Macromedia looks to extend Flash technology

Macromedia has a full agenda of improvements planned for its multimedia application development products, including re-architecting its Flash Player technology and readying the upcoming release of the Flex framework.

Speaking at the FlashForward & Flash Film Festival event Thursday, Macromedia Chief Software Architect Kevin Lynch outlined Macromedia's plans and intentions for 2004 and beyond. He cited Macromedia's emphasis on "rich client" application development.

"It's about the transition of Web processing from purely being on Web servers to being on your local machine," Lynch said.

Expanded Linux support also is a goal at Macromedia. "What we've been watching is, when will it be time to bring our authoring tools to Linux?" Lynch said.

Greater adoption of the company's Flash Player technology is anticipated on PCs, Lynch said.

"In terms of building content, what we're working on now is how we can extend the ecosystem of Flash a bit to people who don't currently use the Flash Player in their work," Lynch said. The company hopes to enable people such as enterprise programmers and architects to use Flash and build applications for the Internet.

To boost Flash, the company is re-architecting the internal workings of the Flash Player. "This one's really designed around raising the performance of applications dramatically," said Lynch. The company also pledges to keep developing its native Flash Player for Linux.

Macromedia Flex is coming out soon, Lynch said. "This is a server product. It's aimed at developers who are interested in developing applications with a better (visual) experience but don't know how to design these applications," Lynch said.

"This is going to enable people to create applications with some very specific patterns," Lynch said. "We think this is actually going to expand the demand for great Flash design."

A release of Flex Server in 2005 will work with the company's Central extension to Flash Player for running sometimes-connected Flash applications.

Macromedia's Flex technology caught the interest of show attendee Dusty Fann, interactive specialist at Kansas City advertising and marketing firm Two West.

"It'll be more efficient as far as how to handle the not-so-pretty side of the Web," Fann said. Flex will provide automation in areas such as forms, Fann said.

Set for 2004 release is Macromedia's "Brady" technology. Brady is based on Dreamweaver MX 2004 and provides a visual layout and integrated development environment and debugging for Flex applications.

Macromedia in 2004 will update both its Flash MX authoring tool and Central. The company is working on moving Central to its Flash Player 7. Central also is to be moved to other platforms as it matures.

This spring, Central will be integrated with AOL Instant Messaging in a software development kit that enables IM communications between Central and IM.

Lynch detailed several themes for the future of development. The first, design, includes identifying patterns to boost team-based development. The company is focusing on design with its Halo look-and-feel technology for Internet applications.

The second theme, experience, involves adding beauty and enjoyment to applications. "People are getting good about doing usability testing. What about enjoy-ability testing?" Lynch asked.

Customization, the third theme, entails involving users in customization of interactions. Lynch also cited the social experiences of applications, in which applications boost interactions among users.

Lynch noted application trends such as disposable applications, demonstrating a candidate-tracking application that would be obsolete following the election. Another trend, human-centered experiences, is about applications that anticipate needs, handle chores, and foresee consequences. Macromedia plans to work on this area of development, Lynch said.

Integration with the Microsoft Corp. Longhorn OS is planned for Macromedia products when Longhorn is released. Additionally, Macromedia hopes to extend a Flash Player capability now being exploited in Japan in which money is being made through development and sale of applications and content for handheld devices.

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