Over the holidays I did, as most folks I suspect, things I enjoy doing. For me, one of those things was playing around with Adobe's Flex using Flex Builder 3. Yes, I am that much of a geek.

bigipdeck

I was a bit concerned it would take some time to figure it all out, but after quickly realizing that MXML, Adobe's interface markup language, was close enough to XAML, Microsoft's interface markup language, it was pretty much smooth going. ActionScript is close enough to JavaScript and C and most other languages I'm familiar with so that was not a problem either. In a matter of hours I had a simple interface talking to a few PHP services that proxy Web service calls for iControl to manage and monitor my BIG-IP.

Yes, I have a BIG-IP at home. I told you, I am that much of a geek.

The downside for those of you thinking about using Flex with iControl to build some sweet interfaces to control your BIG-IP is that Adobe's web service capabilities are based on Apache Axis 2. Apache Axis 2 at this point in time supports only DOC/LIT and RPC/LIT encoded WSDL. iControl is RPC/ENC, and the workarounds available to wrap iControl is not insignificant. So unless you're willing to run a proxy (which does have it's advantages, by the way) talking directly to the BIG-IP via iControl using Flex is probably not something you'll want to consider.

If you're willing to use a proxy, however, well...it's a breeze. I reused the PHP proxy code used to create my TwitterBot and added a few more calls to expand the information I was able to get. Integrating that with Flex was simple. Using a proxy meant I could reformat the data such that I could automatically bind the data into MXML grid components with very little work. In fact, almost no work at all.

So the truth is that I really love Flex. Awesome stuff. The downside? The price-tag on Flex Builder. I have about 40 days left on my trial run and when it's done, it's done. Yes, I could use the free Flex SDK and set up the command line and compile like we used to compile Java applications, but Flex is really geared toward visual development, and that's something the Flex SDK can't provide - but Flex Builder can, and does. Astoundingly well, as a matter of fact.

It's not that I'm unwilling to pay for Flex Builder, I'm just not willing to pay as much as Adobe wants for it. Not when the interface language is essentially the same as XAML and I can zip over to Microsoft's site and download an Express edition of a visual editor for XAML and use it - indefinitely - for free. XAML is the core of Silverlight, the closest competitor to Flex and AIR, so I could do the same things without the investment. A lot of the same things can be done with AJAX, DHTML, and some intense JavaScript, for that matter. If I'm going to develop on the command line and using vi then I might as well stick to standard technologies rather than mess with command-line compiles, class paths, library linkages, and the certs required to sign the AIR package. I'm a "hobbyist" developer at this point, and $200 or more for an environment that I'll use only occasionally just isn't feasible, and the investment in time required to emulate the same thing with the SDK isn't worth it to me.

Interestingly enough, I'd pay $50 tomorrow for Flex Builder. But $250? No thanks. Too steep for what I would use it for. The ROI just isn't there at the price Adobe is currently demanding for me and, I suspect, many other hobbyists looking to do more with Flex.

So yes, I love Flex. But no, I won't pay that much to develop in it. There are too many other options out there that are more affordable or free that provide the same functionality and awesome interface experience.

 

You can check out the BIG-IP Deck here. Right click inside the app to view source, if you like. Feel free to copy, paste, modify, whatever you like.

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