Macromedia sees flashy Flash application world

Macromedia Inc. sees a future where companies extend their Web sites with downloadable Flash applications to deliver information and services to users, accessible online and offline.

The San Francisco-based Web development software maker announced in March that later this year it plans to offer Macromedia Central, an extension to its widely used Flash player, which allows users to run Flash applications outside a Web browser and when offline.

The Flash applications detect when the user is online and can automatically connect to download weather reports, movie listings and recipes, for example. Applications can also be linked, allowing a user to, for example, move a recipe from a cooking site to a grocery store Flash application and order the ingredients, Macromedia said in a white paper on Macromedia Central.

Flash applications can be offered for free, but Macromedia Central provides a “try and buy” mechanism including a transaction engine that allows a provider to offer an application on trial basis and then sell it. Macromedia Central also comes with a software update feature, so providers can push the latest version of their Flash applications to users.

Macromedia Central is meant for use on standard computers as well as handheld devices. And developers don’t need to learn new skills to be able to create Flash applications – Macromedia does have some guidelines and will release a software development kit, according to Stephane LeSieur, country manager of Macromedia Canada.

The Macromedia Central update will be free for end users when it becomes available sometime this summer. In fact, the millions of current users of Flash Player 6 will automatically have the update installed when they choose to install a Macromedia Central application offered by a site, LeSieur said.

He added that a Macromedia Central Software Development Kit (SDK) will be available shortly.

According to Tony MacDonnell, president of Toronto-based Flash application developer Teknision Inc., rich Internet application development has always been stifled by the fact that the Internet is a document-based platform. Central is a new medium that essentially enables developers to forget HTML for now, MacDonnell said.

What has particular appeal to Teknision is the products’ payment and licensing framework, which features an API built in the system that communicates with Macromedia where developers can purchase applications directly from a Web site set up by the company.

“For a small firm like ours, we can’t afford to set up a massive e-commerce system to be selling applications – it’s just way too much overhead. What that does is give us more time building these applications. We know that when we deploy them we finally have a way to make money from them,” MacDonnell said.

Flash is in the position that MS Visual Basic was in its early days – on the cusp of becoming relevant to enterprises, said Tom George, founder of Designaxiom Ltd., an Internet software company based in Toronto. Flash has been largely shunned by the enterprise and serious developers, but embraced by people who are creating real applications.

The company is set to launch a server platform, dubbed LiveAxiom, specifically targeted at Flash designers building interactive applications. While Central appears to be just an incremental improvement on existing Flash products, George noted, “Macromedia seems to have an understanding that Flash is slightly more important than just a design tool.”

– with files from Ryan B. Patrick