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The Sidebar:
Better Demos
It may be my imagination, but I think that software vendors are providing much better demos of their products in action. And of course one of the best ways to do so is to describe in an advanced explorer fashion the API and capabilities of their software and applications.

Think of this as an opportunity to create an online coach or help system which gets users started more quickly in using the vendors's app. Also the move towards electronic and online help from many IT software vendors fits the mold as well. For example, one of the selling points for PHP and MySQL for me was the availability of either an online manual or a PDF or HELP file for their APIs. Given the tremendous amount of learning required to support online and network based systems, this API support may be thought of as JITS-Just In Time Support.

This is really a bravura performance for AIR

For all cyclist fans this demo Tour of Flex development capabilities does have some positive echoes to the Tour de France. For this is at last a bravura performance in which many of the key capabilities of Flex, AIR and their associated components and APIs are on key clear show and tell display. Given that RAIA rivals such as Backbase, EXT.js and Laszlo, have had similar online demo capabilities for many quarters if not years, this is long overdue for Adobe and its Flex team. Fortunately, the team has done a very good job showcasing Flex and particularly AIR.

First and foremost, Tour de Flex is an AIR application. So it shows off the RAIA - Rich Anywhere Interface Application possibilities that AIR enables. Tour de Flex runs on all the AIR supported platforms which now includes Linux, Mac and Windows. It also runs offline on the desktop - so unlike its competitors it does not need a Web connection to be useful to developers who want to get to know more about Flex's components, APIs, and coding tricks.

But in addition, Tour de Flex takes advantage of the online capabilities of AIR as well. For example, many of the components on display are from third parties. So it is easy for the Tour to provide online links to further documentation and demos of the available components. As well many of the components and Flex features such as Chat and Remoting require an online connection for a realistic demo - which the Tour delivers.

Most important of all for learning how to code Flex each and every example shows the MXML, any config.xml, and prog.as files required for that demo. This is very useful - especially to see how all the elements come together. However, this is where the Tour is definitely weak. It does not show users how to compile and run the examples using Flex or the standalone compilers. This is a serious omission because one of the problems with Flex is how to generate the various outputs - instead all of this is done in the Tour as if by magic.

The other two complaints I have about the Tour are about the ability to edit the MXML and other example code directly in the explorer. You can do this in the Laszlo Demo Explorer and it really accelerates the learning curve. Finally, either Adobe or some book publisher would do well to write a book based on the Tour de Flex and add their refinements to the various Tour demos. This would also allow expanding on the lessons to be learned and also could allow for addressing the generate outputs questions previously raised. Finally, the Tour only brushes on the issues of working with Flash Pro CS4, JavaScript, and Java and other program environs. Given the contemporary IT drive to integration, this is a nagging omission.

Summary

Tour de Flex is a great demo and learning vehicle. It certainly shows off some of the offline/online capabilities of AIR to great effect. It also has a very thorough run through of the various MXML components and coding techniques. It is fairly simple to copy and paste the MXML and other code into a FlexBuilder project or do-it-yourself developer directory to experiment further with the code. This is an invaluable learning aid. But what is most important, Tour de Flex provides great ideas and suggestions as to what is possible using Flex, FlexBuilder and Air.