|By Charlie Arehart||
|February 28, 2003 12:00 AM EST||
Where do you stand in the march of CF developers moving toward implementing Flash interfaces in your Web apps? Are you gung ho? Still on the fence? Dead set against it? Feeling left out? Left behind?
In this month's Journeyman ColdFusion column, I'd like to take up the cause of Flash for CFers. In particular, if you're a developer who's been feeling left out or left behind, or simply challenged to understand most articles and books on the subject, take heart. In this article, I will share some observations and insights to help get you on the right path.
As I say in my user group seminars on this particular topic, it's like there's a wall you need to get over to get started. It's not that high, but just high enough to make it hard to get started on your own without a little leg up. Once you get that leg up, however, there's a whole world of cool possibilities.
The Challenge of Getting Started: It's Not Your Fault
Have you been impressed with Flash integration, but felt that it was beyond your reach? Have you tried to follow along with Flash Remoting articles, but felt stumped by your lack of Flash experience? Have you tried to read beginner Flash books, only to be frustrated by their focus on drawing, graphics, animation, sound, and video? Or by their wading through every part of the Flash interface?
The challenge of getting started with Flash as a Web developer is not your fault. It's partly due to Flash's heritage as a design tool, and the recent addition of many features for developers. Similar challenges exist for Dreamweaver MX. Bringing together two worlds, designer and developer, has left many resources challenged as to how to present fundamentals to each audience.
Also, Macromedia's showing the Pet Market and Broadmoor examples might also have set high expectations, leaving the average newcomer to believe creating Flash interfaces must be difficult. Some have tried to propose that CFers should focus on the back end and leave Flash to designers. On the other hand, those complex examples may have even lowered the expectation of some, thinking such Flash-based replacements of complex processes are not a suitable opportunity to add to their site.
You can integrate Flash easily and effectively. It's just a matter of finding simple samples and walkthroughs, trying them out for yourself, and identifying suitable next steps and resources for learning more from this perspective.
Some Good Starting Points for Web App Developers
Note that I said the first step is "finding simple samples and walkthroughs." In this article, I'm not going to actually walk you through getting started with the Flash interface. I'm not going to show any screenshots nor a single line of ActionScript. Frankly, an excellent guide to getting started was written by our own Ben Forta in the November 2002 issue of CFDJ.
This sort of solution is easy in Flash, and he walks through building it without a lot of focus on needless details. Yet he doesn't leave anything out that you might need. Too many articles soon drop a "place this code in the first layer of the first frame," but if these are foreign terms to you, then the wall has been raised. If you visit that page and use the "print article" link, you'll have an excellent resource that gets you started in just 2300 words. From there, you should be able to proceed to other resources, appreciating all the articles on Remoting and using Flash for Web apps.
Unfortunately, other resources aren't as well-suited to us. For instance, many articles recognize that readers may not have enough Flash knowledge and suggest that you "read the manuals." The problem is, they're really too designer oriented. As I said before, they tend to focus on aspects of using Flash that may not interest us, at least not from the start.
While it may seem counterintuitive, I don't recommend that you start with the Flash MX Manual, Using Flash MX. At least not at first. When you're ready, it's available at Help>Using Flash. There are also tutorials and samples available from the Flash help menu, but those, too, tend to be focused on using Flash in ways that may not immediately seem related to our needs as Web app developers.
Even Ben's book, Reality ColdFusion: Flash MX Integration, while seemingly the perfect starting point, presumes that you already understand Flash. The good news is that his article, and a couple of others I'll recommend, will help get you quickly up to speed to appreciate that book and several others, including the very popular and highly regarded ActionScript: The Definitive Guide (recently released in an MX version) and Object-Oriented Programming with ActionScript.
There is one other book that I'll recommend, and it may surprise you. Most will know that the ColdFusion MX Web Application Construction Kit is the latest edition of what's regarded by many as the seminal introduction to CF. Intermediate and advanced developers may spurn it, thinking if they already have one of the earlier editions that they are perhaps above getting it again. But the book has an excellent chapter, 23, on Flash integration. It was written by Nate Weiss and it's a great introduction to Flash and CF integration.
The chapter covers far more than Ben's article could (he has a whole chapter) and similarly, Nate never loses you nor bores you with Flash interface details you don't need. He builds a few simple but useful examples of Flash/CFMX integration, and even shows a simple, useful application of Flash's animation abilities. He also offers examples of server integration, using techniques other than Remoting. This chapter alone may justify the cost of the book - $35 at Buy.com at the time of this writing.
