Welcome!

Release Management Authors: Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, David H Deans, Liz McMillan, Jnan Dash

Related Topics: Machine Learning , Java IoT, Adobe Flex, Agile Computing

Machine Learning : Article

Rich Internet Applications - State of the Union

What's your technology choice for implementing RIA?

Some Pragmatic Flex/Java Considerations

Cool technologies come and go. Only some of them settle down in the toolbox of a professional programmer working on enterprise business applications. The technical excellence of any software is important, but it's not the only component in its success.

The Learning Curve: Reuse of Skills and Code

One important concern of any development manager is the availability of a large pool of people who know a particular software. There are plenty of Java programmers with the skills required to develop Web applications, and the good news is that enterprise Java developers with servlet/Java EE programming skills or Java Swing experience will find the Flex path very easy.
Java and ActionScript 3 are very similar; Eclipse is a familiar environment for many Java developers. Since Flex piggybacks on Java EE and browser technologies, a server-side Java programmer should be able to correlate his current skills with the development process in Flex. Java Swing developers will instantly spot similarities to Java event and layout models. In our experience, the typical ramp-up time for motivated Java developer is two weeks. The best part is that Flex seamlessly integrates with existing Java server code of any flavor - POJO, EJB, Hibernate/Spring, or JMS, so the server-side part can literally remain unchanged.


Application Security

Another important consideration is the security of Flex/Java applications. Flex server-side security management is quite extensive, and it lets you use either container offerings or custom security providers via declarative XML binding. There are a couple of challenges since Flex supports multiple protocols, so Java EE security that relies only on HTTP sessions has to be extended, but it's a simple and well-documented process. On the client side, it builds on Flash Player security that's known for its lack of serious security flaws. You have a built-in security manager that has all the standard protection for cross-domain and zone access. Corporations can further restrict the code they get from third parties by wrapping the code loaders in additional security managers.
Flex GUI Performance
Java Swing is a tried and true tool for developing responsive GUIs in demanding applications like stock trading and online auctions. Flex is capable of providing near-real-time data rendering to the GUI and very high refresh rates on large data sets. Flash Player 9 is the high-performance modern virtual machine with precompiled optimized code and a just-in-time (JIT) machine code compiler.

Shorter Development Cycle

It's very possible to build the client side of a real-time portfolio display integrated with news feeds and graphs in about 200 lines of Flex 2 code. A similar Swing program (even if it's created with commercial IDEs) would be several times larger.
A decent Flex developer should be able to prototype (short of server processing) most of the UI for a specific trading system by the end of the first week. If you're lucky and system integration went okay, you can add the collaboration features and multimedia - with the total client code base for the whole project coming within 1,000-1,500 lines. This is definitely not possible with Swing. Of course, some people will say modern Java IDEs generate lots of boilerplate code automatically, but this is still the code that someone has to read, understand, and fix if needs be.
Having said all this, there is a big difference between an application prototyping and delivering a final product - you still need to write code, create new components extend ActionScript classes and implement interfaces. Flex is not a magic wand.

Flex: Room for Improvement

While many programmers who dealt with previous versions of Flex are really happy now that they have a professional Eclipse-based IDE, Java programmers are spoiled by the variety of excellent and responsive IDEs. Flex Builder helps a lot  in writing Flex code, but it's not as sofisticated and elegant as it could have been. It's even not as good as its daddy Eclipse.

While you can use Flex just to connect to your existing applications written as JSP or any other HTTP-compatible technologies, you'll get performance gain if you'll use Flex remoting and messaging that is build on fast Adobe proprietary protocols called AMF3 and Real Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP).  To take advantage of these benefits you have to purchase Flex Data Services licenses, while may not be affordable for small businesses.

Connection Management

Flex provides an extensive infrastructure for managing connections between the Web browser and the server. It lets you specify all the protocol details for the RTMP, HTTP, HTTPS as well as plain socket connections. You can then specify the order in which the protocols should be tried due to availability/firewall issues. You also get alternative real-time push or pull connections on additional protocols, a direct socket API, and tons of low-level hooks that let you build any protocol you want.

