Sencha Architect: Visual HTML5, sort of

Sencha's drag-and-drop tool for building Web and mobile apps is friendly to designers if they're also developers

Sencha describes Sencha Architect 2, the latest incarnation of its visual Web development tool, as "a massive upgrade to Ext Designer," the previous version. The name change from Designer to Architect reflects the product's new focus. Instead of a tool for building Web UIs, Sencha says the new version is suitable for creating complete Web applications, both for UI designers and back-end developers. That's true up to a point.

I installed Architect Build 372 for Windows, a prerelease version, though it promptly updated itself to Build 412 and then Build 443. Architect also requires you to run a local Web server to test your project, though it doesn't seem to care which one. On Sencha's recommendation, I installed the XAMP open source server stack for Windows, which includes the Apache Web server. Priced at $399, Architect is also available for Linux and Mac OS X, which offer similar server options.

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Already you may perceive that Architect is not a product for novices. You'll need to know something about Web servers and their directory structures just to get it up and running. Furthermore, you'll need to know where and how to save your projects and what URLs to use to access them. The software doesn't hold your hand through any of this.

Neither is Architect a full-fledged Web IDE like Adobe Dreamweaver. It's not a tool for opening up existing Web applications and tinkering with them, and you won't use it for simple text editing. It's really meant for building new, JavaScript-enabled applications from scratch, with automatic code generation for either desktop Web browsers or mobile apps.

Code by Ext JS or Sencha Touch

To enable your apps' program logic, Architect relies on either Ext JS (for traditional Web applications) or Sencha Touch (for mobile apps). Both frameworks are Sencha products, though both are also available as open source software, licensed under the GPLv3.

As such, Architect will be most helpful if you're already using one of these frameworks or if you haven't chosen one yet. If you're already using something else -- say, jQuery -- the code Architect outputs shouldn't interfere with your existing code, but the extra JavaScript libraries will add to your application's download size.

Working in Sencha Architect 2 mostly involves navigating and setting configuration options. The WYSIWYG window (in the middle) isn't really WYSIWYG. It gives you the base layout, but you can see what the app will actually look like only by pulling it up in a browser.
Working in Sencha Architect 2 mostly involves navigating and setting configuration options. The WYSIWYG window (in the middle) isn't really WYSIWYG. It gives you the base layout, but you can see what the app will actually look like only by pulling it up in a browser.
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