Flex was introduced by Macromedia in March as one of several moves to push its Flash technology into the enterprise. At that time, Macromedia promised to put what it then called "Brady" in users' hands by summer.
"Brady will do for Flex [developers] what Dreamweaver does for HTML," said Jeff Whatcott, the vice president of product management at Macromedia, in an interview then.
Flex Builder offers a design view for interface layout, a MXML (Macromedia Flex Markup Language) and ActionScript code editor, and integrated debugging capabilities, said Macromedia.
For example, developers can drag and drop user interface components and containers into place with Builder, rather than code the interface by hand. A split screen shows both the design and the corresponding code.
Although Flex applications can be written with any IDE, Macromedia created Flex Builder to both make it easier to develop in the framework, and to bring more people to the party.
"Flex Builder lets more people than just code writers join the development team," said Lucian Beebe, the senior product manager for Flex Builder. "Technical designers, for example, can contribute to a Flex project with Builder."
Builder also speeds up the Flex learning process, a critical characteristic, said Beebe, since the development framework is "brand new to most people." Using the side-by-side code and design views, he said, new users can see the code that results from a drag-and-drop design modification.
Another advantage that Flex Builder brings to the table is its integrated debugger. Although Flex ships with a stand-alone debugger, most developers prefer a debugger integrated with the rest of the design environment, said Beebe.
So far, Flex Builder has done about as well as expected in its beta test rounds, said Beebe. "About 30 percent of the Flex users are using Flex Builder. Some customers prefer to use their existing IDEs, but we wanted to give people a more productive, Flex-specific environment."
Flex Builder won't be the last IDE move from Macromedia. It's working on a variation, code-named Partridge, that will help developers build Flash-enable applications from within other IDEs. "We're spending a lot of time looking at that," said Beebe, "and we may support other IDEs in the future."
Flex Builder, which as of Monday is now included with Flex Presentation Server, the software that compiles and serves up applications written with Flex, runs in Windows 2000 and XP, and is currently available only in English. Existing users of Flex will be shipped copies of Flex Builders.
Each full version of Flex Presentation Server includes five licenses for Flex Builder, and additional licenses can be purchased from Macromedia. Prices for Flex start at $12,000 for a dual-CPU license.
A 60-day trial version of Flex, which include Flex Builder, can be ordered on CD for $8.99 from the Macromedia Web site.