We’re not waiting for Flex 4

Ely Greenfield presented some cool ideas about the future of the Flex framework during his presentation at MAX in Chicago last year. The core idea is that they’re considering drastic changes to really apply an MVC approach to the full component set, which would mean the core components themselves would be viewless controls, allowing you to easily apply custom skins and have complete control over the look of each component. I wrote up more about Ely’s session here. The future of these changes is still unknown, I think we’re all hoping that stuff becomes the Flex 4 framework whenever that gets released.

But the Flex community isn’t waiting. There are a number of people working on similar concepts outside of Adobe. A recent post by P.J. Onori triggered this blog post. I’ve noticed a few others working on very similar ideas, so I just wanted to point this out, and make a note that it’s worth keeping tabs on these guys/projects because there’s going to be some seriously cool shit that’s going to be possible.

  • P.J. Onori released a set of layout managers. These layout managers are very lightweight, are not tied the Flex framework, and in fact aren’t really even tied to the display of the components. They handle different algorithms for laying out objects, ie in a grid, in a circle, etc etc.
  • Stephen Downs (aka Tink) is working on some layout algorithms for use within a ViewStack. The basic idea is very similar, create a set of layout algorithms that determine how the children get placed, but make those algorithms independent of the actual visual component. Tink’s stuff hasn’t been released just yet, but keep an eye out for it soon.
  • Ben Stucki is working on an ambitious project he’s calling OpenFlux to create a complete framework for containers, layout algorithms, and component creation techniques. At a minimal level this will allow you to do similar stuff like P.J. Onori’s layout algorithms. But then Ben is going to be combining his stuff with 3D and we’re going to have flexible 3D containers with complex custom layouts (ie you could build CoverFlow using these base classes in a matter of minutes). Ben is calling the OpenFlux + 3D stuff PlexiGlass. In case you saw the session list for 360 Flex in Atlanta and wondered what the hell Ben’s topic meant 🙂 His session is definitely going to be one to watch at the conference.
  • Degrafa has just been released, which allows you to write complex graphics tags using MXML. A core piece of Ely’s presentation relied on the new mx:Graphics tags that are going to be in Flex 4. The Degrafa team has basically done the same thing, but you can use it now instead of waiting for the next Flex release. What this means is that if you have a set of core components without specific visual designs, you can easily create skins using Degrafa in MXML. This idea of MXML skinning and skin-less base components is crucial to what Thermo is going to allow you to do.

So we’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting close. What I’m seeing is that gradually we’re moving toward a highly-customizable, display-agnostic full component set for Flex, coupled with some advanced display options (using both 2D via Degrafa and 3D via PlexiGlass). What would that let you do? You could define a base data-driven list. Then you could choose to render that list as custom 2D graphics using Degrafa, or you could choose to render it as 3D components using PlexiGlass. The underlying component is the same base list component that has a list of data, selectedIndex, etc. But you could swap the rendering at runtime, letting you toggle between 2D and 3D views, or fluidly switch between different 3D layout algorithms, etc.

Some of the stuff I mentioned is released now, some is coming in the next few months. But keep an eye on these projects, they signal a shift in the Flex framework. I suspect that shift will officially come from within Adobe eventually with a future release of the Flex SDK, but it will come from within the community sooner. It’s gonna be fun 🙂


8 thoughts on “We’re not waiting for Flex 4

  1. Wow, it’s really exciting to see so much being done on this topic. I can’t wait to see what other people who are much smarter than I are able to produce.

  2. Consider me totally stoked, and ready to eat up other people’s code and see how it’s done. One of the only things I like about WPF over Flex is how well separated the display of a control is from it’s functionality — i.e. rendering a ListBox into a carousel isn’t all that difficult.

    What I think would be great is if someone threw together a framework for flex that combines a lot of these MVC type projects with a nice model-related framework for easy interaction with backends, and packaged it together into a kind of Rails-for-Flex idea (in the sense that Rails is several Ruby packages glued together).

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  4. dude. totally off topic, but as i bruise my forehead against brick walls, i wonder, what is the doug mccune view on design patterns? if you say f*ck em, well, ill just be very happy. but i got a feeling your gonna say something else.

    insight appreciated.


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