Nearly a year has passed since Adobe made public the beta versions of Flash Builder 4, the next-gen Eclipse-based IDE for constructing data-driven apps on its open source Flex framework. Since then, few innovations have emerged, but don't be lured into thinking this toolset is more fizzle than flash. This package represents a sizable improvement over its predecessor, Flex Builder 3.
Among the improvements Adobe has added to the IDE, the company has monumentally simplified the data and services wiring through comprehensive introspection on the myriad supported data sources to quickly expose methods and tables. In my testing, I also found excellent clientside data management and paging features that bring efficiency to large data set handling. Further, the new speedy two-way data binding dramatically simplified database updates without extra coding, a nice touch for a common task.
Also easing the life of developers, Flash Builder 4 delivers wizard-driven code generation on everything from services to event handling. This goes a long way toward helping devs avoid errors and improve code quality. On top of that, the onboard debugger and network-monitoring facilities will help bulletproof apps and get them into production faster.
Another plus: Flash Builder 4 supports the new Flex 4 SDK that brings with it a new skinning and component architecture (Spark) that extends CSS support and improves runtime UI presentation flexibility.
However, with productivity the name of the game, I was surprised that Adobe Catalyst was not synced to Builder's release. Catalyst is a companion tool languishing in beta that lets designers visually create forms and interfaces, wire event triggers and interactions, and then pass them off to developers for completion. Builder 4 may become a tougher sell without assurances that all of the pieces of the platform are in place and properly supported.
Further, with Microsoft Silverlight 4 Release Candidate on deck, offering tight ties to Visual Studio 2010 and features like runtime analytics, streamlined data binding, large data set presentation tools, and improved AIR-like features for desktop deployment, Adobe needs to hustle to continue to remain competitive.
All told, though, Flash Builder 4 represents a big step forward for Adobe as it brings designers and developers closer to bridging the production gap between data presentation and interface programmability of rich Internet applications.