Macromedia extends Internet apps development

Looking to bring graphical Web development to enterprise developers, Macromedia on Monday will introduce Macromedia Flex, a presentation sever and application framework for building rich Internet applications using existing tools, design patterns and infrastructure.

Part of the company's MX product family and previously code-named Royale, Flex provides a standards-based "declarative" programming methodology and server run time for delivering rich user interfaces with the cross-platform Macromedia Flash client, Macromedia said. The declarative language in Flex is written in XML and uses standards such as cascading style sheets and SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics). Flex also is based on standards such as ECMAScript and SOAP Web servces. The initial Flex release will run on J2EE application servers. A version for Microsoft .Net is planned for a future release.

Flex is due for release in the first half of 2004 and the company currently is accepting applications for a beta program at www.macromedia.com/go/flex.

Flex is intended for developing applications with features such as interactive animation, according to David Mendels, senior vice president of MX products at Macromedia. Developers familiar with languages such as Java or C# can utilize Flex, he said.

"This provides a programming language run time that will be very familiar and easy for that class of developers to build rich Internet applications," Mendels said.

The company defines rich Internet applications as those that combine the responsiveness and interactivity of desktop applications with the reach of Internet applications.

An analyst called Flex a next-generation iteration of Flash.

"It's essentially the next generation of animation and rich interactive interfaces, and being able to deliver the automation so that a good portion of the work, or the heavy lifting, is done for the developer," said analyst Rikki Kirzner, research director at International Data Corp, "You don't have to bring in a specialist," to do actual coding, she said.

Macromedia is working on two projects related to Flex, each code-named for famous early-1970s television shows. The projects are intended to provide rich tool support for the Flex framework and server run-time environment. One project, code-named Brady, is based on Dreamweaver MX 2004 and is intended to provide a visual layout and integrated development environment and debugging for Flex applications. The second project, Partridge, would add integrated Flex programming support to the Eclipse open source environment, enabling coding, testing, and debugging of Flex applications. Brady beta testing begins in December, while Partridge beta review will begin at a later date.

Macromedia also plans to release an XML schema that adds basic Flex language support to other third-party development environments.

Macromedia on Monday also will announce support for Flex from system integrators and ISVs. Companies including Cap Gemini Ernst & Young; SBI Group, Whittmanhart Inc.; Mitem; AKQA, Mindseye; and E-Tree plan to offer systems based on Flex. Additionally, Macromedia is applying for membership in Ecma International, which develops and maintains the ECMAScript language specification. Macromedia plans to take a key role in ongoing development of ECMAScript in the organization's Programming Language technical committee.

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