Macromedia flexes development muscle at the enterprise

In an effort to enable enterprise developers with the ability to deliver rich Internet applications using existing tools, design patterns and infrastructure, Macromedia Inc. unveiled its new presentation server and application framework on Monday.

Macromedia Flex, formerly known as Royale, is a combination of server software and an application framework that allows Web application developers to create components in Macromedia Flash format.

“We noticed over the years as we’ve promoted rich Internet applications to customers, that we didn’t have a great solution for enterprise software developers,” said Jeff Whatcott, vice-president of product marketing based in Newton, Mass.

For developers using Flash, the tool that grew out of the design and content area of Flash was “a bit of a foreign concept to them and didn’t quite meet their needs,” Whatcood explained.

It was considered foreign, especially for the code-centric enterprise developers, because while Flash offered some code through the action script, it required the use of other tools to structure the application.

“Enterprise developers are used to a Java programming metaphor where they have a page of code to write and then that code can be compiled into a application,” he said. He added that enterprise developers were looking for Macromedia to provide a format that they were used to.

Enter the Flex framework.

“[It] takes the power of rich application and flash technology into the heart of the enterprise and it works exactly the way enterprise programmers and teams would expect,” Whatcott said.

Flex extends the Macromedia MX product family and offers standards-based, declarative programming methodology and server runtime services. It also provides richer user interfaces with Macromedia Flash and is cross-platform and cross-device friendly.

The company defines rich Internet applications as those that combine the responsiveness and interactivity of desktop applications with the reach of Internet applications.

Whatcott explained that Flex is fundamentally based on an XML file format and also Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). Macromedia has also created its own programming language for the Flex platform called MXML. While there is no official name for the language, Macromedia has tossed around the idea of naming it the Maximum Experience Markup Language.

Through scripting with a Java script derivative to define the procedural logic of the user interface, the application is then embodied in the XML file and the action script. From there it is compiled into the Macromedia SWF file format as it runs in the Flash player and is delivered through the server to the client.

“This is the same development model as writing a Java Server Page (JSP), whereas a JSP compiles on the server and emits an HTML page to the client, this compiles on the server and emits a SWF rich client application to the client,” Whatcott explained.

While its first will focus on working with developers using Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), Macromedia said it is planning a Microsoft Corp. Visual Studio .Net version for future releases of the Flex.

“We see that a lot of enterprises have adopted Java,” Whatcott said. “The enterprises we talked to have adopted Java as a standard and they are looking at .Net…we do see a significant amount of .Net but based on the numbers of adoption, Java was the first way to go.”

One analyst called Flex a next-generation iteration of Flash.

“It’s essentially the next generation of animation and rich interactive interfaces, and being able to deliver the automation so that a good portion of the work, or the heavy lifting, is done for the developer,” said Rikki Kirzner, research director at International Data Corp. “You don’t have to bring in a specialist,” to do actual coding, she said.

Macromedia is also working on two projects related to the Flex platform.

With beta testing expected in December, one project code-named Brady is based on Dreamweaver MX 2004 and provides visual layout and integrated development and debugging for Flex applications.

The other endeavour, code-named Partridge, adds integrated Flex programming support to the open source Eclipse development environment. This enables developers to code, test and debug Flex apps within the Eclipse IDE.

Flex will not be available until the first half of 2004, but the company said it is currently accepting applications for the beta program. The Flex server will be licensed as an enterprise server software product and free licenses are planned for evaluation and single user workstation development, Macromedia said.

More information about Flex and the beta program are on the Web at www.macromedia.com/go/flex.

– With files from IDG News Service