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Adobe's second AIR defies Jobs' Flash iPhobia

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There are several approaches to building AIR applications. The most developer-centric is the Eclipse-based Flash Builder, formerly called Flex Builder, which has a visual form designer, ActionScript code editor, integrated debugger, and in the Premium version Flex unit tests and a network monitor for examining network traffic.

Designers on the other hand can create AIR applications directly from the Flash IDE. There is also Flash Catalyst, introduced in Creative Suite 5 and described as an Interaction Designer, which lets you convert artwork to programmable components, and create simple applications without code. Catalyst projects can be exported to Flash Builder, but once edited there you cannot go back.

Flash Builder AIR 2.0

Flash Builder supports a variety of data source types

The third option - and only one for Linux developers - is to use the free AIR SDK with command-line tools.

While choice is good, the tooling for AIR feels messy. Individually, Flash Professional, Flash Catalyst and Flash Builder all have strong points; but three IDEs is at least one too many. It would be good to see the visual tools in Catalyst become part of Flash Builder, though Adobe may resist this on the grounds that Catalyst is aimed at non-coders.

Even so, Flash Builder in particular is a strong IDE, and well suited to Java developers who will likely already know Eclipse. The form designer is simple but effective, visual states work well, and data connectivity is another strong point, with code generators for a variety of server-side technologies from SOAP to JSON to Adobe's own LiveCycle Data Services or its free version, BlazeDS.

AIR 2.0 is no revolution, but does lift a few limitations and extend the range of applications for which it is a viable runtime. In the end it is Flash, which is why AIR is popular for multimedia apps like BBC iPlayer, or apps that include data visualisation. The ActionScript language looks dated now, but does the job.

AIR 2.0 is worth considering for cross-platform applications. ®

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