Macromedia broadens reach of Flash, developer tools

Like car manufacturers, Macromedia Inc. turned over a new model year on Monday, announcing its MX 2004 family of products. In addition to the usual bells and whistles enhancements, the latest line of Web development tools, particularly the Flash MX Professional 2004, is targeted at software developers as well as the traditional Web site designer.

The MX 2004 family includes Flash MX 2004, the new Flash MX Professional 2004, Dreamweaver MX 2004, Fireworks MX 2004, Studio MX 2004 (a bundle of the Flash Professional, Dreamweaver, Fireworks and the previously released Freehand), and Flash Player 7.

With the addition of Flash MX Professional 2004 Macromedia is hoping to lure in applications developers accustomed to programming in languages such as Visual Basic with a new forms-based interface similar to that used in VB. Flash's original timeline-based approach is still available and includes new effects that can be dropped onto the timeline to change or enhance application behavior.

"With the forms-based metaphor, developers can define a scene and drag elements to that scene (to create a Flash application)," says Norm Meyrowits, president of products at Macromedia. "There's no need to use the timeline."

Data-intensive applications also play an important role in the new Flash release. Meyrowits says Flash-based applications can act more like a traditional client-server application with the Internet as a network. "A browser doesn't provide a good way of getting to data because the screen needs to be constantly refreshed," he says. ""We can create more intensive stuff with a better interface. Instead of downloading a big data dump, we can cursor through 10 records at a time."

To help with data integration, Flash MX 2004 supports both SOAP (Simple Object Application Protocol) for Web services and XML.

Other Flash MX 2004 enhancements include ActiveScript 2.0, Macromedia's own scripting language synchronized with ECMA Script, the standard version of JavaScript. The Professional edition features a built-in video editor that supports the QuickTime format and can encode directly into a Flash file. On the player side, Flash Player 7 is said to include better overall performance, auto-notification for new upgrades, and a set of look-and-feel elements that can be dropped into any application.

Highlights in the rest of the MX 2004 family include:

- Dreamweaver MX 2004: The ability to design and implement Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), enhanced integration with Word and Excel and support for Secure FTP connections.

- Fireworks MX 2004: Used for optimizing bit-mapped images for the Web, this latest version features automatic image slicing to help speed download times.

Macromedia also announced today a number of video and encoding tools are now directly supporting the Flash format, including Anystream Agility, Apple Final Cut Pro, Avid Xpress, Discreet Cleaner and Pinnacle Edition.

All of the new products are expected to ship in September for both Mac OS X 10.2.6 and Windows. Studio MX 2004 with Flash MX Professional 2004 is priced at $999 for new users. Individually priced, Flash MX 2004 is US$499, Flash MX Professioal 2004 is US$699, Fireworks MX 2004 is US$299, and Dreamweaver MX 2004 is US$399. Flash Player 7 will be a free download.

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