As you know, we are hard at work on Flex Builder beta 3, which contains hundreds of changes, some of which are under the hood (such as performance enhancements, bug fixes) and some of which are more visible. One of the most visible differences between beta 2 and the upcoming beta 3 lies in how we present information. This is important to us because getting people started quickly with Flex is the main reason Flex Builder exists. Let’s start with the welcome page. The old welcome page looked like this:
In doing usability testing, we found that:
- Most people skipped the welcome screen quickly and never found it again.
- The welcome screen was confusing. There was no sense of what was important
- Even when people explored the welcome screen, there was no way to easily understand the most important concepts
To counteract this, we cleaned up the welcome page, added a “How Flex Works” section that covers the basics, and did a little engineering to make it so that the welcome page shows up in its own editor window so you don’t have to close it in order to start your work. The new welcome screen looks like this:
We did a similar scrub on the help system. We found the following problems:
- Searching in help rarely put the most important information first.
- The content was organized in chunks that were too small. You would often find yourself reading a paragraph of information on an otherwise blank page, without any indication of what other information was available.
- The reference documentation was hard to visually scan, and much of the important information was only available on the class that defined a property or method, which might be a superclass of the class you were looking at.
Here is the old reference documentation for the TileList class:
Note that all of the information that you actually want is on a page for one of the superclasses.
The new reference documentation looks like this:
Another change that is pretty easy to spot is the revamped property inspector. We’ve cleaned up the property inspector between beta 2 and beta 3 to look a little nicer, and to be organized more clearly. Compare the following:
Well, we’re obviously working on tons of bug fixes and performance. One of the most exciting changes in Flex beta 3 is improved memory consumption. Clement Wong, who is responsible for the MXML compiler, has drastically reduced the amount of memory it consumes. There are also performance improvements in various parts of the editor. Beta 3 should in general feel snappier, and there are even more performance improvements that we are working on past beta 3.
We’re also responding to customer requests to refine and polish our feature set. For example, some customers were finding it hard to debug in certain situations, because the debugger was automatically invoking getters when displaying objects. We now have a preference to turn this off, and a menu item to invoke a getter manually. Anyway, there are lots of small improvements like this littered throughout the upcoming beta. I’ll save some of those for another post.