Adobe Races Ahead Of Microsoft With Flex 2 Overhaul

Flex 2 marks the first time Adobe has broken out the Flex Builder IDE for standalone purchase. Built on the open-source Eclipse framework, Flex Builder 2 includes visual layout, debugging, charting and coding tools to help developers building rich Internet applications on Adobe's technology stack. Previously available only in conjunction with Adobe's complete Flex data services bundle, which used to carry a $15,000 starting price tag, the Flex Builder 2 IDE can now be purchased for $499 per developer license.

Adobe is also releasing for free its Flex 2 software development kit and an "express" version of its enterprise data services pack. The express version is a full production license, but is limited to one CPU.

"The goal here is mass adoption of the technology, like Sun did with Java," said Christophe Coenraets, Adobe's senior technical evangelist.

Adobe simultaneously released on Wednesday Flash Player 9, the latest version of its popular multimedia application player. Many development features in Flex 2 rely on the new version of Flash.

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Adobe's Flex stack will go head-to-head with Microsoft's forthcoming WinFX platform and Expression line of Web development tools. For partners, Adobe's head start offers an attractive advantage.

"We were more of a .Net shop," said new Adobe convert Thomas Gonzalez, a co-founder and CTO of The Dashboard Co. in Princeton, N.J. Gonzalez's data visualization consultancy is also an ISV, developing a forthcoming hosted dashboards service that is built on Adobe's Flex stack. "It was kind of a toss-up between WinFX and Adobe, but the thing that threw it into Adobe's camp is that Flash is here now."

Gonzalez likes Flex's "clean architecture" and flexibility, and calls the technology's beta program the smoothest he's ever participated in. Adobe's partner-friendly approach gave beta participants quick access to Adobe's Flex engineers and influence over the product's developing feature set. Because the Flex beta was so productive, Gonzalez anticipates launching Dashboard Co.'s hosted service within 90 days of Flex 2's official launch.

While entry price tag of Flex development is now "free," the high end has risen. Flex 2 Data Services licenses cost $20,000 per processor, a $5,000 hike over the licensing cost for Flex 1.5. Adobe executives say the platform's massive expansion justifies the hike.