The Next ColdFusion - Blackstone
Macromedia's Chief Evangelist for ColdFusion, Ben Forta, spent the spring and early summer 2004 previewing the next generation of ColdFusion to user groups throughout North America. The pre-release name of the product is Blackstone and has a host of features that will be of interest to new and veteran ColdFusion and Flash programmers. Some of the major enhancements are: Wizards and enhancements for new CF'ers, major enhancement to CFFORM (key phrase: type = "flash"), introduction of CFDOCUMENT, and improved reporting with CFREPORT and a report creation tool.
Getting beginners started - For the seasoned programmer, getting started with ColdFusion is relatively easy. For someone who is wanting to move up from being a web page designer using Dreamweaver to someone that can do some basic dynamic elements, the task can be daunting. "I have it installed, now what?" is a common question which is valid since ColdFusion is not a desktop application but rather a web application server. It's not intuitively obvious how a newbie is to "start playing with it".
Macromedia will include some nice wizards to get new users started with some basic dynamic page features. There will be wizards to set up a form to email application. A security wizard will add security to a directory or site. These wizards will help many developers make the leap from Dreamweaver page author to basic ColdFusion developer and might prove useful for the seasoned developer to quickly add features. If you don't have a snippet handy or time or budget for some functionality, check out these wizards.
CFFORM - I have been looking forward to the day when an HTML form could easily be rendered in Flash. Taking it a step further, it would be nice to have an option to do a non=Flash form that easily integrates CSS style. Well Blackstone does Flash forms by adding an attribute to CFFORM: type="flash". It adds style by using type="xml" with skin="mystyle.xls". Your code for a form will be simpler than a current HTML form since you will not have table tags and you will also be nudged to do some CSS if you haven't already.
With Flash forms there are several cool new features for CFFORM elements. CFSELECT will accept typed in data by using editable = "yes". This will allow you to receive selections not available in your dropdown. CFINPUT gets some neat features like Flash based validation that would allow you to have field highlighting and Flash based mouseovers with validation messages. You can also easily bind fields so what is typed into one field could automatically be brought into another field. You could bind a first name, last name and company name field to an email address field to guess at an email address or you could bind billing and shipping info in a purchase form, once again a good guess. Another nice feature will be the "disabled" attribute on input fields. If I have a "may we contact you?" field, I can enable related contact fields. If you chose to be contacted, I will then present choices of newsletter, third party offers, etc. If you don't check the contact checkbox, you won't see the choices.
The Java based inputs, CFGRID and CFTREE, will now be available in Flash format. This enhances both the perfomance and appearance of these controls. You will not see a grey box while the applet initiates, you'll just see a much nicer looking Flash tree or grid appear. CFFORMGROUP will allow you to have several parts to your form arrranged in tabs.
CFREPORT - CFREPORT is used to generate reports much like Crytal Reports. A report design tool will be used to generate CFR templates. The report tool will function much like the report creation tool in Crystal Reports or Microsoft Access and will output an XML file to provide the style of the report. The report can be displayed in HTML or be presented or saved as as FlashPaper or PDF fortmat by using CFDOCUMENT.
CFDOCUMENT - CFDOCUMENT is a new tag that allows you to dynamically generate documents in formats such as PDF, Flash Paper and very likely RTF. Documents are easily created by wrapping the content within a pair of CFDOCUMENT tags with a format attribute to desiginate what format to generate the document in. You can then chose to display the document or save it to file. The tag will also allow you to include document features such as headers, footers, page breaks, etc.
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