Some thoughts on open sourcing 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.

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.

Yakov

24 thoughts on “Some thoughts on open sourcing Flex components

  1. Please, please decide to open source FlexBI. Promise not to ask for support :-) Or, if you are willing to release for public service, non-commercial purposes, please write me.

  2. We are considering dual license – free personal license with no support, and professional license with support and the option for customization.

    Yakov

  3. I think you should charge for your components and the idea of offering support is a real bonus. Very few of the people begging for open source work for free themselves.

  4. This looks VERY sweet. I’m from a PB background and as you say… looks very familiar! To be honest, I’m happy to take this for free OR pay for it – just don’t take too long getting it out here please 😉

  5. Dual license is a decent option.

    In regards to Flex components though I think people should be able to provide/sell components with no support. A component is a component if it works for someone (they find value) then they will pay for it. If the value proposition is that they need support then that component’s value goes up. Basically it comes down to value and time and how much a developer is willing to pay for that, many a people would buy components with out support if they understood that and had a basic doc outlining how to use and implement it.

  6. I like and respect the idea of dual license. This is something that I would love to use in a project for a client, and were I using it for a client I would have no problem convincing them to pay for the fully supported version. However, without being able to use it first I would feel uncomfortable only having the options of a) pay for it to see whether it would be a good fit or not or b) recommend it to a client without having been able to fully test it myself first.

  7. I was thinking to build similar reporting tools with similar ideas as FlexBI and I know it require a lot of effort to build it.
    I completely understand (nothing is for free, special when you need to support it) and I think is fair to pay for these complex components (DAOFlex, FlexBI).
    Please let’s me know when it will be available.

  8. I think the dual license is the best choice. If more developers integrate Flex BI into their projects then it opens up more opportunities for support later. Flex is free but look at all the money generating opportunities it generates books,trainnig, support, components, etc. Those money making opportunities are limited to those who build Flex but to everybody you learn Flex.

    Just-my-two-cents :)

  9. “Some pathetic bloggers call this ‘giving back to the community’.” .. ahhh.. some of us have benefitted from the work of others and do feel some sense of obligation to pass on the good deed and help others. The funny thing is.. up until a couple of years ago I felt like there was a real community of Flash developers.

  10. \”Some pathetic bloggers call this ‘giving back to the community’\”, could you sound any more like an arrogant prick? Since when did trying to help each other become pathetic?

  11. Farata System’s free contribution to poularization of Flex is huge. There is not many BUSINESSES that blog, write, speak and give away software components as we do (Adobe does not count)
    Just to make it clear: If a business donates a product to an open source, there are business reasons for this, and I perfer to talk about them, rather than make a noise how Farata Systems gives back to the community.

    I refer to cases like “donating” of a dead-end products like BEA’s Weblogic Workshop 8.1 a year ago. I blogged on the subject over here.
    But FlexBI is a top-quality product that does not have competition at the time of this writing. And giving it away for free has pragmatic reasons.

    Sincerely (and I mean it),
    Yakov

  12. “These days some people are trying to sell Flex item renderers.”
    This is a grey area I have seen since the web started. Everyone loves to get free help but when you have no time or need to pay rent then what do you choose to do? I would say the value of something is relative to the person who needs it. I wished in my early days of Flash for working examples of certain functionality. When this was not available and time moved on, I would not hesitate and would be grateful to pay for an example so I could continue my project and not lose any more money. It is a tough question and no one should “guilt” you into giving back to the community. Its up to you to decide what you can give. I choose the same way. If I can offer it at production quality and support then I will value it as a product at a price can sustain its further development, bug fixes and support. Good luck on your projects. :)
    Judah

  13. I agree – every product has its buyer, and in no way I’m blaming people for selling item renderers.
    It it cost $50 and can save me a day of work, I’ll get it without thinking twice. The more components the merrier.
    I’m a firm believer in open market – if $50 was too expensive for this component the market will force the vendor to lower the pice and visa versa.

  14. Wonderful looking product. Just wondering how you are able to put totals and sub headers in the datagrid? Could you post how you were able to do this?

    Cheers
    Gareth.

  15. Well, the SuperGrid is not direct descendent of DataGrid – it is 100% compatible with datagrid, but is completely rewritten inside. The post would be rather long (10,000 lines+) just for the base objects .
    If you are looking to just compliment DataGrid with headers and footers, you can do it in approximately 500 lines – basically adding additional elements on the dataProvider, and then adding additional locked column @ position 0 / overriding some rendering. In the end of the day, it will work, but enhancements will be difficult and have to stop quickly.
    Regards,
    Anatole

  16. Just wondered if you guys have given any more thought to whether or not you’re going to release this – and if so, in what way ?

    Regards,

    Jamie.

  17. We would defnitely be interested in helping to support open source around this. For a commercial endeavor I could see selling royalty free source code licenses with or without additional support. And/or open source it and sell pre-paid support packages similar to what Open Laszlo did. That would provide a business model that mitigates a lot of risk as you will have cash up-front to get tech support staff.

    Regards,

    – Tom Gonzalez

  18. Hey. what’s the status of this? It looks great but there seems no way to get hold of it. Have you a plan to release it?

    Thanks

    -Dave

  19. It’s currently in beta. We are planning to release the first commercial version of FlexBI in March 2007

  20. Hi,

    I like the Flex, and I think FlexBI will be (is) a great component.
    Now is may 2007 :) , where can I download sources of this components.

    Thanks in advance,
    Vasile

  21. PS: I think to develop a tool to generate web sites and code using your components (this and DAOFlex). So, I am waiting for source code of this component.

  22. Components are ready, but they won’t be open source. We were planning to sell them (see http://www.myflex.org), but after consulting with Adobe lawyers, we realized that the products have to be renamed to avoid using Adobe’s trademarks. At this point we are renaming the products (FlexBI becomes ClearBI, DaoFlex becomes Clear Data Builder). As soon as this mini project will complete, we’ll make an announcement.

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