Flex/Flash/Actionscript

My thoughts on Flex 3 features – Part 1

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Seeing how I bashed on what I saw as over-hyped PR about the upcoming Flex 3 beta, I figured I would post my thoughts on the new features that Ted Patrick has been showing. Someone asked me to write about whether any of the new Flex 3 features “add up to a BJ in my mind.” Hence the graphic on the right. I’ll try to make that judgment once I hear more about Flex 3. For now, this post corresponds with the first post Ted did on his blog about the Developer/Designer enhancements in Flex 3.

Skin Importing
This is nice, it looks like if you create a single SWF and if you name your assets correctly they’ll get automagically correlated with the Flex components they’re supposed to skin (ie AccordionHeader_disabledSkin gets mapped to the disabledSkin style of the AccordionHeader selector). I assume this is simply a matter of parsing the symbol names in your swf, and not a more magical integration with Flash CS3, but I don’t know. So yeah, this is kinda cool, saves you some time. I’m not too excited but that might just be because I haven’t done an awful lot of custom skinning.

Design View Zoom/Pan
I don’t care. I rarely use design view, and when I do the object snapping always seems to work well enough for me to align stuff correctly. But again, I’m almost never in design view except to check out CSS styling and very basic layouts.

Design Mode support for ItemRenderers
This is pretty hot if you use design view. I question how well this will work with complex custom item renderers. I have a hard enough time trying to get my custom components to draw themselves in design view at all, so I have some serious doubts about whether this will work with complex ItemRenderer components. But I’m sure it will be helpful for simple inline ItemRenderers. Again, I rarely use Design View, so I’m not super excited about this, but I can see why people would be (especially considering the number of ItemRenderer questions that get posted to flexcoders). Some of the most common problems people have deal with data binding in ItemRenderers. If this gives you visual feedback about whether you’ve wired up your data binding correctly in your ItemRenderer then I think it will be useful to a lot of people.

Advanced Constraints
I don’t even know what this means. I’m really looking forward to new components in the SDK, but these don’t get me too excited (that might just because I don’t understand what they really are).

CS3 Suite integration
This is big… if it works. I’ve seen the demo of Fireworks CS3 to Flex skinning and that’s pretty cool. I have no idea what the Photoshop or Illustrator integration means. Not to be overly pessimistic but I have a feeling the answer is that the integration isn’t going to work well enough to live up to the hype. That goes for the non-Fireworks products. The Fireworks skinning integration looks like it might actually work well enough to use on a daily basis. I’ve never been a Fireworks user, but this might be enough to get me to convert.

CSS Outline
I don’t care. I’ve never used the outline view for AS3 classes, I don’t think I’m going to use the outline view for CSS. It’s not like looking at a CSS file is difficult, it presents the information in an almost identical way as the CSS outline view.

CSS Design View
Fuck yeah. This is good. This is something I’ve wanted for a long time. So far I’ve taken two approaches to writing CSS styles for a Flex app.

  • Option 1: make changes in a CSS file, save, switch over to my MXML app, switch into Design View (because I only go into Design View for CSS checking), click the Refresh button, find the component I was just styling, check it, then go back to the CSS file and make some minor adjustments.
  • Option 2: open up the Flex Style Explorer app and do all my styling there. Then copy/paste the relevant CSS blocks into my CSS file. I remember one day the style explorer site was down for a bit and I didn’t know what to do. I think I got drunk instead of doing Flex work.

Now that all can go away. Thank God. My biggest concern is about whether this will work with custom components. I really want to be able to use CSS Design View for custom styles defined in custom components. Please.

Flex 3 SDK Skinning/Style Enhancements
Nothing here really gets me excited. We get some changes in the programmatic skinning of ProgressBar, DataGrid, and Panel. Maybe I’ve just never tried hard to skin these components and run into any problems.

Summary
For me, CSS Design View is the standout of this group. This will certainly save me time. Nothing else really jumps out at me. The Fireworks skinning integration has the potential to make skinning a Flex app a hell of a lot easier, but just in terms of my personal interest I don’t really care too much.

These features are nice, but this stuff alone probably wouldn’t get me to pay any money for the upgrade. Maybe that’s because I don’t do an awful lot of work with designers who don’t code. Or maybe it’s because a lot of the work I do is more in the custom component realm than the overall app development realm. Or maybe I just don’t like pretty things.

Related:

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3 thoughts on “My thoughts on Flex 3 features – Part 1

  1. “I think I got drunk instead of doing Flex work.”

    Now that’s what I’m talking about! Haha.

    I’ll be back for your thoughts on Ted’s next post about coding enhancements. Those are a little more exciting.

  2. I’d like to see components (similar to Cold Fusion) that makes it a snap to create, read, update, and delete form data from a database (SQL). You can use CFC + flash remoting, but this really isn’t for the faint in heart, and very few people can pull it off.

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