Flex and Agile Development
 
In mid-‘90s PowerBuilder and Visual Basic were the tools of choice in the client/server field. Software developers didn't really worry about what was under the hood, but more importantly, they were business users' best friends. They could do stuff quickly, or using the modern jargon, they were agile programmers without even knowing it. They'd ask the business user Joe, "How do you usually do your business? What would you like to have on this screen? Describe the steps of your business process." Most likely Joe wouldn't know all the answers, but this was okay, because developers could come back to the user the next day with a working prototype. This was easy with PowerBuilder's DataWindow. When Joe-the-user saw the prototype, his glassy look all of a sudden would become friendly and understanding. Now Joe was back in control: "No, you did this part wrong, I wanted it different." No problem, developers would return with the changes the next day (not next month, but the next day!).
 Developers didn't really know how DataWindow worked, but they trusted this component. PowerBuilder used event-driven programming model, which was clean and simple. Object A triggers event XYZ on object B, and this event can carry a payload - the data that object B needs to operate. Using modern jargon it's called Inversion of Control or Dependency Injection design pattern. What's important is that the object B doesn't know about object A. On the same note, if object B needs to return the result of some internal function back, it would broadcast this result "to whom it may concern" by triggering one of its own events. This is loose coupling in action.
 The mentality of many Java programmers was different. They'd assign lower priority to the user's windows and spend most of their time designing a multi-tier system that didn't depend on any specific look-and-feel and could be universal. Meetings with Joe would be rare because they couldn't create a decent prototype fast. Fancy IDEs with GUI designers like Matisse weren't in the picture yet and, more importantly, Java programmers were thinking big: UML, design patterns, application servers, and clustering. They enjoyed the programming process for itself. They didn't like the mindset of old-fashioned PowerBuilder or Visual Basic programmers who were thinking windows and screens.
 With Flex you started to care about the business users again. You can change the prototype twice a day, and Joe can do the same with his business requirements. No pile of project documentation is needed. The napkin is back and it works. Flex architects can give the server-side Java team the final okay only after Joe is 100% happy.
 Besides, with Flex we can have the best of both worlds: the source code of the Flex framework is available, we can learn how it works inside, and override some functionality with what suits our needs better.
 Working with Flex promotes agile development, where the people we build the software for are the driving force. Agile development methodology suggests minimizing each development cycle to mitigate the risk of delivering something to the users that they don't want. Agile development encourages frequent face-to-face meetings with the end users as opposed to preparing and sending documents back and forth.

Summary

This quick overview of major RIA-enabling technologies and various approaches to making Web applications richer. It's by no means a complete list: new commercial and open source RIA frameworks and components arise every day.  Regardless of what RIA tools you are going to select, start your evaluations now to get a competitive edge.

More Stories By Yakov Fain

Yakov Fain is a Java Champion and a co-founder of the IT consultancy Farata Systems and the product company SuranceBay. He wrote a thousand blogs (http://yakovfain.com) and several books about software development. Yakov authored and co-authored such books as "Angular 2 Development with TypeScript", "Java 24-Hour Trainer", and "Enterprise Web Development". His Twitter tag is @yfain

Comments (4) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
Ajax_is_a_hack 02/23/08 05:38:33 PM EST

Hey Yakov, check out this:

http://mx.sys-con.com/read/499659.htm

OpenLaszlo - yeah, it's an *alternative*, but let's be honest--other than it not being backed by a major commercial developer (which many see as a good thing)--it doesn't have Flex beat on much of anything. (Flex is open source too...) I've read some other admittedly less biased comparisons and OpenLaszlo was graded lower I think in every category.

jeff_s 02/11/08 04:22:03 PM EST

This blog is certainly not an unbiased analysis, even though it's pretending to be just that.

The article is basically "Flex rules, everything else drools".

It goes on and on about the good things about Flex, while giving only cursory coverage of Flex drawbacks. Meanwhile, it's just the opposite regarding the other technologies, going on and on about drawbacks, and giving only cursory coverage of advantages.

Case in point, Yakov says that Java Swing development is "hugely expensive". Nonsense. First, NetBeans is completely free, and NetBeans has the wonderful Matisse GUI designer, making the development of great looking Swing UIs a snap. Second, there is JavaFX, which is an XML based declarative scripting language that is used to quickly build rich Swing UIs super easy, and is very similar to MXML/Action Script, as is featured in Yakov's beloved Flex. Third, there is a plethora of third party libraries and controls in the Swing ecosystem, that further extends Swing capabilities, and makes Swing development easier.

Then, Yakov fails to mention how expensive Flex Builder is (which, to be honest, you'll need to be truly productive with Flex), to the tune of $249 (as opposed to Free for NetBeans).

