In last month’s article, I talked about jQuery, a JavaScript framework that has gained a lot of popularity in the past couple years and is widely used. Today we are going to be looking at some new technologies and frameworks from Adobe that aren’t as widely used now, but could have a big impact on how we use the Internet in the coming years. I’m talking about two of Adobe’s new products, Adobe Flex and AIR.

What is Adobe AIR?

AIR stands for Adobe Integrated Runtime. It is a system for running applications that you would usually use online on your desktop, and although they run on your desktop, they can still access the Internet. A popular example of an AIR application is e Bay Desktop. E Bay desktop allows users to set up listings off line, and then upload them later when they are online. It also allows people to browse eBay and bid on items through the desktop, and also gives more functionality that using eBay through a browser.

There are multiple ways to develop AIR applications, including using the AIR SDK, and writing it in HTML/Ajax , using Flash CS4, or the next topic of our article, writing it with Adobe Flex.

What is Adobe Flex?

Similar to how jQuery is a framework for JavaScript and AJAX, Flex is a framework for Flash and ActionScript, although Adobe’s goal with Flex is much more ambitious. Flash was originally designed as a tool for animation and basic interactivity on web pages. In recent years, it has become the Internet’s medium of choice for streaming video and tower defense games. The Flex framework is designed to take Flash to the next level. Adobe believes that Flash and ActionScript are powerful enough to support very complex and advanced programs, for which Adobe coined the term Rich Internet Applications.

Adobe Flex is developed around a new markup language known as MXML (which can stand for Magic eXtensible Markup Language or 1950), an XML based way of writing Action script. It is an object-oriented framework, and an object’s can be created by simply instantiating a tag, like so:

would add a text input to the field. TextInput is an object that comes pre-built in the framework, and is one of the more simple ones. There are dozens more, with varying functionality. One of the most used is RemoteObject, which represents the server, and can be used for communicating with a variety of other languages.

SmallWorlds is probably one of the coolest things anyone has written using Flex, and is a great example of what it is capable of. A 3D multiplayer game, similar to SecondLife. and uses Flex to tie-in to many other web sites and applications. Friend people you meet in game on Facebook, buy a TV that plays YouTube videos or a radio that plays Last.FM in your virtual house.

Get Flex For Free

Adobe is really pushing for developers to pick up this new technology, as the demand for flex developers currently exceeds the supply. As such, if you are a student or an unemployed developer, you can get a copy of Flex Builder 3 absolutely free!

Flex for students:
https://freeriatools.adobe.com/flex

Flex for developers between jobs:
https://freeriatools.adobe.com/learnflex

Overall, Flex and AIR are very powerful tools, and could change the way we use the Internet over the coming years, as they further blur the line between desktop applications and web applications.

Be sure to check out the next part of the series, where I’ll be taking a look at the Ruby on Rails framework.