Macromedia Releases Flex Builder

Macromedia announced that this week it will begin shipping Flex Builder, a new integrated development environment designed to streamline Flex application development.

The company noted that creation of Flex Builder was prompted by the adoption of Flex. Flex is a server-side framework that generates user interfaces that run in the Flash client and connects the user interface to back-end data. The Flex frameworks runs in a Java 2 Enterprise Edition application server.

Originally code-named “Brady,” Flex Builder is designed to accelerate all aspects of rich Internet application development, including interface layout, coding, debugging and deployment.

Showing Muscle

According to Macromedia, Flex Builder makes it easier for developers to learn Flex more quickly and therefore produce results in less time. It has a design view for visual interface layout, a robust MXML and ActionScript code editor, and debugging capabilities.

David Mendels, Macromedia senior vice president, noted in a recent statement that the company is seeing a renaissance in enterprise application development, which has been catalyzed by Flex and is now moving into the mainstream.

Companies employ Flex to add interfaces to a variety of applications, such as visual data dashboards, online shopping carts and customer self-service applications.

When Flex was released, Macromedia noted that it reflected the emergence of a push toward services-oriented architecture (SOA), which resulted in applications that are easier to build and maintain, use less bandwidth, and deliver more functionality.

Gartner vice president Yefim Natis told LinuxInsider that he expects SOA to soar in popularity in the next five years, which could greatly benefit Macromedia.

“SOA is gaining ground because it shows such good results,” he said. “There’s consistent design, and better application management. There’s also just better quality all around.”

Building On

With the addition of Flex Builder, developers can work with a mix of coding and visual tools, which allows them to gauge the look of what they’re building.

Beta tests of the tool were done with Flex developers. Macromedia claims that many of these early users saw productivity gains by using Builder, and that they continue to use the tool.

The company has noted that other tools like Visual Studio and Eclipse can also work with Flex, but that Flex Builder provides a more focused framework for the platform.

The tests were being done just as Microsoft unveiled stripped-down versions of its Visual Studio tools, in an attempt to woo more developers. Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio told LinuxInsider that, like Microsoft, Macromedia understands the importance of targeting nonprofessional programmers and developers.

“The landscape is changing,” she said. “The tools have to be simple to appeal to developers at all levels.”

Getting Flashy

Macromedia is eager to promote Flex and Flex Builder as part of its effort to broaden the use of Flash. Many developers might still associate Flash with its early days of banner ad creation, but Macromedia is attempting to breathe new life into the tool and emphasize its use in delivering Web applications.

Toward that end, the company also has spruced up its Flash developer tools and created new products like the Breeze Web conferencing service.

On September 1, Macromedia will ship the Flash Video Kit that will allow users working with Macromedia Studio MX 2004 to add streaming or progressive download video to their sites. The kit should appeal to developers that do not have extensive technical knowledge because it allows Flash to be added easily through a Dreamweaver MX 2004 plug in.

The emphasis on simplicity with all of Macromedia’s new products is indicative of a movement toward broadening the market for development tools, said DiDio. “The next generation of developers might be people that just want to put up a Web site, and aren’t considered professional programmers,” she said. “Companies are recognizing the need to create tools for these people.”

While it promotes Flex Builder, Macromedia is still working on a variation of the product, code-named Partridge, that will allow developers to build applications from different IDEs. The tool also is expected to have advanced debugging and network-monitoring capabilities, as well as other features that boost rapid development of Flex applications.

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