Macromedia to update Breeze

Macromedia will breathe fresh life into its Breeze online presentation and training tool in September, with the addition of a new module, Breeze Live, which turns the system into an online conferencing system, the San Francisco company announced Thursday.

Breeze, acquired in January when Macromedia bought privately-held Presedia, consists of a number of components. On the server side, the Breeze Presentation platform acts as a central file repository, storing multimedia presentations in Flash format and using XML to build searchable indexes of their content. On the client side, a plug-in for Microsoft's PowerPoint presentation authoring application allows users to synchronize audio commentaries with PowerPoint slideshows, and to save the resulting multimedia presentation to the Breeze file store. Others can watch and listen to the slideshow and commentary later, using a Flash-enabled Web browser.

The Breeze Presentation platform can be extended with server-side software modules. The Breeze Training module adds the ability to create courses from a series of presentations, to enroll students on courses, to administer quizzes and to track students' progress. With it, anyone who can build a PowerPoint presentation can create and manage an online training course, without the need for a team of Web developers, according to Leesa Lee, product manager for Breeze.

The new Breeze Live module allows trainers to manage virtual classrooms in which they control the pace of the course. It adds support for webcams and screen sharing, and allows a group of trainers to hold "off-stage" discussions or prepare presentations off-stage before showing them to students, Lee said.

Using the Training and Live modules, training and human resources departments in large and medium-size companies can speed the spread of knowledge across the enterprise while cutting costs, Lee said.

Breeze Live will be available as either a hosted ASP or enterprise licensed solution. The product is expected to be available in Australia in late August, with pricing between $42 000 and $420 000, depending on configuration

The Breeze plug-in only works with Windows versions of Microsoft's PowerPoint application, but support for other presentation authoring tools may be added later, she said. "We may decide to put Authorware content in, or Director," she said, referring to two Macromedia presentation formats, while a plug-in for Sun Microsystems' StarOffice presentation tool "is another thing we are looking at."

The hosted option for Breeze Live moves Macromedia into the marketplace for Web events such as online seminars, or "webinars", and conferences or collaborative workplaces, Lee said. In this sector, Macromedia is up against companies such as WebEx Communications; Raindance Communications, or Microsoft subsidiary PlaceWare.

Macromedia's advantage in this field, according to Lee, is that anyone who can build a PowerPoint presentation can set up a training course or online event using Breeze.

"There is some overlap between what Breeze Live does and what more general webinar software does," Lee said, but "there really isn't anyone doing this end to end."

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