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Adobe Flex: Article

I Can't Wait To Get Started

How I came to give myself more work and love every minute of it

I can't wait to get started." The sentiment struck me pretty hard as I struggled to get some sleep on a packed red-eye flight leaving Las Vegas at 11 o'clock at night.

I had visions of components and Flex Forms dancing in my head and I was still reeling from the sheer sense of empowerment that I felt. It's funny, but sitting there with my laptop loaded with the ColdFusion Developers Edition and a copy of Flex Builder, I felt as if I could write the most elegant piece of Web software that my mind could conjure up. I still feel that way now.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Simon Horwith, through his blog, recruited me into checking out Adobe MAX 2006 in Las Vegas and report my findings back to you. Having never been, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. Other than a lot of swag, I anticipated copious demonstrations of Adobe technology and not much else.

I was sorely mistaken.

It all started with CFUnderground on a beautiful Sunday Las Vegas morning. Having no idea what to expect when I stepped into an abandoned bar at 9 o'clock in the morning, I soon relished my time as I made some quick friends and learned something that was true during my entire time at MAX: these developers are some of the nicest and most transparent people I had ever met. Numerous times throughout the day it would not be uncommon for someone to open his laptop and expose his code, either to show you some uncanny way of overcoming some coding roadblock or ask how you could make the code better. People weren't arrogant in the way they explained things and it was welcomed when another developer would join the conversation or even just look over a shoulder to gain understanding. CFUnderground was a fantastic icebreaker, and, for me, was the first time I saw ColdFusion as a scalable object-oriented language. Michael Dinowitz gave a remarkable talk about how to think about ColdFusion in an object-oriented way (which was a helpful precursor to the 23-page article he wrote about the subject that I read just three days later). Mini-MAX soon followed (in the same bar no less) and was a rapid-fire succession of some of the speakers and topics we were going to see at MAX.

Monday morning, after some initial issues with my registration, I was presented with the marvelous MAX 2006 conference bag that would be used by many over the next few days to identify themselves in the throng of Las Vegas gamblers and gastroenterologists who had a much less exciting conference right below ours. I found the exhibit hall to be a great hideout during the pre-conference and in between sessions as developers took root in MAX beanbags and couches strewn all about when they weren't trying to pilfer swag away from the vendors that were strewn about as well. The conference store was stocked (although the Flex books flew off the shelves like they were printed on sheets of $100 bills) and there was always something interesting going on in the small pockets of people gathered around a laptop looking at some chunk of code or wild Flash movie.

Tuesday is when things really began to roll with the first of three keynote sessions. The first keynote was kicked off by an awesome performance from the Blue Man Group and then went on a whirlwind tour of some of the really exciting things that Adobe has up its sleeve. It started with a talk about the marriage of Adobe and Macromedia and gave way to demonstrations of some of the new features in Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash, Acrobat, and other things. Ben Forta rocked by showing off the ColdFusion/Flex Wizard in Flex Builder where, in a matter of minutes, he was able to create an entire Flex front-end and ColdFusion back-end to a few tables he had written for a Flex version of iTunes. From there Kevin Lynch took the stage to demo Apollo, the Adobe desktop publishing application. It was cool that it wasn't this new complicated architecture that we'd all have to learn and pore over to get things published. It was a way for us developers to take the stuff we're doing already with ColdFusion and Flex and bring it to the desktop. Needless to say, it started the conference on a good note. Well, that and the $100 million venture fund announced by Adobe to invest in Apollo developers.

The Wednesday keynote focused on Verizon and the ability of U.S. phones to run Flash content now through Brew and the different ways Flash developers can get their content to those phones. The "Can you hear me now?" Verizon guy made an appearance as well as the Flash-enabled Chumby. Thursday was sneak peek day as features were finally revealed from Fireworks to Dreamweaver and, of course, ColdFusion. Ben Forta took the stage aptly dressed as Scorpio Man as he and Tim Buntel showed off the ColdFusion eight-server monitoring tool and the much anticipated cfimage tag. There was some other cool stuff in the form of Soundbooth, the Flex-AJAX bridge, a demo of the ability to export MXML from Fireworks, and a very welcome debugger panel to be found in Flash 9. The keynotes were quite a production as over 3,000 people converged into the giant auditorium each morning in fervent anticipation of hearing the morsels of information Adobe was going to release next.

The developer sessions were something that I would really come to appreciate as being the greatest part about MAX. Gone was the lofty manager-speak and 25-cent developer phrases - here's where we got down to code and, at the risk of sounding like a haughty superficial mind shrink, I really enjoyed watching people who knew what they were talking about teach their chosen craft. Any Google search will return the content of those sessions but certainly not the spirit - I learned so much from the guy sitting next to me or from the bowling-shirt-wearing ColdFusion team member who always seemed eager to answer my constant barrage of what I thought to be annoying and elementary questions. Two really great sessions from this track were the "Component Development to ColdFusion MX 7" session taught by Dave Gallerizzo and "Leveraging ColdFusion Components in ColdFusion" taught by Ray Camden (who is about as pleasant and approachable as they come). The Flex sessions were simply amazing and as I sat through them I had to bolt myself to the chair so I wouldn't run out to try all of the new effects and techniques that they were covering. The "Leveraging Flex 2 and Flash Player 9 for Truly Cinematic Experiences" session given by Alex Uhlmann was, well, truly cinematic and the "Building Rich Internet Applications with Flex Builder" by Mark Shepherd was as great a teaching session as it was an example of how fast someone who is experienced with Flex and ColdFusion can build a working and impressive application in a brief amount of time. In short, I couldn't take enough notes and I find myself wishing now that I had had more time to attend more sessions - there was simply too much for one person to take in at once.

So here I am back on the plane. It's funny, but as I'm sitting here thinking of the various development projects that I know I have to rework, based on my new understanding of how to em ploy the various Adobe products I use on a day-to-day basis - I can't help but think of how my users are going to react to the new things they're about to experience. What are they going to say when I plunk down that first Flex app in front of them and they see how much more quickly and easily they can do their jobs than previously thought. What are they going to say when the time it used to take me to develop a Flash application drops by 75% or when I ask them to download their first Apollo app to use right from their desktop? Although MAX is a slickly produced and well-funded event, it's really the developers who made the experience for me - the networking alone is worth the price of admission. I left knowing that the ColdFusion/Flex/Flash community isn't one of fierce competition and cutthroat politics, but of friends and a general spirit of cooperation. I'll certainly be coming next year - even if Simon doesn't pay my way again.

More Stories By Paul Mignard

Paul Mignard is an application developer for Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, where he uses ColdFusion, Flash, and Flex. When not working he is usually trying to keep his blog updated at www.onekidney.com and loves spending time with wife, family, and friends.

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