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Adobe Flex 4 Goes to Public Beta

Adobe releases public betas of Flash Builder 4, Flash Catalyst and Flex 4 framework

Many Flex and Flash developers were waiting for these news for a year. The public Beta 1 of new Flash Builder 4, Flash Catalyst and Flex 4 SDK (previously codenamed Gumbo) has been released by Adobe.

First, about the name change. What used to be known as Flex Builder is Flash Builder now. The reason for such re-branding is clear to me.  Adobe wants separation between free open source software (Flex) and commercial IDE that can be used for building content for Flash Player VM.

While many early adopters will start playing with these newly released tools immediately, some people will prefer to wait for general release announcements. I don’t blame them. If Adobe will stick to their typical release habits, we can expect Beta 2 and 3 within three-four months, and the general release by the end of this year. This is just my guess as I don’t have any insider’s information in this regard.

Finally, people can try the new Designer/Developer work flow. If today, a designer creates an artwork in Illustrator or Photoshop, and then developers have to somehow mimic all the images, color gradients, fonts and styles in Flex Builder.  This process will become a lot more transparent.

A Web Designer will import her Illustrator/Photoshop creations into Flash Catalyst, then select areas to be turned into Flex components and will save the artwork as a new project – a file with extension .fxp. Adobe did a good job in maintaining menus and property panes in Flash Catalyst similar to what designers are accustomed to in Illustrator and Photoshop. The learning curve for designers is not steep at all.

Designers will definitely appreciate the ability to work with Flex View States without the need to write even a line of code.  Creating two views for master-detail scenarios becomes a trivial operation.

The Catalyst is a handy tool not only for people  trained in creating artworks, but also if you need to create a wire frame mockups of your application using built in controls including some dummy data.

Of course, there is always room for improvement.

First, this release doesn’t support “round trips” in designer/developer workflow. What’s the first thing some Flex developers will do after receiving the code generated by Flash Catalyst? You got it. They will rip it apart. They will rearrange the code, introduce custom components and whatever else their imagination will tell them to do. What if after all these code surgeries, the changes will be required in the design side? Designer will make these changes in Flash Catalyst and… will generate the code without having any knowledge made by developers since first generation.

This is definitely something that will require some serious efforts from Flex team. The roundtrip between the Illustrator or Photoshop and Flash Catalyst is supported.

Working with Flash Catalyst requires UI designers to use Flash CS4 for creation of original artworks. This is needed, because the Catalyst internally uses the new  fxg format for storing just the graphic part of the Flex controls.

For code generation, Flash Catalyst requires Flex SDK classes, which means that it won’t be able to generate tiny SWF’s that Flash developers are accustomed to.
Adobe is introducing a new process to keep the size of the downloadable SWF small. You know about the introduced in Flex 3 ability to keep on the user’s computer shareable Flex framework classes in a separate RSL file.  Now you won’t even need to deploy these compiled Flex RSL on your servers – just deploy your business related code, and if a user’s machine doesn’t have required RSLs, they’ll be downloaded from Adobe’s servers, not yours.

But even with these limitations, Flash Catalyst will become a valuable addition to the toolbox of a Web Designer working in Flex RIA space.

Since not every Flex team start developing their RIA from designing the view, Flash Builder 4 will offer important additions for those who prefer data-centric development.  You’ll be able to start with writing SQL for accessing the database layer, use automated wizard to generate Flex code. Beside other things, the wizard generates DTO classes with ability to customize them on the client, and master-detail relations between the data grids and forms (they are bound the same and only data collection), you can also specify the size of page of data to be brought to the front end (lazy loading of the data). After all this is complete, you can add Flash Catalyst to the mix.  

This data service based approach will allow to use a variety services such as REST or SOAP based servers, Java, PHP, .Net (!), and ColdFusion.  It’s nice that Adobe didn’t forget about ColdFusion developers. They offer them a new Eclipse-based IDE called Bolt.

As a strong proponent of automated code generation, I applaud Adobe for moving in this direction.  Well-designed tools and frameworks must minimize the amount of manually written code.

I also like the Network Monitor view available in Flash Builder. It allows you to monitor the AMF traffic and drill into the objects and their properties as they travel between the client and the server. You’ll also see how long each server request is taking.  I didn’t have time to figure out if it will allow to monitor RTMP traffic.  But I have no doubt that using this Network Monitor will improve the  productivity of Flex Developers.

My final wish for the general release of Flash Builder is to show some serious improvements in the compilation speed.


Matt Chotin from Adobe describes the new features of  Flex SDK 4 in this article.

Overall, these releases will definitely bring a lot of excitement in the Flex community, and will force their competition work even harder to catch up.

The text of the official press release is included below.

