Straker looks past the browser

Macromedia Flex impresses local developer

In a deal late last year, Straker Interactive signed an agreement with Macromedia to bundle Macromedia Flex and ColdFusion Enterprise with every copy of ShadoMX that was sold. ShadoMX, the company's flagship product, is a mature ColdFusion application suite with a standard HTML interface.

However, there are parts of the application that could be implemented much better with a rich client, says CTO and founder Grant Straker.

There are two areas where he feels a rich client could be compelling: first, in selective disclosure of information such as tree drill-downs; second, in the ease of use provided by a drag and drop application. In particular, Straker wants to rewrite their workflow designer so that it provides a drag and drop allocation of tasks.

While Straker has considered several rich client environments, he has been impressed with the ease of development of Flex and the easy deployment of Flex applications. It has made options like Citrix server farms look unnecessarily complex and expensive, he says.

Furthermore, while he could have provided the rich functionality in Flash directly, he estimates it would have taken ten times as many lines of code to accomplish it.

However, Flex is a new technology and so Straker is focused on training. He already has one member of staff who is a Macromedia certified trainer and he plans for all his developers to be Macromedia certified too.

He is finding the transfer of skills from ColdFusion to Flex is a fairly straightforward process. However, as one is a server-executing tag language and the other is a client-executing tag language there could be performance issues to start with.

In recent years, Straker has used Borland JOptimizeIt for identifying performance bottlenecks. On several occasions, it has even pinned the problem to a single line of code, he said. Performance for high-load sites is an important part of their business and so they have, of necessity, become experts in the use of the Borland optimisation techniques to the extent of offering optimisation services to their Shado customers.

While the company has not yet shipped a production version with a rich client interface, demonstrations to date are leading to a dramatic rise in business opportunities, Straker says. The only serious drawback to the widespread implementation of rich internet applications is the inability of search engines to catalogue the content, he says.

Straker is very enthusiastic about the near future and feels that with both Flex and the new ColdFusion MX 7, Macromedia seems to be accurately delivering what his developers need. The new event gateway for SMS messaging is a case in point.

Macromedia is publicly launching ColdFusion MX 7 in New Zealand at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Auckland on March 30.

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