March 22nd 2010 | Jens C Brynildsen
This morning, Adobe removed the beta versions from Adobe Labs and added downloads for shipping versions. If you've wondered if you'll want to upgrade your Flex Builder to Flash Builder - trust us - you really should! Flash Builder is a joy to use and the new Flex SDK solves a lot of issues developers have had.
The third addition, Coldfusion (CF) Builder has been in the works for some time and the best part is that if you buy the premium version of Flash Builder, you'll also get CF Builder. This also works the other way, so if you buy CF Builder - you'll get a copy of Flash Builder Standard. The pricing is as follows:
|Flash Builder 4 Standard||$249||$99|
|Flash Builder 4 Premium||$699||$299|
|Coldfusion Builder 1||$299||n/a|
This is great news for Coldfusion developers since all serious Flex developers now will own an IDE for doing CF. This could certainly make it much easier to check out if ColdFusion is a good match for your project. 60 day trial versions of all products are now online, so you can download and play with it today. Click the links above to find the trial on each product page.
This is not just a small upgrade, but a full overhaul of the Eclipse based editor. It certainly feels faster, though it probably won't ever be as fast as IDEs such as FlashDevelop. The compiler has gotten a big overhaul and according to Adobe, it's up to twice as fast as the Flex 3 compiler. The compiler now supports conditional debugging and the Profiler has been enhanced as well.
There's loads of new productivity features such as getter/setter generation, event code generation, a new Package Explorer, support for ASDoc tooltips right in the IDE. The more we've used the beta, the more we've come to love those small things like when you create a new object and then type "new", the correct class will be at the top of the context sensitive help so all you do is Press Enter to accept it. Features like this will actually improve your coding speed throughout the day.
Flash Builder also comes with a new data services browser that will let you proxy in and introspect JSP, PHP, ASP, REST, SOAP and other online data services. It can do the grunt work of setting up code for adding/editing/deleting data and also makes it easy to swap server technology if that's required. There's also a Network monitor that can help you debug network traffic such as AMF services. Chances are that professionals will still use a tool like Charles Proxy but this is certainly a nice to have feature.
Flex Builder is now Flash Builder and this caused some discussion in the community. According to Adobe, so many were using the tool for Actionscript development that it didn't make sense to call it Flex Builder. Opponents of the name change claimed this would make it harder to sell Flex in the Enterprise due to the general negative sentiment towards Flash due to ads and intros. Adobe argued quite rightly that they would still be selling Flex and that this really showed the need for a name change. Flex is after all just a framework and Flash is the platform. Naming the authoring tool after the framework have caused a lot of confusion and the name change should help clear this up.
Up until now, the current component model in Flex was called Halo. Flex 4 introduces a new set of components called Spark. The Spark components are based off the same codebase (UIComponent) and most of them duplicate existing Halo components. Why would you use them then? The clue is that the visual appearance in the Spark components are decoupled from the component functionality, so they are much easier to skin. If you've ever tried to do serious skinning of the Halo components, you'll know why this is such an important feature.
So while the Spark components look quite dull and simplistic when you drag them into the Design View, they're what you'll want to use for anything that requires skinning. To read more about the Spark components, check this article on DevNet. You can also easily swap between Component Themes (visual styles) by selecting Properties -> Flex Theme panel. You can also Import Themes to this panel, so expect there to be a flurry of these as time goes by.
There are a few major changes from Flex 3 to Flex 4 and you may want to check out this article by Joan Lafferty to read up on it before you get started. When using Spark components, the visual components are separated from the non-visual ones (Declarations). States have gotten a full overhaul, components are laid out using groups and layouts, CSS support is improved, video components are added, Text Layout Framework (TLF) support is added and much more.
Flash Builder can read and write it's project files in the FXG format. FXG is Adobe's new interchange format between applications allowing you to start a comp in Photoshop, bring it into the forthcoming Adobe Catalyst for prototyping, then move it into either Flex Builder or Flash CS5 to complete the authoring process. FXG is the format making this workflow possible and all Adobe applications will eventually support it.
The integration with Adobe Catalyst will initially be a one way workflow, but this is expected to improve with version 2 of Catalyst. If you have a workflow that involves both Flash and Flex, you really should get Flash Builder as soon as Flash CS5 is launched April 12th 2010. The new versions let you code in Builder and compile and manage assets in Flash easily, and you can also edit component skins in Flash. We've asked Adobe if it is possible to enable at least parts of this workflow with Flash CS4 but unfortunately only CS5 is supported.
Finally, the Coldfusion crowd get a decent IDE. One of Macromedia's biggest bummers was to quit the development of HomeSite. This was one of the best non-visual HTML editors and also the main tool for CF developers. Macromedia though something along the lines "we'll just rool some CF features into Dreamweaver" and then killed Homesite. Dreamweaver was never a good CF editor but CF Builder can hopefully be that. This new IDE is based on Eclipse and includes a full line by line debugger that supports breakpoints. CF Builder works with CF9.
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