Visual Development Heating Up

So M$ has been dominant in the visual development realm. In the past Borland had a great product but lost market to Visual Studio. Visual Basic 6 pushed M$ over the top and ever since .Net has kept them ahead of the pack. Those wanting to stay deeper in development got under the skin of the Web with PHP, JSP and PSP leaving CGI to the ’90s. But, this later camp never gave up. So here we are in ’09 (numerologists comments welcome) seeing the pack close in on the nitch. PHP being the highly resilient Web language it is has been targeted by a couple of notable organizations.

The first and most obvious is Adobe’s Flex Builder. The move Adobe has taken with Flex is natural. Bring drag-n-drop development (and come-and-go Flash) to the masses by leveraging the Mac loving Deviner/Diseloper community. The easiest way to build such a IDE is to leverage something existing, and open source. Enter Eclipse with it’s PHP modules and its attractive IDE framework. It may not be a mistake that Zend has also launched it’s own IDE based on Eclipse with the clever marketing name Zend Studio for Eclipse or Zend Studio 6 depending on who you are trying to convince. This has a specific yet large target audience and community that are already using both technologies. It may also be that the Deviner/Diseloper community are also the bulk of those who are weary of moving to PHP 5 and OOP or Frameworks. Regardless, many will find this environment attractive.

The second of note here comes from what once was Borland, if only by name. Delphi for PHP does for PHP what Delphi did for Pascal and Builder did for C++. It was hard to take it seriously when it first appeared, especially with shaky products out there like PHP Builder. So is it a real contender. Only time will tell, but it certainly makes an interesting attempt at creating an environment for solid development. True to the Delphi style, it builds on the solid singular layer of a capable language, resulting in a RAD environment that is predictable and supportable. It is hard to take a product serious when it comes from the same software gene pool as 3rdRail and TurboRuby. But looking under the hood, what CodeGear has created is the way to make your own framework, controls and widgets, usable in a visual development environment. Through the VCL for PHP framework, you have the means to properly bridge the gap between your developers and your designers. Simply create the adapter classes and configuration files needed and you can soon be dragging and dropping your own controls (Javascript included) defining how they appear and act in true RAD fashion. I wonder if it would even be possible to use this environment for Flex development?

Neither of these products are the first of their kind. (Worthy of mention is also the control faculties of Dreamweaver – now Adobe’s) But given the amount of PHP developers that wish to stick to what they know while gaining the power of a visual development environment both these products offer a real opportunity. So what do you see in your future? Is there a visual development environment in your web development future? Does there need to be?

The obvious gains are undeniable. What would really make these take off is if there was a completely free version of such tools available to developers. I have only played with each, but if you have used either in depth I would welcom your impressions.

Visual Development Heating Up

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