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Macromedia Labs Debuts

It's now easier than ever for Macromedia users to get early versions of the latest Macromedia technologies.

The Macromedia Labs portal, launched this week, provides developers with early access to applications, as well the opportunity to contribute to product direction through feedback.

The first applications available on Macromedia Labs are public alphas of Macromedia Flash Player 8.5 and Flex Builder 2. FlashLite 2.0 is expected to be previewed on the site in January. An alpha of Blaze, the next-generation Flash authoring tool, with support for ActionScript 3, will be on the site in the first half of 2006.

Beyond just providing an early look at new technology, Macromedia Labs will also include a variety of forums to help facilitate discussion about the technology.

RSS syndication will alert developers to the latest news from the Labs, while chats and podcasts will further engage developers.

Flex Builder 2, which was first announced earlier this month, is an Eclipse-based IDE for the development of rich Internet applications.

Such rich applications could include rich media developed in Flash, which Macromedia claims is currently installed on over 600 million PCs worldwide.

Macromedia is pinning its hopes on Flex, which helped to serve as a driver for the launching the Labs initiative.

"We knew that we wanted to share this early release of the Flex product line with a broader audience, so we took it as an opportunity to do something bigger and broader," Sara Spalding, Macromedia senior director of developer relations, told internetnews.com.

The "lab" concept, though new to Macromedia, is not new to the tech industry. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft all use similar lab-type concepts as a test bed for future product releases. Spalding, however, noted that Macromedia was not necessarily influenced by any of those other tech industry lab efforts.

"We were primarily focused on what our customers were telling us -- that they wanted even earlier access to our work in progress, and to collaborate with us as we bring technologies to market," Spalding explained.

"That feedback, as well as our own aspirations to include our community in a more profound way –- is what really drove the design and functionality that you see on Macromedia Labs."

When you boil it down, Macromedia Labs is all about feedback.

"We'll continue to evolve Labs based on the feedback and feature requests that we hear from the developer community," Spalding said.