31 March 2008
I'm pretty much using Adobe AIR and Flex 24/7 right now. The demand is high and it's just so much fun. Also, since my current client comes from the Java world, I'm picking up a lot about Java technologies. At first, it seemed a bit strange to me that they wanted a Java-related site done with Flex and AIR since the Java world has JavaFX now, but then it turned out to be a perfect match. It's really easy to integrate a Flex UI with a Java back end, and this has become even more appealing with the introduction of BlazeDS and LiveCycle Data Services.
The fun thing is seeing how two worlds come together with Flex at the meeting point. For me, as an interactive developer there, is a lot to learn from those Java guys when it comes to methodologies and application design in general. It's cool that we kind of speak the same language now. I don't have to tell them about timelines and movie clips anymore. With the Flex framework and ActionScript 3.0 the similarities have grown, and the learning curve on both sides is not as steep as it used to be.
I am currently developing an AIR and Flex client for Stephan Jannsen. He has a site called Parleys.com, which features presentations and videos from Java-related conferences. AIR and Flex are really great for enhancing applications of this type. For me, all web applications that deal with assets that have big file sizes (like videos) can benefit from an offline extension, and AIR makes it easy to build such a component. Prior to the availability of AIR, creating this type of functionality would have meant a whole new investment. But with AIR, we can just use what we have (the online client) and take it offline with very little effort. For Parleys we built a client that enables users to download and watch the presentations and videos offline—which, in my opinion, is a strong value-add for Parleys and great for users. The current live version is still the old Ajax client, but you can access a preview of the Flex/AIR version.
It's all about the community. Every morning, with my first cup of coffee, I check the Adobe blogs, and I almost always see something new and exciting coming from the developer community. This always challenges me to keep up with all the cool new stuff.
What also excites me is the pace with which web and RIA technologies—and especially Adobe—are moving forward. It's gotten to the point where it's almost strange if a month passes without having any new beta stuff to play with. Naturally, this can put some pressure on developers, since you think you'll have a hard time to keep up with all the latest stuff. However, for me it's simply motivating—new stuff always means a chance to catch up and stay abreast with developments.
Think about it, it's simply amazing how much developers have been able to drive the process of innovation for nearly a decade now. I think nobody at Adobe (and at Macromedia before) could have imagined what developers are able to do with their software, and from this creative space, the community and Adobe have taken technology to a whole new level. From motion tweens to RIA—it's just incredible.
My daily source for news is the Adobe XML news aggregator. It's a great collection of the best Adobe developer blogs out there.
There are just too many to list them all, but some of my favorites are:
I'm not a big collector of electronic gadgets, but I do have some fun toys. Most recently I got an Apple iPod touch, which I really like. I also have a Silverlit helicopter. It's a really cheap toy but it's so much fun. I used to work at an agency where we had helicopter races at midnight in our big office rooms. I really like electronic gadgets that move. One thing I always wanted to get is the Lego Mindstorms series, where you can program with Java I think—one of these days…
I don't watch much TV. For the last decade or so my favorite band has been the Dave Matthews Band. If I had to make a connection between Adobe technology and music, I would say what I love about them are their complex technical skills combined with the art of great, simple songwriting—kind of similar to blurring the line between programming and design, as Adobe does. If I need a kick at midnight to keep me working, I put on Pearl Jam's "Breath"—just listening to the four-second drum fill by Dave Abbruzzese at 4:02
I'm thrilled by the power that AIR gives us and how it bridges the web with the desktop. I would love to see this concept evolve. It would mean even more power for AIR. My wish list is not very original, but it looks something like this: Being able to run native programs, more hardware-accelerated graphic power, AIR on mobile devices (especially the iPhone!!!), and P2P support so sockets will be able to listen to ports.
In hindsight, I never imagined that I would work in this industry. I've never been one of those kids who started their career by programming as teens on home computers like the Commodore 64. It was by chance that I got my hands on Flash 4, and ActionScript was my first programming language—well, not sure if you could call it a programming language back then. Instead, I always wanted to play in a rock band, as a drummer.
But just when I realized that Pearl Jam wouldn't hire me anytime soon, I discovered a video of designer Joshua Davis talking about Flash. And then I thought, "Man, you can actually become a rock star of sorts with programming." I started with Flash 4 and the fact I'm now working on RIAs comes from the complex that lots of Flash developers used to suffer from: not to be taken seriously as programmers because Flash used to be regarded as a toy by many in the developer community. I think this was one of the driving forces behind the phenomenal things the community did with Flash, and it's the reason why we're now where we are.
For the next months, I'll continue with Parleys.com. We have some exciting things still to come, so watch out for that. Technology-wise I'll probably stick with Flex and AIR for a long time. If I look at how Flex has evolved since version 1.0, I can hardly wait to see what's next. I also want to look more at competing technologies like JavaFX and GWT, just to stay up to date.
Note: Be sure to check out Serge Jespers's video interview with Benjamin on his RichFLV AIR project.