Loving Flex

May 11, 2007

Flex is good!

I’ve been reading about the buzz Adobe created by making Flex open source, but hadn’t bothered to delve much. I’ve come to love the power of AJAX on the web and am not always very thrilled when a Flash-based web application comes along. One of the reasons why I’d not tried Scrapblog as yet even after reading some very positive reviews.

Yesterday night though, I was waiting on some stuff to be completed for my review and decided to dig into my things-to-check list (on todoist, btw); and boy was I impressed with scrapblog! It’s sleek, fast, beautiful and above all it works like a charm. I was up and running, creating my first scrapbook-style slideshow of photos in minutes. Didn’t even have to upload anything – scrapblog nicely played along with my flickr account and pulled the photos I selected in a matter of seconds.

My excitement then carried me beyond scrapblog and into the world of Flex. Haven’t tried out too many of those applications in the numerous Flex showcases around the web, but from what I see, it is one cool technology. The next time I have some space, I know I’m heading to one of those lists to try out some new stuff.

There’s a web application world beyond AJAX; and it rocks! I’m excited to see what Microsoft’s Silverlight brings to the table, but it’ll probably be a while before we see some action there. And I know what I’ll be busy exploring till then…

Just over two weeks of using todoist, and my entire perspective towards the balance of simplicity and power seems to be shifting. And I’m talking simplicity not just in the user interface or the feature set of an application. It could be the concept and scope of the application; it’s ability to be easy for new users while at the same time sufficing the needs of experienced ones; for that matter even the ability to quickly convert a novice into an intermediate or an advanced user. These, for me, are the qualities that separate apps that attract the crowds from those that retain them.

Todoist is an example of a ‘retainer’. Sure there are other reasons why I think I will stick with todoist for a long time – the amazing pace at which it’s author seems to churn out improvements and new features, his readiness to respond to feedback and feature requests (something that seems to mimic the way-ahead-of-it’s-league responsiveness of the application itself), or the fine attention to detail. Things like the way the app says ‘moved to tomorrow’ every time I change the due date of a task to ‘tomorrow’ (or just ‘tom’), the oh-so-sweet Ctrl+arrow keys indenting to establish hierarchies and the brilliantly done info page tell me that the application was built with a lot of love. Makes me love it myself.

I’ve tried tens of web applications over the last year or so, but have stuck with hardly any. Now that I think of it, the ones I still use are really the ones that get the simplicity part right. Be it del.icio.us for my bookmarks, flickr for sharing photos, gmail for personal e-mail, google reader for my RSS feeds or – on the desktop front – utorrent for file sharing. The good thing about all these apps is that they set out to do just one thing. And do it well.

So then, if keeping things simple works, why do most applications bother complicating things at all!?

Todoist logo

For a long time now, I’ve considered Remember the milk as the best way to manage my tasks and keep life organized. It has it’s troubles and it can get a little slow at times, but the power it provided me was unparelleled. So what if I never used half of it’s feature set? It just felt like the best online todo manager out there!

That was till I came across Todoist. To start with, it felt a bit too simple; especially for someone coming from the overtly heavy interface of Remember the milk. I had a ton of questions – including the most basic of things like “How do I set the priority of a task while creating it?” and “Can I set a time rather than just the date?”. But a beautifully minimalistic ‘Info’ page and a series of screencasts with audio (and the author’s loveably different accent) made things crystal clear. Within minutes, I had become a power user with the application and in less than a day todoist took over everything else I had ever used as my task manager of choice.

I’ve been using it for a week now and it has very quickly become much more than a way to organize my day-to-day tasks. I’ve created a number of lists – birthdays, movies to watch, music to buy, etc. And the best part is that there’s not a single day that goes by without letting me discover a powerful new feature or use for the application.

Todoist is my example for a lot of things – an ideal web 2.0 application, a lesson in responsiveness (not just on the web, but even in desktop applications), a brilliant example of what one man’s genius can achieve… But above all, it is a great example of how a simple interface can pack a shipload of power!

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