Adobe Flex-es its platform against AJAX

An update to Adobe’s Flex rich Internet application development platform last month makes the technology less expensive to use, and could make Flex more competitive with open source AJAX development systems.

Flex 2 includes a number of free features, such as the Flex SDK (software development kit). The real changes, though, are in pricing, where Adobe is looking to reduce the cost of simple Flex deployments.

With Flex 2, Adobe is permitting free single CPU deployments of Flex applications using the Flex Data Services 2 Express or XML and Web Services. Previously, Flex users paid US$15,000 per CPU to get started with the Flex SDK, which was part of the Flex Presentation Server.

The Flex 2 platform works with Adobe’s ubiquitous Flash Player and features the Flex 2 SDK; Flex Data Services, to link data to the client; a Flex Builder 2 IDE; and the Flex framework.

Approximately 5,000 developers currently use Flex, but Adobe wants the number of developers using the former Macromedia technology to grow to one million within five years. “We’re coming out with the pricing model to bring developers to our platform,” said Jeff Whatcott, Adobe senior director of product marketing.

That kind of growth would have been difficult with the old pricing model, according to one analyst.

“I don’t think Adobe had much of a choice if they wanted to remain competitive,” said Richard Monson-Haefel, senior analyst at the Burton Group, of the new pricing scheme.

The latest version of Flex also improves the capability of the technology to manage data between server and client applications. With Flex 2, XML and Web services can be used for connecting to a server when data is accessed infrequently and payloads are small. For more advanced applications there is Flex Data Services 2 Express software for linking between data and the presentation layer.

Flex Data Services 2 can push data from the server to the client. For example, server-side intelligence can extract data from SAP and send it to the client.

The push technology was cited as a highlight of Flex 2 by beta user Jeff Maling, president of Roundarch, which does consulting and development for clients such as Citigroup and the U.S. Air Force.

Adobe says Flex offers capabilities not available in AJAX, such as powerful data management capabilities and rich media and graphics.

For example, AJAX does not support charting and graphing, although it is possible for developers to deploy AJAX and Flex together, Whatcott said.

The Flex Builder 2 IDE costs US$499. Flex Data Services licensing starts at US$20,000 per CPU for applications that require more than one CPU.

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