Flex, HTML/JS Pros and Cons from a developers point-of-view

Having worked these last couple of months on a pure HTML/JS project at work, I'd thought I'd share a few pros and cons and random notes of working in both Flex and HTML/JS programming languages.

I'm not here to bash one or the other, enough people do that, just some thoughts for you guys to draw your own conclusions. Also this is from a developer stand-point, building web applications, not a web site with simple text and images...but an app, where you load, create and update data.

Note: Was using jQuery 1.4.2 for the javascript portion.

  • AS3 is very similar to the Java programming language
  • Development, build and unit testing is almost exactly like in Java
  • Great IDE (Flash Builder) provides an easy and fast way to code in MXML/AS3
  • Online documentation is excellent and thus helps newbies learn the language
  • SDK is open source, so a developer can learn and extend the base classes himself if need be
  • In Flex, you manipulate the data directly and send it back to the server for processing, no need to worry about re-drawning the UI
  • No cross-browser, cross-OS issues
  • Object layout is flexible and easy to do
  • With its a default theme, the app can look good and professional
  • Can create re-usable controls/classes
  • Takes time for new developers to realize that the app is one entity that just sends data to/from the server and not a collection of pages
  • Compile times can be long
  • Developer can get into the bad habit of loading lots of static data (countries, provinces, etc..) up-front, that will never be used, thus causing an unnecessary long load time for the app
  • You application SWF can be de-compiled
  • If end user can to copy data from multiple controls (or from DataGrid) to paste into another app (say an email), you pretty much have to code this, where its a default functionality with an HTML page since 1975
  • Dealing with timezones can be a chore (Flex loves to deal with it on its own)

  • Faster load times
  • The development cycle is quicker: update the page and reload in the browser
  • In some cases you can have a single page and use Ajax calls to get the data you need, no need for a page refresh
  • End users have been working with browsers for a long time now so the default copy'n'paste functionality is very useful to them and almost second nature
  • Cross-browser issues still exist!
  • IDE support not great for JS third-party frameworks like jQuery
  • In my case, no documentation existing for how to built a jQuery widget, had to find an online tutorial after searching. So no real API doc.
  • Object layout is a pain - tables still the way to go - and inconsistent across browsers sometimes
  • As a developer you need some design skills to make the app look good.
  • Handling the proper z-order of objects can be a chore
  • Reading someone's jQuery plugin/widget can be interesting (enough braces and commas for you?)
  • The browser BACK button can take your app out of proper state
A final thought...I like working in both technologies, I love to learn new things and working with jQuery has made working with data in JavaScript a heck of allot easier that it used to be 10 years ago. But I still look at it this way, if you want to build something people are going to read, you use HTML/CSS/JS. If you want to build an application, you use Flex.


Evan said...

Really neat comparison. Interesting points about pros for Flex being AS3 similarities to Java and OOP. Another knock against Javascript is that things can get messy and bloated as the codebase grows.

That's why I find Google's javascript Closure library, which they open sourced, interesting when I stumbled upon it recently. Apparently it was used on Google Maps and GMail and they make thing very Java like too and OOP. Which answered my curiousity as to how such large apps could be done in javascript.

curious, in your project did you find jQuery UI less responsive performance wise compared to Flex UI components? To me in IE they can feel slow.

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