Then Yakov goes on to say one of the drawbacks of Ajax is that it involves JavaScript. Wait a minute - JavaScript is based on EcmaScript, which Flex/Flash's Action is also based on. So Yakov, why does that syntax suck for one technology (Ajax), but it's great for another technology (Flex/ActionScript). C'mon.

Yakov also completely fails to mention how much of a CPU hog Flash can be, especially on older/budget machines (which, let's face it, are quite common in the business world). So if you do a RIA with Flex, which is running in the Flash VM, you're going to get a lot of end users (corporate workers) complaining.

Flex is quite good, and has it's advantages and disadvantages. Same with the other technologies mentioned in this article.

But Yakov's article is completely biased in favor of Flex. That's fine, as Yakov has long been singing Flex praises. But he's presenting this article as a fair analysis, when it's anything but.

Thus, anyone reading this article should take it with a grain of salt.

Yakov Fain 02/19/07 07:49:38 AM EST

Sebastien, not only I've mentioned OpenLaszlo in the article, but I also published my interview with the creator of OpenLaszlo:
http://java.sys-con.com/read/337118.htm

Am I cleared now or should remain ashamed?
:)

Sébastien Arbogast 02/18/07 05:43:34 PM EST

It's such a shame that you don't even mention OpenLaszlo as an alternative for Adobe Flex...

IoT & Smart Cities Stories
DXWordEXPO New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City and will bring together Cloud Computing, FinTech and Blockchain, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, AI, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location.
SYS-CON Events announced today that DatacenterDynamics has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. DatacenterDynamics is a brand of DCD Group, a global B2B media and publishing company that develops products to help senior professionals in the world's most ICT dependent organizations make risk-based infrastructure and capacity decisions.
Cloud-enabled transformation has evolved from cost saving measure to business innovation strategy -- one that combines the cloud with cognitive capabilities to drive market disruption. Learn how you can achieve the insight and agility you need to gain a competitive advantage. Industry-acclaimed CTO and cloud expert, Shankar Kalyana presents. Only the most exceptional IBMers are appointed with the rare distinction of IBM Fellow, the highest technical honor in the company. Shankar has also receive...
Headquartered in Plainsboro, NJ, Synametrics Technologies has provided IT professionals and computer systems developers since 1997. Based on the success of their initial product offerings (WinSQL and DeltaCopy), the company continues to create and hone innovative products that help its customers get more from their computer applications, databases and infrastructure. To date, over one million users around the world have chosen Synametrics solutions to help power their accelerated business or per...
A valuable conference experience generates new contacts, sales leads, potential strategic partners and potential investors; helps gather competitive intelligence and even provides inspiration for new products and services. Conference Guru works with conference organizers to pass great deals to great conferences, helping you discover new conferences and increase your return on investment.
Business professionals no longer wonder if they'll migrate to the cloud; it's now a matter of when. The cloud environment has proved to be a major force in transitioning to an agile business model that enables quick decisions and fast implementation that solidify customer relationships. And when the cloud is combined with the power of cognitive computing, it drives innovation and transformation that achieves astounding competitive advantage.
Digital Transformation: Preparing Cloud & IoT Security for the Age of Artificial Intelligence. As automation and artificial intelligence (AI) power solution development and delivery, many businesses need to build backend cloud capabilities. Well-poised organizations, marketing smart devices with AI and BlockChain capabilities prepare to refine compliance and regulatory capabilities in 2018. Volumes of health, financial, technical and privacy data, along with tightening compliance requirements by...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that ICOHOLDER named "Media Sponsor" of Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO. ICOHOLDER gives detailed information and help the community to invest in the trusty projects. Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO has opened its Call for Papers. The two-day event will present 20 top Blockchain experts. All speaking inquiries which covers the following information can be submitted by email to [email protected] Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPOalso offers sp...
Digital Transformation is much more than a buzzword. The radical shift to digital mechanisms for almost every process is evident across all industries and verticals. This is often especially true in financial services, where the legacy environment is many times unable to keep up with the rapidly shifting demands of the consumer. The constant pressure to provide complete, omnichannel delivery of customer-facing solutions to meet both regulatory and customer demands is putting enormous pressure on...
SYS-CON Events announced today that IoT Global Network has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 6–8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. The IoT Global Network is a platform where you can connect with industry experts and network across the IoT community to build the successful IoT business of the future.