SapphireSteel Software's new Amethyst aims to provide Visual Studio programmers with a professional quality development environment for the Adobe Flash Platform while shaking up the Rich Internet Application (RIA) market, which until now has forced Visual Studio users to develop for Microsoft's WPF and Silverlight.
Amethyst integrates a full suite of design and development tools into Visual Studio 2008 and 2010. With a drag-and-drop designer, SapphireSteel says that Amethyst is the only non-Adobe IDE to provide a truly visual development environment for the Adobe Flex framework.
"Our aim was to make Amethyst a natural part of Visual Studio with a feature set comparable with those of Microsoft's C# and Visual Basic IDEs. Adobe Flash Builder, built on Eclipse, has its own way of doing things and it is ideal for people who are familiar with an Eclipse-based IDE. But Visual Studio is fundamentally different. We wanted to make Amethyst look and work in a way that would be immediately familiar to Visual Studio developers so that they would very rapidly be able to engage in serious development for the Flash Platform," said Huw Collingbourne, director of technology, SapphireSteel Software.
At the core of Amethyst is the Amethyst Designer. This works just like the Windows Form Designer so, in theory, it should be immediately accessible to Visual Studio users. The Amethyst Designer can either display a customizable grid which causes controls to snap to the nearest grid line or it can align controls using 'on the fly' alignment bars that appear when the user drags components around on screen. In common with the C# designer (but unlike Flash Builder), Amethyst controls are always shown 'live' -- and Amethyst has a 'go live' mode which allows users to interact with runtime styles and properties such as rollover effects at design time.
"The Designer is tightly integrated with the code editor and it also has active links to many of the tools and panels in Visual Studio. When you select a control, its properties and styles can be changed in the Properties panel. When you want to create an event-handler you can either select an event in the Events panel or you can double-click a component in the Designer itself," added Collingbourne.
Amethyst also has fast code refactoring with a superset of the refactoring options provided by C# (rename, encapsulate field, extract interface etc.). In addition it also has fast IntelliSense and a debugger that lets programmers drill down into variables to look at their internal structure. Lastly, the Amethyst debugger can also do 'multi-process debugging' to allow users to step into several compiled (Flash SWF) programs running simultaneously.