“An Update on Flex”, London February 2012

! Warning: this post hasn't been updated in over three years and so may contain out of date information.

Apache Flex logoMonday 20th February, the sun had set on London and one hundred or so folk gathered near Waterloo station for special Flex London User Group (FLUG) meeting. It was a presentation by Adobe on what is happening with Flex from their perspective. We were treated to a personal visit from Deepa Subramaniam, along with the new Flash Builder product manager, Adam Lehman and evangelist Michael Chaize. It was an interestingly frank presentation, with plenty of questions asked, many of them answered in a positive way. In addition, Peter Elst and Tink discussed what was happening with Apache Flex.

News from Adobe
The presentation was around two hours long and a number of topics were covered. The things I felt were important were:

  • The Automation section of the SDK will be donated to Apache as previously promised. There had been concerns that this wouldn’t happen due to legal issues. The caveat is that going through all of the automation classes and clearing them with legal folk in Adobe will take time. So we are not to hold our breath on this one. No time scale was given.
  • Adobe are sticking to their guns over the disappointingly late delivery date of the Falcon compiler to Apache. They still aim to release v1 of the AS compiler to Apache at the end of the year, with the JavaScript experimental compiler being released soon after. They also advised that, due to its complexity, the Apache Flex community should expect to spend six months getting our heads around the code before we can hope to start work on the MXML part of of the compiler.

    One thing that really disapointed me was the odd explanation Adobe gave for why they aren’t working on the MXML part of the Falcon compiler. Apparently, the feedback they got from the community was that the latter wanted to do the work. This is partially true, but it misses an important point: the community wanted to start work on the MXML part now, not in a year to 18 months time. I couldn’t decide if Adobe had simply missed the point or were being somewhat disingenuous over this matter.

    Either way, it confirms my view that the community should turn its back on the Falcon compiler as the time scales before we can start doing worthwhile work with it are just too long. I feel therefore that I made the right decision in pushing for the community to develop their own Goshawk compiler instead.

  • Adobe seem unsure of how they and the community will develop the Falcon compiler. They plan to use it in future versions of Flash Pro. When asked how they would handle the fact that they didn’t own the compiler when it came to wanting to make updates, they seemed confused by the question. They appeared to assume that any changes they would want to make would automatically be accepted by the community. Further, when asked how they planned to handle the community adding language features to the compiler and thus changing the AS3 specification, they seemed even more confused. They appeared to genuinely believe that no such change would occur. They could be in for a nasty shock in future therefore.
  • I couldn’t work out whether there would be a Flash Builder 5. The slides talked only of 4.x updates, yet there was talk of a major update appearing at some time. There still appear to be no plans for 64bit support within Flash Builder sadly.
  • It looks like Adobe will be releasing their Future of Flash white paper on Wednesday. One thing that it will likely contain are details of when worker threads will be coming to the flash player. The other is apparently some radical and positive news on the future of the Flash Player on Linux. My wild guess at this point is that they’ll be announcing that a third party will be taking over its maintenance. Canonical maybe? As I say though, this is just a wild guess on my part and I could be wide of the mark.

Apache Flex
Peter Elst briefly presented details of Apache Flex. For me, this was by far the most disappointing part of the evening. Sadly Peter came across as very negative toward the community. He did little more than complain that the email list is full of topics that do not interest him and ridicule our efforts to develop our own compiler. Also, he seemed unaware of some of the great news we have had lately such as the fact that FlexUnit is to be donated to Apache, so we will have our own testing framework too. As he is touring around Europe with Adobe, giving these presentations to various user groups, I hope he’ll take the opportunity to make his future presentations more upbeat.

Tink gave a good upbeat presentation on his navigator components and how they have been committed to a branch of the Apache Flex SDK. There is a good chance that they will become part of a future Flex release.

At the end there was an open discussion with the audience. What I took away from that is that the community is less angry now and more just disillusioned. Adobe are making plenty of noises about how Flash has a future, but people just don’t feel they can trust them any more. Apache Flex is developing into a great community, but still people are nervous over whether it has a future. It’s a position I can completely understand. I’m trying to put a fair bit of effort into Apache Flex at the moment, yet at the back of my mind is a nagging doubt: am I wasting my time doing so?

Frustratingly I do not have a crystal ball that can show me the future. Flex remains the best by far RIA framework. It could have a great future, long after the Flash player is a technology memory. Its future doesn’t lie in the hands of people who choose based on best technologies though, so it’s future remains uncertain.

7 thoughts on ““An Update on Flex”, London February 2012

  1. I didn’t realize you were there David, certainly wasn’t my intention to come across as negative towards the community – heck I’m part of it and wouldn’t spend my limited free time helping out on Apache Flex if I wasn’t excited about its prospects.

    I’ll be a bit more careful to get that message across for tonights meeting.

    Just for the record I’m not touring around Europe with Adobe, just joining last minute in Paris because they didn’t have Apache Flex representation.

  2. Hi,

    Thanks for writing this, and getting it up there so quickly. I was planning on going, but couldn’t.
    I agree with you, I’d like to be part of the Apache Flex community/project, but as you do I do feel that there is a sense I’m wasting my time.
    Yes Adobe are saying that Flex has a future, but no clear plans for a Flash Builder 5? There are other IDE’s available, and if Apache Flex does continue then there is a good opportunity for another company to take Flash Builders place.
    To me is seems that Adobe have decided over time to move away completely from Flex (and soon possibly Flash).
    So while it’s great for the community to be able to take ownership of Flex, when Adobe do move away, my fear is that as clients/employers see Adobe dump Flex is there going to be a need for it?

  3. Thank you for getting this up so quickly David, it’s much appreciated from those who could not attend.

    It’s interesting you mention legal tentacles taking time to unwind. I got the impression from watching the Flex Summit video stream that one of the biggest challenges for the community would be arriving at a situation where Apache Flex has no dependancies on proprietary code. Let’s hope the time frames needed to achieve this, and things like learning complicated code bases do not steal wind from Apache Flex’s sails.

    I have seen Tink’s talk on his navigators before and it was upbeat that night too! 🙂 I was impressed by his navigators and having these included would be great news. Well done Tink let’s hope your code makes it in to the SDK.

  4. @Peter,

    Yeah sorry to be so down on you but you really didn’t come across as at all positive about Apache Flex last night. This really surprised me given your long standing and active community involvement. Sell us well in Paris: I’ll be looking out for lots of French Flex devs joining the list as a result.

    Thanks for the clarification on the fact that you aren’t part of the tour. I misunderstood what I was told there.

  5. Hey guys,

    I can say that the FDT team is very interested in cooperating with the community when it comes to IDE support. Our goal is to make a a great IDE for Flash & Flex developers and we work transparently in this effort.

    We’ve been talking with Flex community members and it seems that everyone is still in ‘wait and see’ mode.

    We’re gearing up for a release shortly with some very cool features and plenty of bug fixes. As we get closer to that release, I’ll be reaching out to the community more to gather ideas on how FDT can support Apache Flex.

    Every member of the community is welcome to ask me questions or talk ideas anytime.

    Alan Klement
    FDT Product Owner
    ak [[at]] powerflasher [dot] com

  6. Why haven’t we seen a single release of the Apache SDK… It’s may 2012 and the Apache Flex is still incubating? What’s going on?

  7. It took 6 months to find a Logo, so how long will it take for an actual new release of an improved SDK with Spark widgets like Tree etc… File Menu etc … 6 years?

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