My thoughts on Flex 3 features – Part 3

This post discusses the features Ted Patrick blogged on Wednesday: the Advanced DataGrid component, Deep Linking, Resource Bundles for localization, and the Flex Component Kit for Flash CS3.

Advanced DataGrid (I would’ve called it SuperDataGrid)
This is basically what the community has come to call a “TreeGrid”, plus the addition of more control over the headers, and summary rows and cells. It’s certainly a component that has has been asked for like mad. I’ve seen a few versions of a TreeGrid component out there (like the one in FlexLib). As far as I know this component’s a hard one to get right, I know the FlexLib version has quite a few issues, so it’s good to see that Adobe’s been working on a solid version themselves. I’ll be interested to dive in and see how they did it (ie I assume DataGrid as the base, but do they use the Tree control? or did they cook up an independent Tree control for use within the DataGrid? Is the original DataGrid component untouched?). I’ve never seen anyone add summary rows to the DataGrid component, but I’ve heard people request this a lot, so I’m sure this will get a lot of use as well.

I’ve said before that the DataGrid stuff doesn’t get me excited. This is a component lots of people have wanted, so that’s cool, and I bet I’ll find a use for it (like in my AS code analyzer app for sure), but if this never existed I wouldn’t cry myself to sleep. It’s a cool and requested component, but I mean, that’s what we get for UI components? Two layout components and a better DataGrid? I know a couple people on the SDK team, they’re smart, they can make really cool shit (I mean, the Flex 2 SDK was frickin amazing). This is what they’ve been spending their time on since the release of the Flex 2 SDK? Bugfixes and a DataGrid? Being a component developer on the Flex 2 SDK seems like it would’ve rocked. Flex 3 SDK? mm, not so much.

Granted, we’ve had some good components come out of Adobe (or Adobe Consulting) since the release of Flex 2, like the Scheduling Framework, Auto-complete TextInput, Docking Toolbar. And Ely Greenfield has put out mindblowing stuff. So in my ideal bountiful-component world? Take Ely and get him working with Alex Uhlmann and the rest of the Adobe Consulting peeps to crank out components. The amount of stuff they could put out in a year would be amazing. Ely, you hear that? Enough management and planning, stop writing specs, take a pay cut and demotion and start writing code again!

Deep Linking
That’s cool, I don’t know if any of the apps I write will use deep linking, but it’s good that it’s available and easy to use. But most of the discussion around deep linking is about SEO. An important part of deep linking support is that Flex/Flash apps need the ability to present multiple unique URLs to search engines for them to index. The inclusion of deep linking on its own doesn’t address the SEO issue. So just because you might be able to have unique URLs for the different parts of your Flex app doesn’t mean that Google is going to include your URLs in its index. Now I’m not saying that Adobe doesn’t know this, that link at the beginning of the paragraph is Matt Chotin asking the Flex community if deep-linking on its own, without SEO, is still valuable. So clearly Adobe has decided that even though there is still no solution for SEO with Flex apps, they’re going to support deep linking. That’s good and all, but what would have made this a show-stopper is if the announcement was that Adobe had worked with Google to make Flex apps indexable. Now that would be impressive.

Resource Bundles and Runtime Localization
I know this has been often asked for. Basically at every public Q&A session with people on the Flex team that I’ve ever been to (Apollo Camp, 360 Flex, some of the silvafug meetings) someone has asked about localization and multiple language support. So the demand is clearly out there. I don’t have any experience trying to make apps that support multiple languages (what, not everyone speaks English? really?). So I can’t say that this eases a distinct pain of mine, but I know it’s important to a lot of people, so kudos to Adobe for getting it rolled out. It doesn’t make Flex 3 stand out in my book, but I know this feature alone will make the upgrade worthwhile for some.

Flex Component Kit for Flash CS3
This was sort of mentioned in Ted’s previous post when he talked about skinning integration with other CS3 apps. I haven’t tried this out, and I actually have a pretty pessimistic view whenever I hear talk about cross-product integration. But if this works I will probably do a lot more skinning in Flash. A personal aside, I started working with Flash before I started working with Illustrator. I’m not a great graphic designer, but I enjoy design and skinning and all that. I actually like the simplicity of the Flash vector drawing tools. When I skin apps (or even make t-shirts, or stickers, or whatever) I often draw my graphics directly in Flash. Illustrator lovers will probably gasp at the fact that I like drawing in Flash more, but hey, I’m a simple guy. So since most of the vector graphics work I do is already in Flash, that means I can designs skins using the app I’m most comfortably drawing with (as opposed to Fireworks). I don’t do enough skinning work to make this too important, but if the Flex Component Kit works well (I haven’t tried it yet) then this might be pretty sweet for me.

This feature set is all about the Advanced DataGrid component. This is a component a lot of people have wanted. But I’m about as excited about this one as I was about the original DataGrid or Tree components in the original Flex 2 SDK (that is to say, not excited much at all). I think the main reason I’m so down on the Advanced DataGrid is because I saw Flex 3 as an opportunity for a whole set of new component toys to play with. And so I wonder how the same team of programmers who put together the first Flex 2 SDK can put out an update that includes a whopping 1 new UI component and 2 layout components. This does not include updates to the charting components that will also be included, I have no idea what those will be, maybe I’ll be blown away (although I’m only expecting minor updates to existing charting components).

The announcement that Ted made today about Flex Framework caching on the client is more exciting to me than this feature set. I’ll try to write up my thoughts on that tomorrow when I get time. I think it’s an important feature (although not as important as the Profiler). But I’ve never seen the 500-700k footprint of a Flex app be a show stopper. But anything to get that large SWF size down will give Flex haters a bit less to argue about.


One thought on “My thoughts on Flex 3 features – Part 3

  1. FYI, Alex Harui from Adobe had shared a couple of samples on his personal blog where he extends Datagrid component from Flex 2 SDK to support footers: http://blogs.adobe.com/aharui/2007/04/datagrid_footers.html or many other cool stuff for DataGrid like joined columns headers, etc here

    Alex had shown to us that a lot of new functionality present out of the box in SuperDataGrid Flex 3 component can be coded for Datagrid component from Flex 2 SDK by ourselves

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