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Macromedia Debuts New Robo- Line

Macromedia is rolling out a line of e-learning products, part of a legacy of its $65 million acquisition of eHelp.

The new platforms are used to help build e-learning applications, online help desks, software simulations and/or tutorial sessions.

The San Francisco-based Web graphics software maker said its Macromedia RoboHelp X5 (USD$899), Macromedia RoboInfo 5.0 (USD$799) and RoboInfo Pro 5.0 (USD$1799) are now shipping with upgrades available to purchase from previous versions. But although the name on the box says Macromedia, the majority of the software comes from eHelp.

"Their project had been in the works for more than a year," Macromedia Director of Product Management Miriam Geller told internetnews.com. "The acquisition deal closed about a month ago and now we are shipping it. From an engineering standpoint, that's pretty amazing."

Geller said Macromedia's engineering teams are working on a next-generation product now, which is expected to be more of a balance between eHelp and Macromedia's platforms. Not that there is much disparity already, according to Geller. Much of eHelp's software is designed to work with Macromedia's core suite of products such as Flash, Dreamweaver and the recently released Macromedia Breeze product, an online meeting platform designed to go head-to-head with LiveMeeting from Microsoft and various services from online meeting pioneer WebEx .

"The reason for the merger in the first place is that there are a lot of synergies between the two companies," Geller said. "Going forward, we will look at the product and ask, 'how do we make it work better than it does today?'"

Synergies seem to be the theme for the new Robo-series products. RoboHelp X5, for example includes new support for Macromedia's FlashHelp as well as XML, PDF import/export, content management, distributed workforces, team authoring capabilities, and the newly released JavaHelp 2.0 from Sun Microsystems .

Built on the same code base as RoboHelp, Macromedia's RoboInfo is used to publish and manage company documents online. Version 5.0 features capabilities like workflow audit trails, version control with document rollback, and administrator permissions. Geller said the pro-version adds in a server-based help desk platform with the ability to offer real-time help. The Pro-version also offers detailed usage feedback reports, a natural-language search as well as full-text searches for non-English languages. Both versions are being marketed to the government, healthcare, and financial sectors.

"For example, NASA is a big customer that uses our RoboHelp to help them get around some of their SAP issues," Geller said.

The company also boasts contracts with the likes of American Healthtech, The Employment Law Advisory Network, Evergreen Online Learning, Help Solutions, Mitek Industries, and Sygate Technologies.

Macromedia is also looking to use eHelp's products to cash in on the corporate e-learning market, which generated nearly $2.3 billion in 2000. The sector is currently experiencing a growth rate of more than 50 percent, which will allow it to exceed $18 billion in 2005, according to Framingham, Mass.-based analyst firm IDC. The North American market alone is expected to grow to $11.7 billion by 2005, according to research by Kinetic Information and Collaborative Strategies. The sector has seen a fresh opportunity with the marriage of enterprise content management and hosted Web-based learning services. The analyst firm says the combination of content management and e-learning has been appealing to customers' eagerness to gain access to all relevant learning materials while also addressing the all-important bottom line and recent concerns over travel.

With the acquisition complete and products shipping, Geller said that the eHelp team would now settle more into Macromedia's culture. However, Geller was vague about the organization of the company, mentioning only that things were in flux