Other Good Resources
Once you've gotten over the humps explained by the resources above, you should be able to appreciate and take advantage of the many articles both in past issues of CFDJ and the Macromedia DesDev center as well as many other sites. They may have seemed daunting if you read them in the past, but would now be worth your consideration with just that little bit of Flash experience you didn't have before.
The CFDJ articles on Flash and CFMX integration have included, starting with the most recent:
There have also been some great introductory articles at the Macromedia DesDev center. Again, at first reading, without a little Flash experience, they may have seemed daunting and beyond you, but give them a look after getting just the little bit of experience offered by the two resources discussed in the previous section. They include:
You can find even more articles at the various DesDev centers, including the following:
The last one is quite recent, having been opened just in January.
There are also lists of examples of such integration, including articles (some of which are a little more advanced) available at www.macromedia.com/desdev/topics/sample_apps.html. There's also a page devoted to resources specifically for Flash/CFMX integration at www.macromedia.com/support/flash/programs_cf.html.
There are even a number of online video presentations that walk you through the use of Flash, including several related to CF integration, available at www.macromedia.com/software/flash/productinfo/tutorials/gettingstarted.
One of those videos is on the accessibility features of FlashMX. This is a topic of significant importance to many developers and administrators, and Flash MX does add new features to address this important aspect of creating usable applications. Indeed, Macromedia has a site devoted to the topic, at www.macromedia.com/macromedia/accessibility /features/flash. Still one more non-Macromedia resource devoted to the goal of promoting usable Flash sites is a "Wiki" at www.whatisflash.com. The topic is also discussed in a couple of books, including The Flash Usability Guide, by Chris McGregor, et al. Indeed, a useful sample chapter is available online at www.friendsofed.com/books/flash_mx_titles/mx_usability/sample_chapter.pdf. Another is Constructing Accessible Web Sites, by Jim Thatcher, et al.
If you'd like to take a course on the topic of both Flash and integration with CFMX, Macromedia has recently released the class, "Developing Rich Internet Applications." It's an intense three days covering lots about ActionScript, fundamentals of the Flash interface, and integration with CFMX. Simon Horwith wrote about the class in last month's aforementioned "Bridging the Gap Between Flash and ColdFusion MX." Learn more about the class at www.macromedia.com/support/training/instructor_led_curriculum/dev_apps_fmx_cfmx.html.
What If You're Not Using CFMX or Flash MX?
While it would be best to leverage the power and improvements in CFMX and Flash MX, the reality is that some people simply can't or won't yet have migrated. Or maybe you have co-workers or clients interested in doing this integration with servers that do not support Remoting (it is currently supported only on CFMX, ASP.NET, and certain J2EE servers).
What if you're on CF5? Or 4.5? Or PHP? Or Perl? Or some mainframe Web server, for that matter? Or still using Flash 5? You may be led to believe that you're out of luck and unable to play the game of Flash/CF integration. You can! It's just not as easy as it is with CFMX and Remoting. The good news is that we at CFDJ have been covering Flash and CF integration for nearly two years now. Check out any of the following:
Also note that the approaches described apply to pretty much any Web application server. It's worth noting, however, that if you have Flash MX it offers even more powerful new ways of integrating with Web app servers even without Remoting, in the form of the new LoadVars and XML objects. Do look into these if you're not using a server that supports Remoting. The bottom line is that it's pretty easy to pass data back and forth from a Flash movie on the client up to a server of any kind.
Other Next Steps
The focus to this point has been on resources that would be especially suitable for CF and other Web app developers who might otherwise find typical "beginner Flash" resources to be inappropriate. But as I said before, once you get over the initial hump of being shown the most fundamental aspects, your next step is to learn how to use the rest of the features of the Flash interface, such as layers, frames, animation, more about UI components, more about ActionScripting, debugging, troubleshooting, and more.
An excellent starting point once you're prepared to dive into more about Flash would be Foundation Macromedia Flash MX, a "Friends of ED" book. In fact, the first chapter of the book is available online at www.friendsofed.com/books/ foundation/flashmx/Found_MX_Chapter_01.pdf and would be a great resource even if you don't get the entire book (though I'm confident that chapter will motivate you to get it).
A couple of other books that do a surprisingly good job of introducing fundamentals (including some server integration) are Macromedia MX eLearning; Advanced Training from the Source, and the recently released Mobile Macromedia Flash MX. Even if you're not interested in doing development for mobile devices, it's interesting to consider that the skills and efforts applied to building Flash apps for browsers can be applied just as readily to mobile devices (phones, PDAs, and more).
