Some thoughts on open sourcing Adobe Flex components

We earn our living at Farata Systems by selling Flex/Java consulting services and training. While doing this, , every now and then we create reusable components, and so far we are giving them away for free. Some pathetic bloggers call this ‘giving back to the community ‘. We look at it simple: if we do not have time to productionize a component, we donate it.

These days some people are trying to sell Flex item renderers: they create a list-based control with a custom renderer and immediately put a price tag on it. I wish them good luck in selling these toys.

But I ‘m talking about real stuff here. For example, we ‘ve created an open source component called DAOFlex. Just enter “Select * from customers “, provide parameters of the Java EE data source, and go and make yourself a cup of coffee… if you can do it in 20 seconds. Because this is how long it takes DAOFlex to create all artifacts in Java, MXML, ActionScript and XML required for deployment of a FLex DataGrid with complete CRUD functionality.

Very proud of ourselves, we ‘ve uploaded this DAOFlex to Flex components exchange, and it quickly became one of the most downloadable Flex open source components…and then we started receiving lots of emails asking for tech support. Yes, we ‘ve provided instructions on how to install it. Yes, we ‘ve written an article about this component. Our upcoming Flex book has a chapter explainin how to create such components. All this is not enough – people need tech support. Some of them do not bother reading instructions – for them it ‘s easier to send an email asking for help.

Then, we ‘ve given away our logger component for free.

Now we have another one – we call it a supergrid, or a reporting component FlexBI. If you want to see a real power of DataGrid, do us a favor and spend 30 minutes watching this WebCast based in our recent presentation at MAX 2006. If there are PowerBuilder developers in the audience, think DataWindow-like reporting.

Just watch the webcast now….I ‘ll wait. Is it cool or what?

You can create a complex report populated with the data from a database in less than a minute. Then an end user can manipulate the data using drag-an-drop interface, create grouping, filters, write formulas on the fly… Raise your hand if you know how to write a program in any language that allows an end-user write and execute dynamic formulas (I ‘m not talking about selecting from a predefined list of sum, min, max and the like). Want to export the data to MS Excel? No problem.

The funny thing is that we are afraid of giving away FlexBI for free. We do not have enough resources to answer tech support questions. We are still debating if we should charge for FlexBI, which saves A LOT of time to any developer who needs to create ad hoc reports for business users. Actually, power users can create their reports themselves with FlexBI.

Anyway, if you ‘ll see a price tag on FlexBI, it means that we ‘ve hired a tech support person, and someone has to pay his/her salary. We need to move on – Apollo is looming, and we have lots of new ideas.


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