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Macromedia Bends Flex For a Million Devs

Macromedia is revamping its upcoming product line as part of its goal to inspire the hearts and minds of a million Flex developers.

Flex is the programming platform for the development of rich Internet applications (RIA) on the Flash platform. The company wants to blend the popularity of the Flash Player, the Web presentation technology installed in more than 600 million desktops and mobile devices today according to officials, with back-end data to create RIAs through Flex.

RIAs have been getting a lot of attention lately, primarily through renewed interest among developers using the AJAX programming technique.

The San Francisco company is set to unveil alpha version updates to the Flex Builder 2 IDE , as well as an alpha version of Flash Player 8.5, at its Macromedia MAX 2005 developers conference Oct. 17, where the latest tools get a test run. Take ActionScript.

Where AJAX uses JavaScript to grab data from enterprise servers, Macromedia's Flex uses ActionScript to get at back-end information. One of the improvements to FlashPlayer 8.5 is its support for ActionScript 3.0. Other improvements include faster runtime performance and error reporting, and improved debugging.

To date, Flex programming has been handled through its Flex Presentation Server featuring: the Flex framework, containing the core programming model and component libraries; Flex Builder; and enterprise services for integration with SOAs , essential data services and automated testing support.

The presentation server is targeted at the enterprise software market and development teams within large companies, with an enterprise-grade licensing fee around $15,000 per CPU.

Macromedia decided to pare parts of its presentation server in order to accommodate individual developers and will offer the upcoming Flex Builder 2 as a standalone product for under $1,000. The IDE will also include Flex Framework 2 and let developers compile and deploy Flex-based applications to connect with XML- and SOAP-based Web services at no additional charge.

Flex Builder 2 was developed under the code name Zorn and is based on open source Java tools technology housed under Eclipse. In June, Macromedia joined the Eclipse Foundation as a member.

Jeff Whatcott, Macromedia vice president of product management, is convinced a switch to a tiered licensing model will bring new developers into the Flex fold, a number that's currently below 10,000.

"We're very serious about getting a million developers using Flex to build RIAs on the Flash platform in the next three to five years," he said.

Whatcott said the company has been pleased with the results of Flex in the marketplace so far, despite only having under 10,000 developers on board, since the product was targeted at the enterprise software market and development teams, not individual developers.

In the 18 months since Flex was first introduced, he said, they've licensed the technology to 400 customers.

"We've been focused on that market and therefore the number of developers is based on the number of teams in those organizations," he said. "Now we're opening this up significantly so that any developer -- even those working on small teams, individual consultants -- anybody can get involved and it can be a developer decision rather than a team decision to use this technology."

The Macromedia Enterprise Services 2, an update to the presentation server, will continue to provide the enterprise clout and $15,000 per CPU price tag. An alpha version of the technology is due out later this year.

Flash Player 8.5, Flex Builder 2 and Enterprise Services 2 are expected to be generally available in the first half of 2006. Developers can sign up here for notification when the alpha versions are available.