Macromedia expanding rich Internet apps development

Macromedia Inc. is refreshing its Flex product line for building rich Internet applications, adding a low-cost option for getting started on the platform. Version 2 of the Flex line will be unveiled on Thursday.

Previously focused only on enterprise-level users, the company will offer Flex at a price point more palatable to smaller customers.

"Now, we want to make it available to millions of developers," said Jeff Whatcott, vice president of product management at Macromedia.

Macromedia will offer Flex for roughly $1,000 per developer seat for building applications that require connectivity only to SOAP- or XML-based Web services. The company will make available the less expensive option through the new Flex Builder 2 development environment, which is based on the Eclipse tools framework. It had been code-named Zorn.

"That is a big change in the licensing model for Flex," Whatcott said. "Previously, to build a Flex application, [Macromedia] would have required $15,000 per CPU."

Flex Builder 2 features drag-and-drop assembly of components and visual defining of applications .

Developers using Flex Builder 2 also have a code-view option for manipulating MXML, which is an XML-based language, and ActionScript. While MXML is used to define the user interface, ActionScript defines application logic. Code-hinting support in Flex Builder 2 aids in writing syntactically correct code.

For more advanced applications, such as those that use streaming data, developers can use Flex Enterprise Services 2, priced at approximately $15,000 per CPU. The software is installed on a Java application server.

Flex Enterprise Services 2 can integrate with enterprise messaging systems such as Java Message Service and perform advanced data exchange. Distributed transactions can be enabled.

Flex Enterprise Services 2 features automated testing support, for conducting regression testing of application functions. The product is the successor to Flex Presentation Server 1.5.

Macromedia also is announcing Flex Framework 2, the core programming model for Flex. It provides user interface components to create rich Internet application. The framework is embedded in Flex Builder.

The company is also unveiling Flash Player 8.5, client-side software that provides the rendering engine and virtual machine for running Flex applications. This supports the ActionScript 3.0 language, which is compliant with the ECMAScript specification and features object orientation and "strict typing," a programming construct that defines the type of data being used.

Version 8.5 also offers runtime error reporting and improved debugging.

Although Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) has gotten a lot of attention lately for building rich Internet applications, Macromedia believes its offering goes further than AJAX in that it supports integrated audio and video as well as data visualization.

Flex and AJAX can work together, Whatcott said. ActionScript in the Flash Player can communicate with AJAX in a browser to exchange data and pass events.

Macromedia offers more functionality and better tools than what is available for AJAX, said analyst Mike Gilpin, vice president and research director at Forrester Research Inc. But the company must battle the perception that its technology is a bit too flashy for everyday use, he added.

"The common perception of Flash is that it's this thing that I click to make go away," thus scaring away developers, Gilpin said.

Alpha versions of Flex Builder 2 and Flash Player 8.5 are due for download Oct. 17. An alpha version of Flex Enterprise Services 2 is due sometime afterward. All products are planned for commercial availability in the first half of 2006.

This story, "Macromedia expanding rich Internet apps development" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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