Looking into Flash's future

Flash is growing up. It seems like only yesterday that Macromedia's vector animation software was best known for the bandwidth-clogging intros website visitors had to sit through before the site's home page loaded. How 1999!

Now the company promotes Flash as a full-fledged development platform for creating what Macromedia calls "rich Internet applications." Nearly every commercial Web site uses Flash, as do many of the Web's most effective ads.

In his keynote address at this week's FlashForward 2004 conference here, Macromedia chief software architect Kevin Lynch presented the company's Flash road map, which he sees leading far outside the browser.

The first example of Flash's broadening range was the Macromedia Central information-management tool that debuted last summer. Central provides Flash developers with a way to deliver content to people's desktops, whether they're online or offline.

A Fresh Breeze

Last month Macromedia announced its first major upgrade of the Breeze Web conferencing program that it acquired from Presedia in 2003. Breeze users can now share files and applications, add real-time polls to their PowerPoint presentations, and search recorded meetings.

Previously, the program was used primarily to distribute PowerPoint presentations, but it now supports online meetings and interactive training. And because it is based on the ubiquitous Flash player, people can participate without having to download and install any additional software.

Macromedia has announced the availability of Breeze starting the week of March 8, and the program will be free for the remainder of the month to the first 500 people to sign up. This offer is available to anyone in North America and allows them to set up a Breeze conference with as many as five participants.

Macromedia Breeze will be available in trial, hosted, and licensed versions. Hosting prices start at US$84 per concurrent seat per month. Perpetual licenses start at US$22,500 for 25 concurrent seats and scale upward based on additional users and additional options.

Further down the road, Macromedia will release an editor for the Macromedia Flex Markup Language (MXML). Flex is the company's server-based development environment for enterprises that is scheduled for release by midyear. Lynch claims that the MXML editor, code-named Brady, will be for XML what the company's Dreamweaver Web-development program is for HTML.