Adobe Announces New Flash Platform Tools
Beta Releases Deliver End-to-End Workflow for Developer/Designer Productivity

SAN JOSE, Calif. — June 1, 2009 — Adobe Systems Incorporated (Nasdaq:ADBE) today announced further advancements to the Adobe® Flash® Platform with the beta availability of Adobe® Flash® Builder™ 4 (formerly named Adobe® Flex® Builder), Adobe® Flash® Catalyst™ and the open source Flex 4 framework. Adobe Flash Builder is a professional development tool designed to help software developers rapidly build rich Internet applications (RIAs). Adobe Flash Catalyst is a new professional interaction design tool for rapidly creating application user interfaces without coding. The tools offer a highly integrated workflow and are based on the new Flex 4 framework, an open source framework for building RIAs that will allow developers and designers to more easily collaborate on projects. The public betas of these products are available today for download on Adobe Labs at http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/flash/.

“People are now expecting the same richness and ease of use in their workplace applications that they have in their daily Web experiences, but companies today are faced with strained development resources and less time to create intuitive applications,” said David Wadhwani, general manager and vice president of the Platform Business Unit at Adobe. “The new Adobe® Flash® Platform tools help solve this challenge by reducing time to market for generating compelling applications and content. Using Adobe Flash Builder and Flash Catalyst, developers and designers can now work together more productively to create rich experiences that employees, customers and partners expect.”

Simplified Development Approach
Adobe Flash Builder 4 is based on the open source Flex framework and comes with a powerful set of new features to simplify RIA development. Formerly known as Adobe Flex Builder, the new IDE improves basic development functionality, adds significant new data-centric development features, and streamlines the design-develop workflow.

New data-centric development features allow developers to introspect services and use a simple drag and drop approach to quickly bind methods to user interface components, such as interactive charts, graphs, and data grids. These features make it easier to break down information silos and integrate business data from databases and Web services across different organizations. As a result, companies can build user-centric applications for dashboards, e-commerce and self-service Web portals that streamline business processes for their employees, customers and partners.

"With the arrival of the 'digital generation' in the workplace, workers expect a new approach to the enterprise and want to consume business applications like they do with other tools on the Internet," said Herve Couturier, executive vice Page 2 of 3 Adobe Announces New Flash Platform Tools president, R&D NetWeaver and Business Objects, SAP. "The adoption of the Adobe Flash Platform, particularly with the use of Adobe Flash Builder, has helped SAP create even better user interfaces and interactive content for our next-generation applications, like our new SAP BusinessObjects Explorer."

“The UI components in Adobe Flash Builder deliver tremendous value to developers. For me, the wide range of components allows me to rapidly build tools and applications with little or no up-front design support and a lot less programming,” said Andreas Heim, director of technology of Smashing Ideas, Inc. “As a result, I can create iterative versions of RIAs faster than ever, and we can shorten production cycles."

A Common Foundation for Design and Development
Also announced today is the newest release of the open source Flex framework that provides a common foundation for both developers and designers to create compelling user experiences that run on the Adobe Flash Platform. The updated Flex framework facilitates productivity and consistency, enabling developers to import functional UI created by designers using Adobe Flash Catalyst and completing the application logic while preserving the design and layout of the user experience.

Faster Design and Development
Adobe Flash Catalyst, a new tool in the Adobe Flash Platform, turns interaction design from a development task into a design discipline. It allows designers to transform artwork created in Adobe Photoshop® or Adobe Illustrator® software into user interfaces that can then be utilized directly by developers to complete the application or site. This improved workflow allows designers to maintain control of the user experience while developers can stay focused on core application logic. Adobe Flash Catalyst lets designers demonstrate and iterate on functional user interfaces of applications at an earlier stage, securing feedback sooner in the development process. The project file is then provided to the developer to add functionality and integrate with servers and services using Adobe Flash Builder.

Additionally, using Adobe Flash Catalyst, designers can publish finished Flash file format (SWF) files for display in a Web browser. Round-trip editing with Adobe® Creative Suite® tools allows designers to edit structured pieces of the interaction design at any time, increasing productivity and keeping the design process moving.
About Adobe Flash Platform

The Adobe Flash Platform is a complete system of integrated tools, frameworks, clients and servers for the development of Web applications, content and video that runs consistently across operating systems and devices. Adobe Flash Player content reaches over 98 percent of Internet-enabled desktops, and Adobe Flash technology is the No. 1 platform for video on the Web. Additionally, to date there have been over one million downloads of Flex. For more information about the Adobe Flash Platform visit http://www.adobe.com/flashplatform.

More Stories By Yakov Fain

Yakov Fain is a Java Champion and a co-founder of the IT consultancy Farata Systems and the product company SuranceBay. He wrote a thousand blogs (http://yakovfain.com) and several books about software development. Yakov authored and co-authored such books as "Angular 2 Development with TypeScript", "Java 24-Hour Trainer", and "Enterprise Web Development". His Twitter tag is @yfain

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