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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Flash: You're _so_ modal!

It's interesting to pick up and try to use a technology after it's been around for a while. Back in the '90's I had the experience with Microsoft tools, but since then I have been working in Java web technologies starting from when they were fairly new.

I have spent the last few months digging into Flash development, learning the IDE (CS3) and ActionScript. The IDE is fairly strange and rather old-fashioned feeling. Perhaps it's just a different way of thinking from the "Dreaming in code" text-based world of conventional programming.

Flash is extraordinarily powerful in some respects but, in my opinion, lends itself to poor design decisions, less than easily supportable code and lots of maintenance headaches. All the more work for developers in the future, I think!

Some areas of the IDE have been neglected, the ActionScript editor and the debugger most prominently. Modal search boxes that have to be dismissed...grrr!

I have been guided by our new Flash designer, Derek. He can really do amazing things using Flash to create visual components and interactive demos etc. He's been working in this tool since the advent of Flash, focussed on the visual aspects, less on the programming ones. However, I would not have easily discovered some of the more esoteric things without him.

The most irritating thing about the whole experience, and this might seem petty, is that Flash is so...modal...everything that is does (publish, test movie, debug movie) takes control of the entire computer. It's all about you, isn't it, Flash? An incoming IM which takes focus in the middle of a Flash publish (compile/build movie) can crash the IDE! You cannot start publishing a big movie and switch to another window...Flash doesn't play well with others.

I'm told that until recently one couldn't run anything else on a development workstation except Flash. Resource hog...however we have an OS that can do multitasking windows and why should Flash be the one to say "Wait up everyone, I'm about to Publish a Movie! Stand back!!" Sounds like poor fundamental tool design to me. Very 1980's.

It's a clipper-ship technology. Huge, useful, really impressive, very elaborate and so on, but labour intensive, accident prone and inefficient. I hope there is a steamship coming up somewhere.

Derek's predecessor, Chris, who moved on to a better life in another place, tells me he is using some newer Adobe tool chains: Flex and ActionScript 3. More stuff to look into!

I have loaded ASDT into Eclipse and this helps a lot when editing ActionScript. However for the price that Adobe charges for their tools, am I wrong to expect more?

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