Aptana have just released version 1.0 of their eclipse based IDE for HTML / AJAX development. It comes in two flavours – Community Studio and Professional Studio (one free – Community Studio, one not – Professional Studio). So it seemed like an ideal time to put to paper, so to speak, something that I have been mulling over for a bit now.
To give a bit of context, I have been evaluating Aptana for a bit now – mainly from an AIR development perspective. I needed a tool that I could drop in to easily, fitted into my development practices and offered me a more code orientated environment. From my point of view this is exactly what I need from an HTML / AJAX IDE – I have used Dreamweaver, past and present, but never really used all of the wizards and design features – a tad overkill for me to be honest. And as I spend most of my waking hours nose deep in Flex Builder it fits with my workflow. I’ve used TextWrangler, BBedit, TextMate, but in the end I crossed them off my list as they didn’t quite fit into my development process. After using Aptana for a while it got me thinking. Would Aptana add value to Adobe both as a product and as a company if they acquired them?
In my opinion it would make sense. Why?
Well with the announcement of “Thermo” as a tool / process to aid designers provide creativity and consistency for ‘look and feel’ within Flex based applications, in a manner more conducive to their requirements. It struck me that while we have the “established” Photoshop / Illustrator / Fireworks > Flash / Dreamweaver type workflow (and I’m not implying that these are the only production paths in the digital realm). These are primarily creatively led tools, those that provide a more design assisted approach to development. Which is good if you have an eye for design and need to do a bit of development as well. Not something a Java or C# developer would likely choose.
However, it would make sense to provide (or create) a suite of tools that would allow the same approach to a more developer orientated workflow. We already have Flex Builder, couple this with various server orientated eclipse plugin IDE’s, (CFEclipse, PHPEclipse, eclipse’s own Java IDE, to name a few) and a smattering of utility plugins, and you are on the way to a robust set of tools for developer focused requirements.
One of the pieces that is missing though is a feature rich HTML / AJAX solution to compliment Flex Builder. Since Adobe acquired Macromedia they have added some amazing products to their portfolio. Glaringly obvious by it’s omission is a “code only” HTML editor akin to Home Site / BBEdit that always used to get bundled with Dreamweaver.
Obviously Adobe have Dreamweaver (and GoLive). However there are a lot of Home Site fans who don’t like either of those or just don’t need that level of automation or creativity. Granted Adobe have JSEclipse, but to my mind that is more of a “what it could be” plugin than a full blow IDE when compared to Aptana – I’m not knocking JSEclipse, just making a simple observation.
For the vast majority of developers I suspect this is one of the first times you’ve ever heard of it. So for the uninitiated, Aptana is an eclipse based HTML / AJAX IDE with built in support for the vast majority of Ajax frameworks ( Aflax, Mochikit, MooTools, Scriptaculous and Adobe’s own Spry to name a few). It is available in two variants as mentioned earlier – The free Community version or the supported Professional edition (which has a built in JSON editor, support for FTPS and SFTP, remote importing of projects and of course, priority support).
Both versions have optional support for the development of Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) applications (which needs to be installed once you have Aptana up and running but that is exceedingly simple). To find out how to integrated AIr support with Flex Builder 3 I have steps detailed here.
Compatibility And Cohesion
This is where, for me, the main benefits come in. As it is eclipse based makes it very easy to integrate into an already established eclipse workflow. Aptana can take advantage of any concurrent versioning solutions that you may already have installed within your eclipse framework (Subversion, CVS, Perforce or, heaven forbid, VSS :p). As well as team / project management systems like Trac, Bugzilla et al. Not to mention the ability to use Aptana specific editors within non specific HTML / AJAX development and vice versa. Ideal if you are developing a hybrid Flex / HTML / AJAX AIR app (how’s that for acronyms and current buzz technologies :p).
You also have the option, like Flex Builder to use a standalone version if you would rather keep your IDE’s separate – I personally feel that having the tools all integrated into a single “container” provides me with a development speed boost as I don’t have to open up additional products to do my work, (as well as the advantages of an established eclipse workflow as highlighted above) – This is, of course, more psychological than performance related as you will still take a performance hit if you have four perspectives active in eclipse as opposed to having four separate instances of eclipse based IDE’s (I doubt there is much in it between these two options and I personally like neat and tidy :p).
I have to say that there are some teething troubles – but this may actually be a Flex Builder 3 problem (I have yet to fully investigate). The CSS editor for Flex Builder no longer works in my build since installing Aptana and OxygenXML. I cannot conclusively point the finger at any one of the three, but I am more likely to blame the beta software of FB3 first. I’ll do a few installation tests and update this once I have hard proof. However, beyond that they all live happily alongside each other so no real gripes beyond that one editor.
So if you are a code orientated developer and / or work in an organization where there is a designer / developer role distinction; or you are looking for a more code orientated traditional front-end development IDE that can be integrated into your eclipse workflow then check out Aptana. If on the other hand you are looking for better integration between Flex development and HTML / AJAX (and AIR) then have a look, while it may not be your main focus in your working day. I am sure it will make it smother and more efficient when you are asked to produce a hybrid technology solution. Lastly, if you’re already using a code editor and have no interest in switching, just take five minutes to read through the blurb on their site – you may be pleasantly surprised.