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Fresh AIR for RIAs : Page 3

Take a look at Adobe's AIR, and see how this cross-platform, run-time engine can help you apply your skills to create and distribute Internet-enabled desktop applications.

Development Environments
Initially, AIR (formerly Apollo) applications could only be authored easily in a Flex environment, such as FlexBuilder. This characteristic has changed dramatically, however, and you can take a look at several options for creating AIR applications. Discussing how to install and use each environment is outside the scope of this article, but links to each relevant site where additional information can be sought will be provided.

To begin, there is a free SDK with command-line tools that build an AIR application from your Flash/Flex/HTML/PDF project. For those looking for additional GUI support, there are two options for the Flash Platform and two for HTML/JavaScript.

HTML/JavaScript applications can be authored with just about any text editor, but some good enhanced editors to consider are Aptana and Dreamweaver CS3. The former is a well-designed, free, and open source IDE for AJAX, AIR, Ruby on Rails, (and even iPhone widgets) that is winning a lot of praise. It is available in stand-alone versions for Mac, Windows, and Linux, and also as an Eclipse plugin.

Dreamweaver CS3 is the familiar web asset development powerhouse from Adobe, with AIR support coming in the form of an extension. The extension is easy to use, and Adobe really gave some thought to making the experience as pleasant as is practical under the circumstances. For example, Adobe created a JavaScript "alias" page that remaps paths to packages so you can simply type "air" instead of longer, qualified class names. The alias file functions much like an import statement in Flash, allowing you to import the package and call the class directly.

Authoring AIR applications with Dreamweaver is very easy to do. All you have to do is set up a new site for each AIR project, and the AIR preview player is available just like any other browser. When it comes time to package your application for delivery, another menu command from the Site menu is all you need. A dialog will appear, allowing you to fill out the minimal application parameters, and you're all set. (This procedure is necessarily brief, and the basic steps will be covered when the Flash sample is discussed later, but is very similar. Current Dreamweaver users will be very comfortable with the process.)

Flash Platform applications will likely be edited in FlexBuilder (Beta 3 here) or Adobe Flash C3 Professional. The Flex Builder workflow is the most mature, and consists of straightforward use of existing Flex assets. Adobe maintains that Flex users should be able to make AIR applications of existing projects without changing a thing, but will have to add simple programming to take advantage of any native AIR APIs.

The Flash CS3 workflow is a bit different. This workflow is quite recent and requires a software update (not just an extension) to make it work. For design-time testing, the most recent public beta of AIR is also required, which at present is the M4 version.

The update will add an AIR New File type to the Welcome screen, an AIR option in the publishing settings, a new playerglobal.swc file to add all the new AS introduced by AIR, and two commands for compiling the files. One command sets up the packaging preferences, and the second compiles without having to revisit the original dialog. The new workflow introduced by Adobe is more integrated and complete than previous options, but cheerful props should go out to early innovators like Guy Watson and Grant Skinner for pushing the AIR-Flash CS3 tie in along. To see how the process works, you'll build a simple "Hello World" application.

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