Still other things you may want to explore once you're "over the hump" are Macromedia's "Developer Resource Kits" (DRKs), which offer several useful new components, demonstrations, and more (mostly Flash-oriented). Learn more at www.macromedia.com/software/drk. Another possible next step would be to explore the Flash Communications Server product. While it's primarily shown as being a tool for streaming audio/video, it's much more than that and really about live shared data applications. This month Kevin Towes offers a great tutorial on getting started with that aspect of the Flash Communication Server in "Persistent Data Communications." Learn more at www.macromedia.com/desdev/mx/flashcom.
One more possible next step to consider is the "Flash Component Kit for ColdFusion." This toolkit, available at www.macromedia.com/v1/handlers/index.cfm?ID=20983, is really something from the Flash 5 time frame. It's a set of ColdFusion custom tags (that work in CF5 as well as CFMX) that provides some prebuilt components that integrate with CF but don't require you to have or use the Flash authoring tool.
Before concluding the article, I'd like to point out a few Web sites that are devoted to topics related to Flash/server integration. Some are portals with articles, links to other sources, mailing lists, blogs, and more. See:
I hope this little compendium of resources for getting started in using Flash, as a Web application developer, has been useful for you. I'm simply sharing my observations and discoveries in the hope of helping others either get over their own frustration getting started, or avoid it in the first place.
Indeed, I'm thinking of creating my own book and class on the topic, focusing on certain things from this particular perspective and highlighting more lessons learned and key topics.
It's really not difficult to get into all this stuff. It's just a matter of getting that gentle leg up over the wall that then opens to the many paths to creating Flash-enabled Web applications and interface widgets. Now, be on your way!
WebRTC has had a real tough three or four years, and so have those working with it. Only a few short years ago, the development world were excited about WebRTC and proclaiming how awesome it was. You might have played with the technology a couple of years ago, only to find the extra infrastructure requirements were painful to implement and poorly documented. This probably left a bitter taste in your mouth, especially when things went wrong.
Aug. 31, 2015 02:00 AM EDT Reads: 442
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome,” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
Aug. 30, 2015 10:00 PM EDT Reads: 347
While many app developers are comfortable building apps for the smartphone, there is a whole new world out there. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Narayan Sainaney, Co-founder and CTO of Mojio, will discuss how the business case for connected car apps is growing and, with open platform companies having already done the heavy lifting, there really is no barrier to entry.
Aug. 30, 2015 05:00 PM EDT Reads: 136
As more intelligent IoT applications shift into gear, they’re merging into the ever-increasing traffic flow of the Internet. It won’t be long before we experience bottlenecks, as IoT traffic peaks during rush hours. Organizations that are unprepared will find themselves by the side of the road unable to cross back into the fast lane. As billions of new devices begin to communicate and exchange data – will your infrastructure be scalable enough to handle this new interconnected world?
Aug. 30, 2015 04:00 PM EDT Reads: 154
SYS-CON Events announced today that Micron Technology, Inc., a global leader in advanced semiconductor systems, will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Micron’s broad portfolio of high-performance memory technologies – including DRAM, NAND and NOR Flash – is the basis for solid state drives, modules, multichip packages and other system solutions. Backed by more than 35 years of technology leadership, Micron's memory solutions enable the world's most innovative computing, consumer,...
Aug. 30, 2015 01:30 PM EDT Reads: 225
SYS-CON Events announced today that Pythian, a global IT services company specializing in helping companies leverage disruptive technologies to optimize revenue-generating systems, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Founded in 1997, Pythian is a global IT services company that helps companies compete by adopting disruptive technologies such as cloud, Big Data, advanced analytics, and DevOps to advance innovation and increase agility. Specializing in designing, imple...
Aug. 30, 2015 01:00 PM EDT Reads: 289
SYS-CON Events announced today that HPM Networks will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For 20 years, HPM Networks has been integrating technology solutions that solve complex business challenges. HPM Networks has designed solutions for both SMB and enterprise customers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Aug. 30, 2015 10:30 AM EDT Reads: 876
Consumer IoT applications provide data about the user that just doesn’t exist in traditional PC or mobile web applications. This rich data, or “context,” enables the highly personalized consumer experiences that characterize many consumer IoT apps. This same data is also providing brands with unprecedented insight into how their connected products are being used, while, at the same time, powering highly targeted engagement and marketing opportunities. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Nathan Treloar, President and COO of Bebaio, will explore examples of brands transforming their businesses by t...
