Product review: Adobe Flex Builder speeds RIA development
Version 3.0 of the Eclipse-based Flex IDE hits the high notes with real-time charting, wizards for data binding and Web services, new tools for app profiling, and support for AIR; Creative Suite integration could use improvementFollow @infoworld
Flex profiling shows the duration of method calls, call paths, object sizes, as well as stack and garbage collection traces. I was able to see into the SWF black box and glean insights that I could use to slim down my application and improve performance. Adobe also includes some decent best-practice guidelines to help developers optimize performance.
ActionScript may not provide all the power and finesse of mainstream languages, but it's no slouch. Developers will find class-based inheritance, namespaces, and type checking that help up the sophistication and should meet even the most stringent requirements for a wide variety of customer-facing applications.
I would like to see Adobe add a service monitor framework for both Flex and AIR applications. In addition to general monitoring of available network services, OS-aware monitoring components built into AIR applications could be used to make real-time performance adjustments.
Also on my wish list: I'd like to see time-based effects and other component behaviors accessible via the Design view, rather than forcing hand-coding. Further, although being able to convert Flex projects to AIR apps is nice, the process involves first creating an AIR project and then importing the Flex assets. It would be preferable to simply export an AIR package.
Further, although Adobe has done a good job pulling together the design- and developer-minded approaches, some of the implementation here feels clumsy – especially compared to the tight integration Microsoft has achieved between Silverlight and the Expression and Visual Studio development environments. The new links between Flex Builder and the CS3 suite are a good start, but more is needed to successfully bridge the packages.
To this end, Adobe is not sitting still. Adobe Thermo is the code name for an advanced UI development tool aimed at improving the ties with the CS3 Suite, promising to streamline interface development with features to build in programmatic aspects more rapidly.
Finally, although this version of Flex Builder is available for Mac and Windows only, Adobe is hard at work on a Linux edition to support the forthcoming Flash and AIR runtimes for Linux, which are slated for release by year's end. Meanwhile, alpha builds of the runtimes and IDE are available at Adobe Labs.
I have reviewed every major release of Flex Builder for InfoWorld's pages, and I'm more excited than ever by the current state of the art and the future prospects for RIA, as well as Adobe's vision for AIR on the desktop. Adobe Flex Builder 3.0 offers a comprehensive, relatively inexpensive means of jumping into RIA with only a modest learning curve. If you're aiming to improve the user experience of a customer-facing app, or looking for a more flexible way to create executive dashboards and other data-driven, visual interfaces, I highly recommend you give Adobe Flex Builder 3.0 a try.