The future is rich!
Believe it or not, there’s even a free version of Flex, called the Flex SDK, although it’s aimed solely at companies wanting to create their own Flex IDEs and is otherwise a serious option only for the cash-strapped hobbyist. Next up is Flex Builder 2, which costs £315 (£370 inc VAT) in the UK and $499 in the US (£260). Why 20% more in the UK? Because we’re mugs enough to pay it…
But why would you want to buy Flex? What does it offer that Flash Professional doesn’t? Answer: nothing, really. After all, the Flex 2 development environment outputs a bog-standard Flash 9 SWF file, so unless Adobe plans to restrict some features of the Flash Player – so the next version of Flash Professional can’t access them (highly unlikely) – Flex can only achieve the same end results as Flash Professional. The difference isn’t what you can achieve but how.
To see what I mean, take a look at the Flex 2 IDE, which is based on the Eclipse IDE and could hardly look more different from the Flash environment. Flex is for you if you find Flash’s timeline more of a hindrance than a help, and more so still if, like me, you spend most of your programming time working on external ActionScript (.as) files in some third-party editor such as SEPY. I typically use timeline frames only as convenient jump-off points for externally stored functions, which is, to be frank, a combination of simple convenience and my background in programming Director.
Structurally, the main difference between Flash Professional and Flex 2 is that, while in the former you store application layout information and library items in a binary FLA file, Flex 2 employs MXML, which as its name suggests boils down to a set of custom tags in a standard XML file. Whereas many Flash projects will consist of a single binary FLA file, Flex projects contain many files in a text-based format more familiar to users of general-purpose programming languages such as Java and C#. And there’s the rub, because the difference in a nutshell is that designers will like Flash, while programmers will prefer Flex.
If you’re wondering which camp you fall into (given that almost any Flash movie will include some ActionScript), the acid test is this: where do you store your code? If you store it in frames in the timeline, you’re a designer. If you store it in external AS files, you’re a programmer. I’m not making any value judgments here: as an unreconstructed code-head, I often marvel at what my colleagues can do via the timeline, and it’s a strength of Flash that there’s usually more than one way to achieve any effect. I animate objects using ActionScript code, while my colleagues Tim, Kristina and Tracey achieve the same thing interactively in the timeline. Their way is always quicker for a one-off, but when it comes to creating 15 hours of elearning software (as we’ve just done) the code approach pays dividends.
While I don’t expect these users to find migration to the Flex IDE difficult, there’s one major hurdle – Flex 2 employs ActionScript 3 and, indeed, was the driving force behind this latest version of the script language. It’s suggestive that, while Flex 2 has been around since July 2006, version 9 of Flash Professional has yet to be released. To some extent, AS3 spoils the fun of scripting by stamping out many of AS2’s more enjoyable and forgiving quirks, but that seems to be a direction all languages are evolving in, and it certainly makes debugging easier (AS2 is so forgiving that pinpointing bugs could be frustratingly difficult).
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