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Joeflash’s Enigmacopaedia » Don’t Panic: The Rebranding of Flex Builder

Joeflash’s Enigmacopaedia


Don’t Panic: The Rebranding of Flex Builder

Posted in Flash, Flex, Adobe, Workflow, Flash Builder 4, Flash Platform Community by Joeflash on the May 24th, 2009

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I’m going to throw my hat in the ring here: I think naming Flex Builder as Flash Builder is a good thing overall. Part of the challenge for developers today is that there are now so many interconnecting technologies under the umbrella of the Flash Platform, that some of the naming needs to catch up with technology, and I believe that’s what’s happening here.

The Flash Platform now consists of a technological system comprised of multiple runtimes, tools, frameworks, and languages, so that simple words such as “Flash” and “Flex” no longer suffice to differentiate what we’re talking about anymore. In fact, I personally wrote an entire chapter in our book Professional Flex 3 on describing the Flash Platform and the “Flex ecosystem of technologies” just to clear the matter up.

Personally, associating the word “Flex” with an SDK (consisting of a framework and a compiler), a development tool, a framework and an overall development methodology, in my experience has led to a lot of confusion. Using the word “Flash” generically has also lead to a lot of confusion — is it a runtime, an IDE, the file you run in the browser, or an approach to rich media development? What is Flash? What is Flex?

I think the time has come to drop the generic use of the words “Flash” and “Flex”. Or at the very least, for the sake of tech pundits and journalists who may not have the in-depth knowledge of us designers and developers, to assign the word “Flash” as meaning “the Flash Platform” or “the Flash Player”, and have “Flex” mean either “the Flex framework” or “Flash Platform enterprise/RIA development.” That would be my vote, and how I have come to think of those two words in generic terms.

In rebranding Flex Builder to Flash Builder, what we are seeing here is a move away from using the word “Flex” as describing “enterprise or RIA development in the Adobe technology space” (amongst its other uses) toward using the word to describe simply the Flex framework and associated tools. By moving back toward the use of the term “Flash,” Adobe is slowly rebranding Flex as being a subset of the Flash Platform, not a complete technological ecosystem in and of itself, which on the whole is a lot clearer and more balanced. And I’m all for making things simpler and clearer for clients to understand and adopt the technology.

In our book I also wrote an entire chapter dedicated to clarifying misconceptions about Flex and the Flash Platform, because it was sorely needed. With this move by Adobe, I can already foresee an end to the number one misconceived question: “Do I run Flex apps in the Flex Player?” While few people I’ve met have actually asked that exact question, the spirit of it is inherent in many dealings I’ve had with prospective clients who are looking to migrate to Flex for the first time. Using Flex to describe a toolset or a framework within the Flash Platform brings it to a level that many people from other technologies can understand. Flex is to the Flash Platform as Spring is to Java, or Rails is to Ruby. Simple.

While many people agree with the renaming, I’ve heard some mention about this being a bad move. Quite frankly, in my opinion Flex developers who feel threatened that the association with the word “Flash” will somehow “sully” the name of “Flex” and threaten their livelihood or reputation need to get with the times. This is the decade of the RIA, and without the Flash [runtime], there would be no RIAs as we know it. Jacob nelson wrote his seminal “Flash 99% Bad” article — which everyone down on the term Flash is so fond of quoting — back in 2000. That was almost ten years ago. It was not true then, and it sure as hell is not true now. So get over it already.

On the contrary, it is Flex Builder in my opinion that should be made worthy of using the word “Flash” in its title. The concern I have is that the name change becomes a mere marketing ploy instead of an indication of Adobe’s commitment for creating greater integration between designer and developer tools. Right now Flex Builder is optimized for a Flex-based workflow. You can edit ActionScript files, but you cannot take advantage of many of Flex Builder’s features for a Flash project, or Flash’s editing features for a Flex project. Until you can use Flash Builder seamlessly for a timeline-based Flash CS4 project, it will always be a Flex-focused IDE, which defeats the purpose of rebranding. So Flash Builder had better be worthy of using the name Flash, not the other way around.

Although, given everything I have heard in the community and from Adobe employees, that is the most likely reason Flex Builder is being rebranded. It is my hope that this means eventually there will be seamless integration between Flash Builder and Flash CS3, and it will not matter whether you’re creating a timeline-based project, an ActionScript 3 project, or a Flex framework project. With Flash Catalyst filling in the gaps by being the ideal Flex UI wireframing and design mockup tool, of course.

This isn’t about one type of development activity assimilating the name of another type of activity like some Borg invasion — Flex developers will still be Flex developers, and Flash developers will still be Flash developers. At least in the short run. Maybe people will eventually be calling themselves simply “enterprise developers” and “RIA architects,” and “interaction designers,” without the terms Flash or Flex, who knows? Maybe there will be some realigning of job titles eventually.

I use the Flash IDE to create widgets, and the Flex framework to create RIAs, and I use Flash Builder to edit and debug all of these, when I can. So am I a Flash Developer, or a Flex Developer, or should I just call myself an ActionScript Developer? I also code in FDT — should I call myself an FDT developer? Changing the name of Flex Builder will not make these questions magically disappear, or make them worse: it’ll simply change the questions we ask ourselves in defining our own identities as designers and developers. It’s up to us as a community to discover what to call ourselves, and have the industry reflect that collective decision.

Personally, I use “Flex and Flash Platform Developer” as my title, to indicate that I’m adept at using the majority of technologies in the Flash Platform, while my focus is developing Flex applications. If you have the flexibility of defining your own job title, you’ll have to discover for yourself which terms best describes your skill set.

Next, I would like to see Flash CS4 rebranded as “Flash Designer.” Right now “Flash Professional” may give the impression to the uninitiated that this is the developer tool. A minor point of contention perhaps, but important to address down the road nonetheless. So the goal might be to eventually have, for example, “Flash Designer CSX” and “Flash Builder X”.

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