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'Royale' Reborn as Macromedia Flex

Macromedia Monday began wooing IBM, BEA and its own JRun developers with the launch of an official beta program for its new presentation server and application framework.

The San Francisco-based Web graphics software maker has re-branded its "Royale" software as "Macromedia Flex" to branch out beyond its bread and butter of Web designers. Expanding on its Macromedia MX product family, the software lets developers describe an application's user-interface layout, UI controls, and data binding using a familiar, standards-based programming model. The end applications would interface with the cross-platform, cross-device Macromedia Flash client. The Flex beta program is now accepting applications, in preparation for release in the first half of 2004. The Flex server will be licensed as an enterprise server software product. Free licenses are planned for evaluation, and single user workstation development.

"There's a great deal of industry momentum behind thin, rich clients. Flex's support for WebSphere can help organizations reduce the client-side total cost of ownership for customers and deliver highly effective, interactive user experiences," IBM Fellow and vice president of Emerging Technologies Rod Smith said in a statement.

Flex's software is based on widely adopted standards such as XML, ECMAScript (ECMA262), SOAP Web services , and the Macromedia Flash (SWF) file format. Macromedia has even managed to create its own programming language specifically for its Flex platform: MXML, which stands for Maximum Experience Markup Language. While not an official standard of yet, the company said it does use common components such as CSS to give both Web site developers and users more control over how pages are displayed.

"We want to be as compliant as possible," said Macromedia vice president of product management Rod Hodgman. "Some of our partners have had the Alpha software since the first week of September and now we are working with the JCP, W3C and OASIS on this. Currently, we have an advisory board of 30 different firms."

The initial Flex release runs on top of the latest release of J2EE application servers (Web services specific version 1.4). A Microsoft .NET version is planned for future releases.

"The reason we went with the Java version first is that those large scale environments that were first implemented at the department level are mostly J2EE", Hodgman told internetnews.com. "We did see some .NET in our research and of course plan to support that platform as well."

But what about the Redmond, Wash.-based giant's new graphics and animation toolset for Longhorn (the next generation of the Windows OS) code-named Sparkle? Couldn't that spell trouble for Flex as well as Macromedia's popular Flash MX and Director MX animation tools? No, said Hodgman.

"Microsoft's approach to this toolset really validates that this space is important," Hodgman said. "Our take is that between Longhorn, Avalon and Sparkle we are both using XML and other object service oriented languages. Microsoft has said Longhorn is not due out until 2006 and will require hardware acceleration. We think what they are doing is great but it may take a long time. This is where we come in and say we have something that people can use today."

Sun is also one of those friendly partners that Macromedia is also looking to compete with. While Flex is currently designed to enliven PC applications, Hodgman told internetnews.com that "mobile is in the grand scheme of things."

That could give Sun a run for its money considering that Macromedia has 98 percent penetration on the desktop with Flash Player and the current seventh version is a 400k download and that includes the embedded codec and player. The Java desktop is a 2,200Mb file.

Also down the road, Macromedia said it is working on two Flex-related projects to provide rich tool support for the Flex framework and server runtime environment. The first project, code-named "Brady", is based on Dreamweaver MX 2004, and provides visual layout and integrated development and debugging for Flex applications. The second project, code-named "Partridge", adds integrated Flex programming support to the open-source Eclipse development environment, enabling enterprise programmers to code, test, and debug Flex applications from within the IBM-sponsored Eclipse IDE. Macromedia said Brady beta testing is scheduled to begin in December and Flex beta participants will be eligible to join that program. Partridge beta testing will begin at a later date. Macromedia said it also plans to release an XML schema that adds basic Flex language support to additional third party IDEs.



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