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Article

Rich Internet Applications

Getting Trained with Total Training's Flex 2

You read the blogs, see a couple of articles, and hear all the buzz about Flex 2 and how it can really transform how your users can fluidly interact with information and the business in an exciting and efficient new way.

But at the same time you're under tight deadlines, you're an expert in the technology you're already using, and are able to maintain a certain pace and deliver projects within a predictable timeframe.

You want to learn, but don't have the time to scour through thick technical books (which at this time this article was written didn't even exist for Flex 2). And even if you did, you find that your ability to absorb a lot of information from a tech book is challenging.

You would love to go to a hosted course that is presented by a knowledgeable expert who will not only visually guide you through the learning process, but verbally as well. Personally, I find I'm able to retain a lot more information if presented by someone, so I'll always take the in-class option over books.

Not to say books are bad, I love books, but to me I find their value as being a reference. At the same time, taking 3-4 days off of work to attend in class training is often difficult to swing (need to get your managers buy-in, the courses are often $2000+, the cost skyrockets if you have to fly to another city to attend, etc...).

Well, if you've been using time or budget an excuse not to learn, I'm glad to say that your excuse is gone!

Introducing Flex 2 - Rich Internet Applications by Total Training
The folks at Total Training provide a very cool product for computer based training courses (CBT). CBT of course is nothing new and has been around for years; but traditional CBT's are nothing more than an online book that is a little bit interactive (via some quizzes here and there that you have to answer correctly to be able to proceed).

If you're the kind who can read the words for hours, but later realizes you haven't retained a thing, you end up having to re-read it again - that CBT approach is not much better than a book.

Total Training's approach is to combine the best of both worlds. CBT gives you the price advantage and time saving convenience; while hosted courses give you that 'in class' presentation approach where someone is talking and explaining the content to you.

How It Works
The DVD-ROM based product is based on high-resolution video that combines recorded footage of the presenter, presentation slides, and programming demonstrations.

When installing the product, it installs the player as well as the course files. In this particular case it installs a whopping 135 Megs of course files - which is 16 chapters worth of source code ready to go.

So the end result is like being in a classroom while at home, with the full control of being able to navigate around the topics. As the presenter codes through code samples, you have those exact samples that are on your computer allowing you to work on the labs/exercises just like in a classroom. Instead of reading pages and pages of code, the presenter builds the samples as he goes along - just like in the classroom.

Meet James
Say hi to James Talbot! He's the presenter of this course. James has been with Adobe for six years now, and has worked in both the sales engineering and training teams for the Flash and Flex products.

James is well known in developer circles, and you can often catch him giving presentations to user groups and conferences. You may also be familiar with his literary works such as Object Oriented Action Script 2.0 by New Riders Press, and the upcoming Flex 2: Training from the source by Adobe Press.

On the consulting side of things he's worked on some heavy duty RIA applications with AOL/Time Warner, JP Morgan, and TV Guide.

So what more could you want? An extremely seasoned pro that works with the company that makes the product, and even better - his background is both technical and training!

Navigation
The heart of the product of course is the player. Like any media player it has the usual play, pause, rewind, and forward buttons. But they really went through a lot of trouble to ensure super rapid topic navigation.

Content is structured by Lessons and Topics. There are 16 lessons that include:

  • Introduction to Flex
  • Using Flex Builder 2
  • Flex Fundamentals
  • Handling Events
  • Application Navigation
  • Retrieving XML Data
  • Using View States
  • Building a Stock Photo Application
  • Using a Data Grid
  • Architecting an Application
  • Using a Repeater
  • Manipulating XML
  • Connecting to Web Services
  • Manipulating Complex Data
  • Formatting and Validating
Each of these lessons include many topics. At the top of the player, the current Lesson and Topic will be displayed; but by using your handy dandy mouse you can easily jump across topics in a lesson, or jump to completely different lessons (see Figure 1).

If you're not sure what Lesson a Topic is in, or just want to browse all the topics, you can click on the Contents button, which will bring up the full index so you can jump to it quickly (see Figure 2).

One of the benefits of a book of course is that you can jump back to a piece of information at any point in time by bookmarking it, which of course you can't do in a class.

Total Training's product also allows you to do this. Any topic can be bookmarked, and easily retrieved in the Bookmarks drop down menu (see Figure 3 and Figure 4).

The Content
If the player is the heart, the content is the soul. The courseware includes stunningly rich visuals that are not only interesting to watch and hold your attention, but at the same time are laden with valuable knowledge.

But it's more than just presentation slides; James shows in a live fashion everything you need to know to build a Flex application. So although you see James himself, as well as the slides, you also get into the nitty-gritty of the code itself. (see Figure 5)

Who This Is For
The prime candidate for this course is anyone interested in learning Flex, but it also encompasses anyone evaluating RIA technologies and interested in seeing how Flex works up close and what the anticipated learning curve is for their team.

I would also recommend this product for intermediate level Flex developers, and I think seasoned pros would also learn a couple of tricks that they didn't know about. For example, a lot of experienced Flex developers have been able to get by without having to learn leveraging breakpoints, but James shows you how easy it is to take advantage of this feature in Flex Builder 2. (see Figure 6)

Pricing and Availability
The product is available for both Windows and MAC, and retails for $149.99. For more information on the product, as well as to order, visit Total Training's website at www.totaltraining.com.

More Stories By Tariq Ahmed

Tariq Ahmed is the manager of product development at Amcom Computer Services, a former project lead at eBay, and host of www.cflex.net. He specializes in leveraging technology with process engineering to reduce operating costs while maximizing revenue potential. You can find him on the Web at www.dopejam.com.

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WebService //Flash 10/03/06 11:21:22 PM EDT

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