Macromedia Takes Flash Beyond the Browser

In a move that extends the market for its digital media software offerings,
Macromedia, Inc. on Thursday released a new software
environment — Macromedia Central — that allows Flash-based applications to
run offline without an Internet connection.

Macromedia Central,
unveiled at Flashforward 2003 in San Francisco, Calif., allows Web
applications built with the company’s Flash MX suite to download to a
computer and let users interact with the applications while they are
offline.

It is a significant step in Macromedia’s attempts to extend the market
for Flash , the vector-graphic animation technology used for
digital animation. By allowing end users to access Flash-based applications
while offline, the company hopes developers would find new and creative ways
to extend the technology beyond the Web browser.

Macromedia Central is expected to ship in the summer. Some apps within
the environment will carry a cost but use of Macromedia Central will be free
for end users, the company said.

Applications built with Macromedia Central would allow changes to be
automatically made once a user logs off and gets back online. Even though some Flash-based applications can be downloaded and run on PCs, those applications do not have the capacity to update itself to add changes made while a user was offline.

Some applications can run offline using downloaded Java servlets and macros but only in a limited way that does not offer access to the complete application.

It is not the first time the company has taken the flash technology
beyond the Web browser. NTT DoCoMo has inked a deal to
embed Macromedia Flash into its i-Mode mobile phone service.

The company said Macromedia Central would provide distributed data
storage, distributed computing, and real-time communication and support for
occasionally connected computing, cooperative applications, and open data
formats.

The environment also takes a stab at digital rights management (DRM), a
system that enables secure distribution of data both on and offline. Using
XML , Macromedia Central would allow vendors to police the
distribution and licensing of software and applications.

Macromedia said PriceGrabber.com had already signed on to use Central
applications to allow its users to aggregate comparative shopping
information. “By delivering a [Macromedia] Central application, users can
access detailed product information from their desktop, review prices along
with tax and shipping estimates, and get updates when the prices on those
items go down,” according to Lee Barth, business development manager at
PriceGrabber.com.

Macromedia Central will ship with try/buy functionality as a hook for
developers as well as a transaction infrastructure to allow developers to
hook into the product’s software update feature to ensure end-users always
have the latest version of their software. It has also been fitted with
Application Finder tool to shuttle details, cost, popularity rating, and
other relevant information about specific applications.

Macromedia also used the Flashforward 2003 spotlight to release the
Macromedia Flash Communication Server MX 1.5, an update that adds HTTP
tunneling, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), support for Linux and MP3s. The MX
1.5 upgrade also features enhanced audio support and administration.

The Flash Communication Server MX 1.5 is a platform used for rich media
audio/video applications like on-demand video, live event broadcasts, webcam
chat, and recorded video messaging. It retails for $499 for the personal
edition and $4,500 for the professional edition. Upgrades from version 1.0
is free.

Separately, Macromedia announced the availability of Macromedia Flash
Player 6 for Microsoft’s Pocket PC 2002. The launch allows developers to
publish standalone Flash device content and applications that can play
full-screen outside of the browser, such as games, applications, and kiosks.

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