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Simple question, but perhaps hard to answer. I have broken the title question into three distinct questions in order to clearly identify what we are considering for options each time we build an GIS web application in Flex.

  1. What are the pros and cons of using the ArcGIS Viewer for Flex application as a starting point for GIS applications?
  2. What are the pros and cons of creating your own application from scratch using the ArcGIS API for Flex? Note: This would be a focused application. In this case it is not intended to be a reusable application from which other applications could be configured / built.
  3. What are the pros and cons of creating your own custom framework using the ArcGIS API for Flex from which multiple applications could be built? While the primary goal would be to build an application that meets the customers needs a secondary goal would be to have a reusable framework from which other applications can be configured / built, much like the Flex Viewer.

Unlike many other decisions the choice to use one method over the other is not an easily reversible one. Assume you will have to live with this decision for a very long time (years).

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2 Answers 2

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What are the pros and cons of using the ArcGIS Viewer for Flex application as a starting point for GIS applications?

Esri support will support the core viewer and the widgets that come with it (but not custom widgets). This is a huge reason to base your application around the viewer. Stop re-inventing the wheel and focus your development time on creating specific widgets for your specific needs and skinning the application.
- I could rattle on, but too much debate could be had here.

What are the pros and cons of creating your own application from scratch using the ArcGIS API for Flex?

You mention that it needs to be a focused application. Then, yes an application built from the ground up would allow you to tailor the interface the meet the exact requirements you have. I assume your project has a budget, and remember the Flex Viewer can save cutting some costs off your budget...
But yes, in an ideal world, every project would allow for the budget to design something that is specific to the needs of that projects users.
As a developer, I always get excited listening to client requirements, my imagination starts running wild with very specific applications that would be perfect for their requirements. Then when reality kicks in, and budgets come into play - usually these ideas go out the window.

What are the pros and cons of creating your own custom framework using the ArcGIS API for Flex from which multiple applications could be built?

Personally, id consider looking at existing COTS options out there. e.g. LocalView from Esri Uk, GeoCortex Essentials, or Esri Austalia's Dekho.

These are all fully supported COTS products that have regular updates and allow for easy administration without diving into code. (I work for the latter Dekho team, but still giving my honest feedback).

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Sasa made some great points but have to award the answer to you for "ESRI support will support the core viewer". Without a dedicated team supporting a generic framework I doubt anyone could keep up with ESRI as their technology stack evolves. Using the Flex Viewer is one way to get free and frequent updates to common functionality. –  Ryan Taylor Sep 23 '11 at 18:26
  1. Benefit of using the ArcGIS Viewer for Flex application is that you get a flexible out-of-the box viewer with no coding and minimal configuration. There are also a number of widgets available for the viewer that you can use for extending your application. It is a great option for those looking to minimize the amount of time and effort required in setting up an ESRI Flex Application.
  2. Pros of creating your own application is that you can customize the application to look and feel exactly the way you want it to. You can build in tools that you want and leave out those you don't want. Biggest con is the fact you need to spend far more time and effort developing your own custom solution. Often a nice compromise is using a pre-built framework (i.e. the Flex Viewer) and customizing it, including writing your own widgets for it. The Flex Viewer allows you to customize it in any way you want as ESRI provides the source code for it.
  3. Pros and Cons of building your own custom framework are similar to #2. It should only be considered if you will have the need for re-usability further on down the road. If you consider this option, make sure you consider the pros and cons of writing your own framework from scratch vs. using another framework to build upon such as the Flex Viewer. Additionally, you need to consider backward/forward compatibility not only with the Flex API, but with the Viewer itself.

Ultimately, there is no easy answer to your question. It entirely depends on your requirements, time, and budget. Usually you will need to find a good compromise based on those three factors.

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Whenever ESRI showcases ArcGIS Viewer for Flex at conferences they make it seem like an easy out of the box solution but does it not require ArcGIS Server license (not to mention server hardware). It looks good and simple and might be useful for some applications but it seems like a huge investment for putting up a simple web map. –  Jakub Sep 22 '11 at 16:03
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It does NOT require an ArcGIS Server license unless you are looking to use ArcGIS Server to publish GIS data. You are free to use their Viewer without publishing your own data or by using free/open source GIS Server software to publish data (i.e. WMS). You can also write custom layer interfaces to consume non-ESRI data sources. –  Sasa Ivetic Sep 22 '11 at 16:09
    
Right. I forgot about that. When I was looking into this in the past the primary objective was to create and publish my own data. So if I wanted to publish my own data i would still need an ArcGIS server then, correct? That is what confused me at the demonstrations - they had people creating and editing data on all sorts of devices and then showing us how they appear in the desktop application. I guess It wasn't clear to me so when i took the workshop I was surprised that to create and publish my own data and have people view and edit them requires a lot more then the viewer. –  Jakub Sep 22 '11 at 16:33

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