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Macromedia Plans Upgrade To Flash, Flex Tools

The new Flash player improves performance, while Flex is an interactive development environment that had been code-named "Zorn."

Macromedia on Thursday will outline updates to its Flash player and Flex development tools aimed at expanding the vendor’s tools franchise and taking on Microsoft's dominance.

The version 8.5 update of Flash Player, Macromedia’s tool for playing multimedia Web-based applications, incorporates a new virtual machine for faster performance and error reporting, improved debugging and an ECMAScript-compliant scripting engine. That combination should provide a higher least-common denominator for applications, said Jeff Whatcott, vice president of product management at Macromedia.

The San Francisco-based company also is breaking out a new Eclipse-based Flex integrated development environment (IDE), code-named Zorn. The IDE will be available in a tiered series of offerings, starting at less than $1,000. Flex Builder 2 developers will be able to develop, compile and deploy applications that link to XML, SOAP or other Web services without additional runtime or other charges. The full Dreamweaver-based Flex tool kit currently costs $15,000 per CPU.

The goal is to attract a million developers in the next five years, according to Macromedia. Whatcott estimated that there are now more than 5,000 Flex developers.

Perhaps most important for solution providers seeking to graft glitzy Web front ends onto legacy applications, Macromedia is beefing up Flex Enterprise Services with realtime communication and connectivity to major message queuing technologies. Those services will be priced on a per-CPU basis.

"You can stream data from the server down to the client, things like stock market alerts,” Whatcott said. “You can hook up to legacy systems running legacy messaging like [IBM's] MQSeries.”

Alpha versions of Flex Builder 2 and Flash Player 8.5 will be available for download at Macromedia's MAX 2005 Developer Conference on Oct. 17. The products are expected to be generally available in the second half of next year.

Allurent, a Cambridge, Mass.-based ISV partner, is building its Internet commerce and shopping applications atop the new Flex foundation. "The big thing here is they've made it suitable for enterprise applications and data messaging,” Allurent CTO Fumi Matsumoto said, adding that the ability to provide “true client/server-type applications” on the Web would be big.

Matsumoto acknowledged that many online shoppers click on the "skip intro" buttons on graphics-choked Web sites. "That happens now because of bad content and, frankly, up until now there were no tools to provide a value-add application,” he said. “If you put interesting stuff on the site, it's mesmerizing. A lot of the more recent micro-sites typically done in Flash and even Flex are great--very immersive."

Allurent, comprised of several former ATG executives, cast its lot with Macromedia's new tools because of their strength and the lack of cross-platform alternatives, Matsumoto said. "Microsoft's tool set won't be there for a while. Their stuff is fine for Windows applications, but there's other software out there."

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