Today we announced that Flash Builder 4.5 and Flex “Hero” 4.5 will be launched at the beginning of May. And to tell you the truth I couldn’t be more excited – this is my third launch so I do have something to compare to :). In this post I want to highlight some of the most important features / changes / additions. Just to sum them up, they are about mobile, performance, and productivity.
What’s new in Flash Builder 4.5
Let’s start with Flash Builder (for a while I worked on this product as an engineer, so it is close to my heart). Flash Builder 4.5 is coming about a year after Flash Builder 4.0 – I think this is the shortest release cycle we’ve ever had for Flash Builder.
Support for mobile development
It is almost one year since we announced and shipped support for Adobe AIR and Flash Player on mobile devices. So it is only natural that Flash Builder 4.5 adds support for mobile development. You can use Flash Builder 4.5 to create applications for Android, BlackBerry Tablet OS (PlayBook), and iOS. Flash Builder introduces two new project types: ActionScript Mobile Project and Flex Mobile Project. You can use Flash Builder to deploy the apps to the device, debug the code in Flash Builder while the application is running on the device, and when everything is in done you can export and sign the application (ready for submitting to Android Market / App Store / BlackBerry App World) right from the tool.
With the initial launch of the tool (early May) you will be able to create ActionScript Mobile projects for these three mobile platforms and Flex mobile projects only for Android. Soon after the launch we will issue an update that will extend Flex support to PlayBook and iOS (somewhere around June). This is great because Flex makes mobile development much easier – its support for screen metaphor and application session caching is a huge productivity boost.
I remember the Flash Builder 4 launch tour and talking to many senior Flash and Flex developers. One theme that came around no matter what was this: “we want a Flash Builder that helps hard-core developers to be more productive!” And I told them back then that this is definitely something that we have our eyes on. I’m glad to tell you that there are about 25 new features in Flash Builder that should make your life easier while coding. Here are some of them:
- Code templates – you can define code templates for both MXML and ActionScript. You can export/import them to easily share them across a team.
- You can use code templates to customize the code generated by Flash Builder.
- Quick assist is one of my favorites (Ctrl + 1 on Windows, Cmd + 1 on Mac OS). Using this feature you can generate stub code for a class that you haven’t created yet or you can define a variable as a local variable or class variable. Suppose you are in a class method and you type this: myObject = new Object();. If myObject is not defined in your class, then by using Quick Assist you can choose to have a local variable or a class created.
- Support for code hinting for metadata.
- You can cycle through the content assist by pressing Ctrl + Space bar and thus filtering the hints by these categories: All/Templates/Variables/Methods/Classes & Interfaces/Packages/Namespaces.
- Profiler reports retained heap, displays object properties, and presents a tree view of object references.
Another area of improvement is the designer-developer workflow. Now it is possible to reopen Flex projects modified in Flash Builder back in Flash Catalyst. There are some restrictions.
We updated Flash Builder to use the Eclipse Helios platform (3.6.1). This means that all the improvement made by the Eclipse platform are now available to Flash Builder too. Second, for large projects you can see an improvement up to 65% for refactoring and profiling operations. Design view went through a complete overhaul. It is not only faster to switch between Code and Design view, but you can disable Design view per project. This will reduce memory consumption and improve performance.
Flash Builder for PHP
We continued to build on our initial work with Zend (remember Zend Framework support for AMF/Remoting?) and I’m proud and happy to tell you that there is a new product called Flash Builder for PHP. Here are the main features:
- A single installer. It installs Flash Builder 4.5 with Zend Studio 8 on top of it as a plug-in. And there are some additional plug-ins that enable some new workflows between Flex and PHP.
- New type of projects: Flex and PHP project and Flex and PHP Mobile project. These will create two projects that are aware of each other: a PHP project and Flex project. The Flex project has the output folder set inside the PHP project.
- Integrated debug workflow. With one click you can run your Flex and PHP project in debug mode, being able to debug Flex and PHP code. Debugging has never been easier than this.
What’s new in Flex 4.5
After seeing the Flash Builder 4.5 features it is obvious that one important feature of the Flex framework 4.5 is its support for mobile development. Now you can use the Flex framework to create applications for desktop, Android, PlayBook, and iOS. A number of mobile friendly UI components were added so the performance and user experience are second to none.
At the same time the Flex SDK team continued to work on the Spark components and add new components. There are Spark DataGrid, Form, Image, Module, Busy Indicator, SkinnablePopUpContainer, Date/Time, Number and Currency formatters, as well as Number and Currency validators.
Flex 4.5 supports now OSMF 1.0 (Open Source Media Framework) and TLF 2.0 (Text Layout Engine). And finally there are compiler improvements :). You should see less memory used for full builds and less time consumed for incremental builds. In Flex 4.5 only the RSLs (Runtime shared libraries) that are actually used by the application code will be linked into the compiled application. This goes a step further when using modules. For example a module will know if its parent already loaded a RSL and thus will not relink the same RSL.
While perfection doesn’t exist in the real world (at least this is what philosophers say :D), I do think this release is pretty close. There are so many features that you might wonder why it’s just a dot release. More importantly, it sets the stage for even greater things.
If you want to read more about coding productivity enhancements in Flash Builder 4.5 check this article. This is a good resource on Flex 4.5 new features.