Aug. 30, 2015 10:15 AM EDT Reads: 228
Through WebRTC, audio and video communications are being embedded more easily than ever into applications, helping carriers, enterprises and independent software vendors deliver greater functionality to their end users. With today’s business world increasingly focused on outcomes, users’ growing calls for ease of use, and businesses craving smarter, tighter integration, what’s the next step in delivering a richer, more immersive experience? That richer, more fully integrated experience comes about through a Communications Platform as a Service which allows for messaging, screen sharing, video...
Aug. 30, 2015 09:15 AM EDT Reads: 619
With the proliferation of connected devices underpinning new Internet of Things systems, Brandon Schulz, Director of Luxoft IoT – Retail, will be looking at the transformation of the retail customer experience in brick and mortar stores in his session at @ThingsExpo. Questions he will address include: Will beacons drop to the wayside like QR codes, or be a proximity-based profit driver? How will the customer experience change in stores of all types when everything can be instrumented and analyzed? As an area of investment, how might a retail company move towards an innovation methodolo...
Aug. 30, 2015 09:15 AM EDT Reads: 444
The Internet of Things (IoT) is about the digitization of physical assets including sensors, devices, machines, gateways, and the network. It creates possibilities for significant value creation and new revenue generating business models via data democratization and ubiquitous analytics across IoT networks. The explosion of data in all forms in IoT requires a more robust and broader lens in order to enable smarter timely actions and better outcomes. Business operations become the key driver of IoT applications and projects. Business operations, IT, and data scientists need advanced analytics t...
Aug. 30, 2015 08:30 AM EDT Reads: 398
A producer of the first smartphones and tablets, presenter Lee M. Williams will talk about how he is now applying his experience in mobile technology to the design and development of the next generation of Environmental and Sustainability Services at ETwater. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Lee Williams, COO of ETwater, will talk about how he is now applying his experience in mobile technology to the design and development of the next generation of Environmental and Sustainability Services at ETwater.
Aug. 30, 2015 07:00 AM EDT Reads: 123
SYS-CON Events announced today that IceWarp will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. IceWarp, the leader of cloud and on-premise messaging, delivers secured email, chat, documents, conferencing and collaboration to today's mobile workforce, all in one unified interface
Aug. 30, 2015 01:00 AM EDT Reads: 396
As more and more data is generated from a variety of connected devices, the need to get insights from this data and predict future behavior and trends is increasingly essential for businesses. Real-time stream processing is needed in a variety of different industries such as Manufacturing, Oil and Gas, Automobile, Finance, Online Retail, Smart Grids, and Healthcare. Azure Stream Analytics is a fully managed distributed stream computation service that provides low latency, scalable processing of streaming data in the cloud with an enterprise grade SLA. It features built-in integration with Azur...
Aug. 28, 2015 07:45 PM EDT Reads: 212
Akana has announced the availability of the new Akana Healthcare Solution. The API-driven solution helps healthcare organizations accelerate their transition to being secure, digitally interoperable businesses. It leverages the Health Level Seven International Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (HL7 FHIR) standard to enable broader business use of medical data. Akana developed the Healthcare Solution in response to healthcare businesses that want to increase electronic, multi-device access to health records while reducing operating costs and complying with government regulations.
Aug. 26, 2015 07:00 AM EDT Reads: 134
For IoT to grow as quickly as analyst firms’ project, a lot is going to fall on developers to quickly bring applications to market. But the lack of a standard development platform threatens to slow growth and make application development more time consuming and costly, much like we’ve seen in the mobile space. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Weiner, Product Manager of the Omega DevCloud with KORE Telematics Inc., discussed the evolving requirements for developers as IoT matures and conducted a live demonstration of how quickly application development can happen when the need to comply wit...
Aug. 2, 2015 11:15 AM EDT Reads: 556
The Internet of Everything (IoE) brings together people, process, data and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before – transforming information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. IoE creates new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented opportunities to improve business and government operations, decision making and mission support capabilities.
Aug. 1, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 480
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems, described how to revolutionize your archit...
Jul. 30, 2015 07:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,564
MuleSoft has announced the findings of its 2015 Connectivity Benchmark Report on the adoption and business impact of APIs. The findings suggest traditional businesses are quickly evolving into "composable enterprises" built out of hundreds of connected software services, applications and devices. Most are embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) and microservices technologies like Docker. A majority are integrating wearables, like smart watches, and more than half plan to generate revenue with APIs within the next year.
Jul. 30, 2015 02:30 PM EDT Reads: 281
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Opening Keynote at 16th Cloud Expo, Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, d...
Jul. 30, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,228