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InfoQ Homepage News Sun Releases Early Access Version of RAD Tool for JavaFX

Sun Releases Early Access Version of RAD Tool for JavaFX

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Sun is working on two RAD tools for JavaFX - one targeted at web developers and page content authors, and the other aimed more at Java developers. A preview version of the latter tool, tentatively called "JavaFX Composer" is now available for download from the NetBeans 6.8 update centre.

"We're not even calling this a beta - we're calling it an 'early access' or preview", said Sun's director of Developer Tools Engineering, David Folk, during a conference call. "What this tool is really about is enabling you to develop form-based applications with JavaFX."

The basic idea behind the new JavaFX tool is similar to Project Matisse for Swing, which simplified Swing development by providing a visual editor much like those found in Visual Basic or Delphi. As with Matisse, which became the NetBeans GUI builder when NetBeans 5 shipped, JavaFX Composer generates code as you work and, whilst you can view the generated source code, it frustratingly cannot be modified.

As you add JavaFX components from the palette to the design area you can bind them to a data source. The plug-in currently supports JDBC, HTTP (XML / JSON), FileSystem and File data sources, as well as nested Filters. The plug-in has some simple converters so you can readily bind say a REST or JSON data source to a list component.

As well as simply dragging and dropping components the plug-in has a concept of "states". Starting from an initial master state, you can add new states making changes to the visual components and/or their layouts. When your application runs, events such as a button click can trigger state changes that automatically get reflected in your UI as you defined it. Each transition can be tied to a simple animation allowing you to quickly build a GUI with zoom, fade and rotation effects..

The tool has a number of other useful features available such as profiles (which allow you to preview your application at different screen sizes for different devices such as desktop, mobile, and HDTV), and pre-defined templates for quickly building common GUI patterns such as Wizard (cancel, back, next, finish) and Index (previous, next) buttons which you can add and customise.

As you'd expect with an early access version there are a number of limitations with the tool. For example a number of key components such as the charts that were added to JavaFX 1.2 are not yet supported through the visual designer, some properties of the components that have been included cannot yet be edited visually, and the preview panel occasionally seems to "stick" and not be able to provide previews until the IDE is restarted. Nevertheless an afternoon spent playing with the tool is an enjoyable way to find out what JavaFX can do.

As well as much needed tooling, JavaFX needs some high profile applications if it is to gain more transaction. Early adopters of the platform include Ubivent, whose virtual event platform is entirely based on JavaFX, and WhiteStone Technology, who use JavaFX in the Workflow component of their Consolidated Service Desk and IT Service Management product. Perhaps of most significance to JavaFX's profile however is that the 2010 Winter Olympics, whose Organizing Committee is a major Sun customer, features a JavaFX based medal visualiser application on its website.

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