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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Flash Builder for PHP 4.5.1 Gets iOS Support

IBM i shops that use the latest release of Zend Technology Flash Builder for PHP can now compile their Flash user interfaces into native iOS applications that will run on Apple devices. Flash Builder for PHP version 4.5.1, which was released late last month, enables developers to target all major client devices--including Windows, Mac, and Linux PCs; Web browsers; and iOS, Android, and Blackberry Playbook mobile devices--with a single development effort.

Zend launched the first release of Flash Builder for PHP (version 4.5) in May. The offering combines Adobe's Flash Builder development tool with a full copy of the Zend Studio IDE, enabling programmers to write slick Flash-based interfaces from the IDE they use to write back-end PHP apps for IBM i, Windows, Linux, and every other server supported by PHP.

The Eclipse-based software makes it relatively easy for PHP developers to use Flash to power their GUIs. Adobe and Zend have built a layer of integration into the software that allows developers to work on Flash and PHP projects from the comfort of a single IDE.

But why would somebody want to use Flash to begin with? There are pros and cons. On the plus side, Flash (formerly called Flex) provides a rich library of objects that make it quite easy to build so-called rich Internet applications (RIAs) using drag-and-drop motions. Also, the Flash Player (a layer that is normally required to run a Flash interface) is ubiquitous. It's installed as a Web browser plug-in on more than 99 percent of the world's PCs.

But there are downsides. For starters, some think Flash websites are annoying (these people were probably happiest in front of screen scraped 5250 apps, or 1990-era bulletin boards that resemble DOS.) But the biggest knock against Flash has been that it doesn't run on iOS, the Apple mobile device operating system that is taking over the world.

This is why the version 4.5.1 update is important. According to Zend's IBM alliance director Michael Scarpato, the new release of Flash Builder gets around this roadblock by using the Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), a cross-platform runtime that can run Flash applications on any supported device. Since iOS supports AIR, Flash Builder (and Flash Builder for PHP) developers can now target iOS devices with their i OS apps.

"AIR is the technology to run Flash," Scarpato says. "That technology has been extended to run anywhere. So it can run on iOS, Android, and Blackberry Playbook. It can run on desktop OSes like Linux and Mac and Windows. And it can also run in the browser."

Flash Builder for PHP 4.5.1 supports iOS by compiling the application and making it available to users through iTunes App store, Scarpato says. "You get that down, and all the components needed from AIR are bundled or compiled in the application, enabling it to run natively, so you don't need Flash and you don't need the browser at all," he says.

"This gives people the ability to create a common code base of Adobe flash code, along with Zend's PHP code running on the IBM i in Zend Server, and basically build the application once--build it in a way that it will run anywhere--and get to all of these different devices at the same time," he says.

While users will appreciate the modern look of a Flash interface, developers who use Flash Builder for PHP will appreciate the integration work that Zend has done to hook the PHP and Flash environments, according to Kent Mitchell, senior director of product management for Zend.

"Probably the single biggest feature that developers love is integrated debugging," Mitchell says. "When you're trying to figure out why code doesn't work--and some of the code is in Flex and Flash, and some is in PHP--if you have separate debuggers and they're not integrated, it's really a giant pain in the butt. So with this integrated debugging, you can literally start debugging on the mobile device, follow that request from the mobile device into the PHP, figure out where PHP is doing something wrong, then fix it, and then basically watch the flow all the way back out and make sure everything's working the way you expected it to."

The joint Flash offering with Adobe comes on the heels of last year's release of Zend Studio 8, which introduced JavaScript into the IDE for the first time. JavaScript, of course, is another technology that developers can use to create compelling Web 2.0-style applications. And the fact that Zend Studio supports several different JavaScript libraries, including jQuery, Dojo, ExtJs, and Prototype, gives customers choices.

The choice, then, to use Flash Builder would mainly be made if an organization had a substantial investment in Flash technology and had a lot of people with Flash skills in house. The capability to target nearly every device with a single development effort (something that is not yet possible writing just JavaScript) is another advantage of going the Flash Builder for PHP route.

It's worth noting here that Flash Builder can be used without PHP. In fact, the standalone Flash Builder product can create very compelling interfaces from RPG business logic. Check out Shannon O'Donnell's recent Four Hundred Guru story, "Adobe Flash Builder for the iSeries Programmer, Part 1", for more info on using Flash Builder.

There was a problem with the first release of Flash Builder for PHP that had a big impact on users who had installed Adobe's Creative Suite on their PCs. The problem, which caused the rest of the Creative Suite to stop working, has been addressed by Adobe in this knowledge base article.

Zend and Adobe are selling two versions of Flash Builder for PHP, including the standard edition and the premium edition. The premium edition, which costs $799, gives users access to advanced features, such as improved support for large apps, memory and performance profilers, a network monitor, and a command-line build, that aren't available in the standard edition, which costs $399.

IBM i customers should go through Zend to get access to the Flash Builder for PHP. Most IBM i customers are eligible for discounts from the listed price.

curtsy: Alex Woodie
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