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Flash For The Next Generation

Macromedia is building a bridge to the next computing era with the next release of its Flash platform, a full stack designed to entice a new generation of developers to its animation software.

And just to make sure that it's reaching as many developers as possible, Macromedia also joined the open source Java tools group Eclipse Foundation.

The plan is to work with the Eclipse integrated development environment in order to build an open-source tool that can work with Flash.

"The strategy of joining Eclipse is significant," said Peter O'Kelley, an analyst with tech research firm Burton Group. "This means the capabilities inside Flash will be available to developers without requiring them to move to a different tool to work with it."

Macromedia's updated player, code-named Maelstrom, is the backbone of the Flash platform, which includes a universal client runtime, an openly published file format (SWF) specification, programming models, development tools and dedicated server technology -- all the stuff developers need to build Flash-based user interfaces.

Kevin Lynch, chief software architect for Macromedia, said Maelstrom takes Flash into a new galaxy with the soup-to-nuts tools, including server support, components and libraries.

"It's important to expand the reach beyond the current Flash community," he told internetnews.com. "There are about one million Flash developers today. But now, they don't have to use [a specific] authoring tool. They can create a Flash UI just by using this. Anyone who is familiar with Microsoft's Active Server Pages or Java Server Page can use this."

Flash is installed on roughly 98 percent of PCs on the planet, by Macromedia's reckoning. But the San Francisco company is keenly aware that smaller, more powerful computing devices are the future, and that it needs to get Flash embedded in that computing world. For a company that gets roughly 60 percent of its revenues from Flash sales and licensing, this is a critical strategy. So far, the company has plenty to crow about.

"Now, we're getting into lots of mobile devices, and platforms too: Mac, Linux, Solaris, as well as on the server side with J2EE and .NET," Lynch said. "Flash works with any of these things." Macromedia also is making its way into Nokia's world, with a recent deal that gets Flash to work on Nokia's Series 60, Series 80 and Series 40 phones.

The platform offers developers their own declarative language called MXML, which is designed to help developers build rich user interfaces. The language is a similar approach to Microsoft's XAML, an XML-based markup language that helps developers separate the UI code from application logic. The idea is to change the UI without a lot of re-programming of the data that needs to be fed into that UI. "You can download the UI once and go get the data as you need it," Lynch said. "Only with MXML, it works with all browsers," Lynch added, referring to languages such as Java, which can require different code for different platforms.

The language is central to Macromedia's goal to give developers a way to host Flash-based applications outside of a browser on a desktop PC. The company dubs the approach "occasional computing."

At the same time, he added, Macromedia is rounding out its presence in the mobile market with deals that get its Flash player on Nokia phones, as well as on NTT DoCoMo's popular iMode content services for the Japanese carrier's subscribers.

"The challenge with Macromedia has been that developers had to take a different approach with Flash. It's different than [tools] such as Visual Basic, Visual Studio or Eclipse," O'Kelley added. "Now, this brings Flash to developers without requiring them to move to a different tool. I think this is a milestone for them."

The release marks the last independent project and platform for Macromedia, which onetime rival Adobe is acquiring in a $3.4 billion merger deal. Once the Department of Justice signs off on its antitrust review of this merger of the dominant publishing and graphics companies, the two are committed to combining their platforms in order to focus on the mobile and enterprise sectors.