Macromedia boosts reporting, clients in ColdFusion tool

Macromedia Inc. is readying a multifaceted upgrade to its ColdFusion Web development tool, code-named “Blackstone,” that will boost reporting capabilities while also enabling new clients such as IM systems to participate in application workflows.

The Blackstone version of Macromedia’s combination Web development tool and application server is due in a beta release in early fall and for general availability early next year. It features a report design tool and dynamic report generation that can eliminate the need to supplement ColdFusion with other reporting tools, according to Macromedia.

Also, users will be able to view and print structured business reports within ColdFusion Web applications. The upcoming release also leverages Macromedia’s Flash technology to enable development of multi-step forms for interaction with Web sites. Additional Flash controls are being added such as data grids and tree controls for presenting a tabular view of data.

Charting capabilities in Blackstone will enable production of charts in a variety of formats, the company said. Additionally, HTML is made printable in a clean format, with no cut-off margins or page overruns while printing HTML content.

Documents from ColdFusion applications can be more easily output in PDF or a Macromedia Flash Paper formats, said Tim Buntel, ColdFusion product manager at Macromedia. “The big difference is you’ve got much greater control” over page output, Buntel said.

“For a developer, rather than having to code a separate printable version, they can simply wrap the content in a ColdFusion tag,” he said.

A reporting engine in Blackstone provides for functionality similar to Crystal Reports, Buntel said. Also, Blackstone provides a richer ability to create Flash-based charts, he said.

New ColdFusion client support via an “Event Gateways” function extends ColdFusion beyond Web applications to enable communications via IM systems, SMS (Short Message Service) text messaging, or socket-based network connections. For example, a ColdFusion application that requires approval of a purchase order can send an IM to gain this approval, Buntel said.

“This is a way to build ColdFusion applications that can respond to other types of clients,” Buntel said.

ColdFusion applications in Blackstone can be deployed as standard J2EE archives, providing for packaging of applications for use in production environments. The ColdFusion runtime and application can be bundled together in a single file.

An alpha release user of Blackstone cited improvements in productivity with the product.

“It’s really pretty fantastic,” said Roland Collins, CTO of InvestEdge, which develops software for large financial institutions that is based on ColdFusion.

“It’s a real step ahead from what they had,” featuring tools enabling jobs to be done quicker, Collins said.

“This time around, they really concentrated on adding productivity features,” such as new charting functions and XForms development, dubbed “skinnable” forms development, Collins said.

“Basically, (Blackstone) allows you to design rich forms in an XML-based environment,” Collins said. Forms then can be “skinned” in a variety of ways to suit them for specific situations, he said.

New reporting functions provide an environment similar to Cyrstal Reports or Actuate reporting tools, Collins said. The release provides entry-level reporting capabilities, including graphing and charting, he said.

An enterprise manager function being added in Blackstone allows for building multiple instances of ColdFusion applications on a single server, with the instances isolated from each other, Buntel said. This benefits application availability and clustering.

“Before, you had to configure this in a J2EE server. For a lot of ColdFusion users, that was very difficult,” Buntel said.

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