For $219 one can now buy the Designer and develop EXTjs interfaces more rapidly than ever. I currently use the powerful Notepad++ and with the Firefox browser launched by the Run command to develop EXTjs applications quickly. Prototyping a design with EXTjs Designer is faster and easier with the drag and drop operations and the Preview capabilities. In short order, developers can show the look and feel of an evolving design quickly to their clients and get rapid approval of the overall design. Then press the Export Project button and get the operational EXTjs code. Add the details and and formatting and one can deliver a EXTjs app faster. This is the good news.
But the bad news is that compared to IDEs like Net Beans for Java or QT for cross platform C/C++ development, EXTjs Designer is missing 5 critical features:
1)The development of Designs is one way – from screen layout to EXTjs code. But this is one way; developers cannot change the EXTjs code and expect to see the appropriate changes in the design.
2)There are no wizards for filling in widgets properties – this is most critical with database connections which is the strength of EXTjs with its great Charting, Grid, Form and Tree widgets among others which can be driven on live database data. But also FTP, RSS, XML Web Services are bereft of any Wizard help. One of the strengths of Microsoft Visual Basic from the get go was the many 3rd party widgets or extensions that took VB to a new level. Ditto for the iPhone’s 3rd party Apps. I am not sure EXTjs Designer even contemplates this type of capability. See here for a good example of a Properties Wizard in action.
3)The properties in the Component Configuration are confusing – The bane of drag and drop Visual Design IDEs like those in Visual Studio or Bindows or NetBeans is the huge and lengthy set of properties that a developer has to sort through. Hence the call for wizards and a 80-20 display of the most important properties. Show the top 20% [say 3-6] properties that get changed most of the time- hide the remaining 80% of the infrequently-changed properties under an Advanced or More button that on-click displays those properties.
4)The Help and documentation for Designer is sparse – This is notable because the EXTjs has one of the better documentation sets for its framework [only DHTMLx is comparable]. But creating a Web UI can become complex quite quickly – as the the number of properties, methods, and events associated with a component are non-trivial.
So these 5 points indicate a measure of caution about EXTjs Designer. Of even greater concern is the following:
While testing various design and deleting components or widgets, I found that on occasion EXTjs Designer got terribly confused at what was on screen and available for use. The following error message appeared several times in a half day of testing. It finally got to the point that I would a)save the project after adding 1 or 2 components and b)I would immediately backtrack one project whenever I got such a message.
Now EXTjs appears to be built on the Adobe AIR model because during the testing a new update was pushed twice in 4 days. During this period the number of Object errors notably declined. If one thing is impressive about EXTjs is how quickly the organization responds to error conditions and/or security risks. I suspect this ethic will be carried through onto EXTjs Designer.
But as noted above, for Web Developers EXTjs is missing 4-5 key ingredients to make their tasks easier and quicker. In fact, with EXTjs Designer, graphic designers could easily fall into the False Expectations Trap – “I finished my part of the project in 2-3 days, why cant you web developers do the same?”. Well, EXTjs in release 1 is Not There Yet for web developers. But having watched the very rapid evolution of the EXTjs framework over the past 2-3 years or so, I suspect that they will be able to stand and deliver in fairly rapid order for web developers what they have done for web graphic designers.