FOTB 2009 Day 1

Flash on the Beach 09This year’s Flash on the Beach keynote started on a high with a hilarious act from three faux Mexicans. Having got everyone in the mood, John Davey came on stage to rapturous applause and introduced the folk from Adobe who were to do the main keynote piece. Sadly the keynote then went downhill and left me wondering quite why I’d bothered. As much of the Flash stable (Flash Catalyst, Flex 4 SDK & FlashBuilder) are all currently in beta – and with just 2 weeks until MAX – there was little in the way of new stuff to show us. So we were subjected to yet more AIR applications along with some style-over-substance (or “proof of concept” to be more generous) 3D and sound demos.

Toward the end of the keynote, we were at least treated to some sneak peaks at upcoming features in the next release of the Flash Pro authoring tool, including better integration with FlashBuilder. There was also a hint that there might be news on Flash Player 10  finally appearing on smart phones (though presumably not the iPhone) at MAX.

Next up was a presentation on AIR by Mike Chambers. It was a curious mix of self-promotion of his as3corelib project and some details on features coming in AIR 2.0. The latter is to gain built-in support for detecting removable drives being mounted/ unmounted and a new native application mode. The native mode will be built as a .exe (or the MAC equivalent) and can communicate with other native applications via stdin and stdout pipes. This seems an odd solution when the likes of Mike’s own Command Proxy project offer a much richer solution already. I guess we will have to wait for more details from MAX to understand the solution better.

The only other session of note – in this developer’s view – was a session on Spark by Mike Jones. Sadly Adobe have dumped the great name “gumbo” and replaced it with the far more boring “spark” for their new skinnable component set. The session described the current state of the spark components (subject to change of course as it’s all still in beta). Despite many criticising the namespace in CSS solution Adobe came up with to support both halo and spark in the one application, I personally think it’s a very nice solution. Catalyst remains a odd one. At the moment it just doesn’t work to my mind: it is too product-skin focused and only really goes one way from designer -> developer. I fully agree with Mike’s hope that the final product better support general (and custom) component skinning and that it better support a two way design/ develop workflow.

Tomorrow has far more developer-orientated content than today, so hopefully should prove a more fruitful day for me.

Flex 4, Gumbonents and Thermo make for an awesome package

At Flash on the Beach 08 today (day 1), there was a session entitled ‘A Preview of Flex 4 and “Thermo”‘ by Mark Anders. After the disappointment over the total lack of any real early previews or “sneak peeks” at ReMix, this session really blew me away over what Adobe were planning with Flex 4, and – far more importantly – what they were prepared to reveal so early on.

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.