Book Review: AdvancED Flex Application Development: Building Rich Media X

( Original review date 2/11/08 )

I’ve been meaning to do more online book reviews, and blogging in general, but it’s always hard to find the time. First, a big thanks to FriendsOfEd and John Lindquist at the Utah Director and Flash User Group for providing the book for this review. Thanks!

This book is intended for the advanced developer, as indicated by the AdvancEd moniker. It’s always helpful to have the level easy to find, and FriendsOfEd are great at this. I’ll be reviewing this as a senior developer, who is new to Flex itself, but experienced in Actionscript. This book is available at Amazon.

The authors are the guys at Almer/Blank, which is an Adobe Solution Partner. They describe in detail how they developed the site. They were also featured in an interview on episode 31 of The Flex Show, which is a Flex podcast. So what about the book?

This is a fantastic book
It’s organized well, takes concepts into practical application, and touches on some unique topics not found elsewhere. I didn’t find the material very intimidating at all. It was an easy read. If you are managing a user group site, there’s a lot of direct how-to to take your site to the next level. One of the benefits of this book is how easily it shows the practicality and power of using Flex for web development.

What’s typical?
For completeness, they cover project planning, working with databases and web services, and navigation. Your typical developer will find a lot to love about the first half of the book. They touch on some of the Flex 3 features that make a big impact as well. Things like styling, Flex components and SWCs, RSLs (runtime shared libraries) and framework caching. To be honest, they’ve done an excellent job in describing these subjects with clarity.

What’s unique about it?
If you have several Flex books, what’s new here that hasn’t already been covered? The most obvious is SEO (search engine optimization). I can’t count how many times I’ve had people dismiss Flash platform development for this one reason alone. Now, thanks in large part to Google and the Sitemaps protocol, those excuses are over. You can deliver searchable content, and there’s a whole chapter in this book about it. While the first reaction may be “What’s this got to do with a web application?”, there is a place for content delivered in a rich way.

I haven’t seen another book do a Flash-based, step-by-step user group site, including blogs, job boards, event calendar, sharing of video content, and advertising models. More than a Flex book, they cover combining technologies like PHP, Drupal, and OpenAds. That’s one of the core pieces of this book, how to integrate with Flex. The section on video is also well done, and makes suggestions about closed-captioning, which also has an SEO element to it.

Done almost apologetically, they touch on how to monetize a site with a Flex front-end. That is really unique to this book, and it has an importance that may get lost on the typical developer. It’s the later part of the book that will appeal to the more sophisticated or business-savvy developer. It’s a major part of the value of this book, because the other Flex books just don’t go there.

Is it worth buying?
Yes, I think so. It’s got something for everyone. But especially if you manage a user’s group, are dealing with aggregating media and content, or doing something that relies on advertising and traffic. While they do not cover eCommerce in this book specifically, this is a really big deal if you are building an eCommerce site in Flex. It outlines how to enhance a Flex-based online store. That information alone is worth the price of the book.

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