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jsclev2007

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Best current web RAD development platform - APEX, ADK, Flex?

I am launching a new business that will be selling software licenses for a mission critical business application available to paid subscribers on the public internet.

I have a fellow developer who has been using APEX for the past year and swears by it.  I've looked into it and am seriously thinking about going with APEX despite not having used it before.  I am a web developer and have been coding web apps for 10 years in J2EE/Spring/Hibernate, .NET/SQL Server, and PHP/MySQL/Apache stacks.  However, I have yet to use APEX, Flex, or ADK for any projects, but am amazed at how fast my friend can put out his apps.  And yes, he is raking in the money because he delivers fast solutions to his customers.  As he said, "There's no J2EE developer on the planet that can build a web app faster than I can in APEX."

My major hangup, however, about APEX is my lack of knowledge regarding customizing the themes.  I am paying a very talented designer to design an extremely intuitive user interface for this web app because my target users will be non-technical.  The ease of use of my app will be, I think, it's key to success or failure.  I believe that if I can code the app exactly as the designer has designed it, I'll be able to produce a highly successful app.  I'm already figuring that I'll need to create my own APEX theme after seeing the first rough drafts of the design docs.  They look absolutely nothing like the standard APEX themes.  In addition, the Google Maps API Javascript v3 is a major component of my application.  I'll also be supporting a couple thousand users within a year or two.  So I really have several questions:

How easy is it to create my own, built from scratch, APEX theme?  Where would I go to learn how (I'm willing to pay for a class, bootcamp, whatever)
Based on my description, am I going down the wrong path with APEX?
Would Flex or ADK be a better, more flexible, option in the long run?
Given my need for complete control over the UI, am I better off foregoing the RAD platforms and simply go back to a J2EE/Spring/MySQL or .NET solution?
Is there another RAD platform besides APEX, ADK, or Flex that I haven't even thought of?

Note that I really, really don't want to go back to my old ways of web development.  My friend absolutely amazes me about how fast he can put together business web apps for his customers.  Also note that I'll need a lot of ability to integrate my own custom Javascript and AJAX since I'll be using a lot of custom mapping through the Google Maps API.  I also don't care one bit about licensing fees - they'll be a drop in the bucket if I can build the product fast and get it to market.  $30k a year to Oracle and another $20k to Google will be nothing.

And please no responses from people who do not have experience with APEX 4.0 and the latest versions of Flex and ADK.  I'm also not looking for any advice on how to build apps the way I've been doing them in the past.  I'm looking for a new web app platform that can enable me to build apps much faster than I've been doing over the last 10 years but still give me flexibility with the UI and custom Javascript.
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jsclev2007

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gatorvip: Extremely helpful and thorough response.  Give me a day or two to digest all that you've suggested and I'll be back.  Thanks so much for your help - you provided just the kind of advice I was looking for.
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