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Macromedia Rolls New Flex Builder Tool

Macromedia took the wraps off its first developer tool for its Flex platform that it says will encourage more people to build rich media and Web-facing applications.

Previously known as "Brady," Flex Builder is an Integrated Development Environment for presentation layers. Based on Dreamweaver MX 2004, Flex Builder includes all the standard Dreamweaver features so Flex developers can build and manage any Active Server Pages (ASP), Java Server Pages (JSP), PHP , ColdFusion, and HTML aspects of their Flex projects. The Dreamweaver features in Flex Builder work exactly as they do in Dreamweaver MX 2004 so only Flex users gain from the additional Flex features in Flex Builder.

Developers at the San Francisco-based software company said they set out to rebuild the browser animation technology in order to make it more compliant with J2EE and Web application-centric protocols such as SOAP , Active Script and XML . The IDE works with an XML schema for the Flex language could be imported to any IDE that can run XML schemas such as Notepad, JBuilder, Visual Studio, Stylus Studio and Eclipse.

"Some of our developers have said they would like an integrated IDE. To meet that need we've created Flex Builder," Jeff Whatcott, Macromedia vice president of product management told internetnews.com. "It offers us a visual design environment with drag and drop capabilities, accordion controls, and radio controls that can be arranged visually."

The platform's layout and prototype include aspects like split design and code view; tag inspector; styling and CSS support; application preview and data connectivity and data binding. The code editor includes code hinting and context sensitive reference help. The Flex Builder's debugging features include a network traffic monitor. Builder also supports either code-oriented or a visual-oriented development of GUI.

"You can watch the information on a granular-level go back and forth. Even through a SOAP packet, it is very aware of the information," Whatcott said. "This is important for large development teams where some people want to have that pixel-level control. Then they can check the result for the logic programmer and he can script the logic behind it and start scripting it. Then a system developer can then start connecting that interface to the back end."

Communications software developer Exstream Software has involved with Flex and Flex Builder from the early beta period. Software architect Steve Pruit said his team gravitated toward the code-oriented approach, but use the visual designer for quick looks for reality checks.

"We chose Rich Internet Application technology because the application is highly interactive with a complex workflow. Macromedia's Flex offering was the best of the field for this type of framework," Pruit told internetnews.com. "The tool also has a nice facility for updating testing servers. The code change update eliminates a typical development hassle."

Right now, Flex Builder is only available in English on Windows with licenses included with purchase of Macromedia Flex Presentation Server. A license starts at $12,000 for a 2-CPU system and includes a year of annual maintenance, but Whatcott said many companies purchase more because they use it in their J2EE environments. There is also a 60-day trial version available.

Since its debut earlier this year, Macromedia's Flex has been gaining ground in the company's developer circles.

The platform is based on widely adopted standards such as XML, ECMAScript (ECMA262), SOAP Web services , and the Macromedia Flash (SWF) file format. Macromedia has even managed to create its own programming language specifically for its Flex platform: mxml, which stands for Maximum Experience Markup Language. While not an official standard of yet, the company said it does use common components such as CSS to give both Web site developers and users more control over how pages are displayed.

With its own IDE in place, Pruit said developers like the ones on his team could speed though presentation layer projects.

"There is lots of help finding mxml tags, quickly determining the appropriate attributes and events needed for the tag," he said. "In short, the learning curve is shortened."