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Macromedia Builds More Muscle Into Flex

Macromedia issued an incremental but significant upgrade to its server-based presentation software.

The San Francisco-based Web graphics software maker's latest edition of its Macromedia Flex is version 1.5. The new platform -- including free trial -- is being released alongside development of version 2.0, which is expected to make its debut next year.

The new software includes four key changes the company said would help developers build their next round of applications with improved data display and visualization, flexible skinning and styling, the addition of new deployment platforms, and better performance.

Jeff Whatcott, vice president of product management at Macromedia, told internetnews.com the company didn't want to wait until the 2.0 version debuts in 2005 before releasing the new features.

"Thousands of people are using the original Flex and we are seeing more and more online developing groups collaborating like a FlexCoders area on Yahoo Groups, as well as our own forums," Whatcott said.

Already, Whatcott said companies such as Pfizer, Dow Jones, BskyB, Meredith, Standard Bank, Optus, SAIC, Northrop Grumann, and CSC use Flex to build their rich Internet applications and use them for guided selling, business process automation, and interactive data presentation.

Flex is a server-side offering that lets developers set up a rich client presentation layer using XML-based code. The platform works much in the same way a JSP container does, only it compiles the script (currently referred to by its code name, MXML) into Flash clients instead of an HTML interface. Flex is also 100 percent native Java and is compatible in the major J2EE application servers, including Apache Tomcat.

Whatcott said with version 1.5's new display and visualization features, developers can use dynamic, animated, and interactive charts and graphs and a new, more capable datagrid. The expanded set of component styles lets developers quickly make broader changes, while easier skinning allows infinite control over the look and feel of the application.

"We got a lot of feedback and our dashboard fans thought it would be great to have an out of the box support for charts and graphs," Whatcott said. "There are tweaks in optimization for data grid such as text wrapping and other UI controls to give people flexibility. Then there is Halo, which some say has a look and feel similar to Apple's Aqua. You could customize but it took a lot more work. We wanted less of a dark art."

Third party support was also paramount as Flex 1.5 includes new support for Oracle Application Server 10g, IBM AIX, and Fujitsu Interstage 6 on the server side, while on the client side developers can deploy their applications to the browser or the Macromedia Central desktop deployment environment.

Whatcott also said that runtime shared libraries and faster application startup time help developers speed up several application downloads and performance.

Macromedia customers running Flex 1.0 and who are on a maintenance plan will receive a free upgrade to Flex 1.5. Localized documentation and packaging for the Japanese market will also be available.