there is more. A brand new tool, codenamed “Thermo” ups the anti on Microsoft. This tool enables the designer/ developer to import say a Photoshop layered image, then to pick parts of the image and turn them into Flex components. In other words, it allows a team to work in a far more natural way, whereby the skin comes first, and the component – or “gumbonent” as hopefully they will become widely known – is created from the skin, rather than vice versa as is normally the case at the moment.
All in all, the session was amazing. To say I’m now excited by Flex 4 is probably the understatement of the year.