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Adobe Updates Flex For Web 2.0 World

UPDATED: You might say the marriage of Adobe  and Macromedia is producing some rich results -- as in Rich Internet Applications (RIA).

That's one of the main drivers behind the latest Flex 2.0 programming features just released today. Call it Ajax  on steroids, Vista on a diet or the latest cutting-edge tools for real Web computing, as Adobe does.

Or you might say the minds behind Flex 2.0 are on a mission to win over more developers' hearts and minds to the Flex/Flash platform, which might help explain the freebies in this release.

The latest Flex 2.0 programming tools feature a free Software Development Kit (SDK), and tiered pricing designed to appeal to a wide range of development needs. Adobe's also piling in a bunch of libraries for the Java tools-based Eclipse Integrated Development Environment (IDE).

Adobe has also apparently learned to stop worrying and love Ajax  as a programming technique bridge with its own Internet-based application tools.

"Flex is aligned with Ajax technologies," said Christophe Coenraets, Flex technical evangelist.

Ajax, which is shorthand for programming technologies that enable incremental updates to a Web application without having to reload the entire browser page, is integrated across Adobe's Engagement platform, where Flex is now housed.

"Both have a commitment to the Web deployment model, cross-platform portability, and extending the user experience to encompass richer interaction patterns," Coenraets told internetnews.com.

"Our goal is to build a programming model that leverages the best of the browser capabilities together with the unique capabilities of the Flash runtime and our data services architecture to enable the richest, most powerful applications possible."

This is not to say that Flex is replacing HTML. It's just giving it the help it needs.

"We provide performance and scalability for building lightweight desktop applications that can become Web-based apps," Coenraets said. After all, one reason many applications were marooned on desktops is because HTML didn't provide enough functionality for real-time data synchronization.

The Flex tools are fanning into the marketplace, as Web-based computing, which is at the heart of the buzz around the term Web 2.0, and Ajax for that matter are ramping up in usage among anyone and everyone whose business touches the Web.

For example, financial institutions are building applets or applications for pushing targeted, real-time data to select clients or trading partners, or helping more employees connect to a Web applications at the same time.

Portals such as Yahoo are featuring more real-time data on their front pages.

Company officials said the Flex tools are ahead of that curve by helping developers create richer, more dynamic user interfaces much faster than they could in HTML.

How fast? Adobe claims that Flash Player 9 offers Flex developers up to 10 times faster performance through its ActionScript 3.0 as well as new ActionScript Virtual Machine (AVM).

In addition to the free Flex 2.0 SDK, Adobe is offering Flex Data Services 2 Express, a single-CPU production license designed for enterprise customers.

Adobe said it provides message-based, data-management services that are key to building and deploying effective RIA without software licensing services.

For the Eclipse IDE, the Flex Builder includes a library of built-in controls and services for application development and UI design.

Once development teams are good and hooked into the SDK features, they may consider upgrading to Flex Data Services 2, which helps developers add more advanced real-time data synchronization to Web applications.

Adobe officials said a unique differentiator in these tools is in its messaging, streaming and video application features.

For example, if you want to build more expressive applications, Flex 2 features better vector graphics and real-time messaging for piping just the right data to just the right spot on a mapping Web site.

Enterprise integration features have more advanced data management that pushes unique data to different workgroups across a business. On the developer side, the Eclipse-based Flex Builder IDE is just the start of its charm offensive.

Sydney Sloan, a group product marketing manager for the Flex and Cold Fusion lines of business, said pricing for Flex 2 (beyond the free SDK), starts at $499 for the Flex Builder 2.0 tools; If you want charting with that, the price is listed as $749.

The Flex Data Services 2 Express, which includes a single full production license for deploying applications on a single CPU, is free. The full-featured Flex Data Services 2 clocks in at $20,000 per CPU, which includes maintenance and support. That doesn't count the volume discounts and other price plans, she added.

Along with the Flex release, Adobe updated its ColdFusion MX coding and production tools with Extensions for Flex Builder 2.

The ColdFusion Extensions include new wizards that automatically generate code and applications, a Remote Development Services (RDS) module and a services browser for Web services and re-using code.

The Macromedia/Dreamweaver Web development platform is considered the No. 2 IDE, according to research from Evans Data.

A recent survey of over 1,200 developers worldwide ranked Microsoft's Visual Studio as the most used, thanks to the dominance of the Windows platform, followed by Adobe/Macromedia Studio 8, with Eclipse in third place.

Macromedia said last year that it plans to get a million developers on the Flex platform within two years.

Adobe, like a good marriage partner, has taken up the cause.

Updates and corrects prior version to reflect that Flash Player 9 is in full release.