Announcing what its chief technology officer called “the most significant and broad set of product releases Macromedia has ever undertaken as a company,” Macromedia Inc. on April 22 announced upgrades to a passel of its Web design and development tools, including Dreamweaver, ColdFusion and Fireworks.
The new versions bring the products into Macromedia’s MX family, which already includes its flagship Web animation and interactivity runtime application Flash MX, said Jeremy Allaire, chief technology officer at the San Francisco company. The releases, which the company has been working on for nearly 18 months, are another step in Macromedia’s vision to unify the tasks of Web design and Web development, he said.
The unity will lead to a different kind of Internet, Allaire said. The current Internet is built around the browsing metaphor, but the Internet of the future will enable more interaction on the part of users, he said.
A more interactive Internet will require a rich client, good server technology and top notch design tools, he said. Macromedia’s rich client offering, the Flash MX player, is already available and plays “a central role in this strategy,” he said. The Flash MX player will be able to work as an application environment for desktop and handheld programs and will be Web services-aware, he said.
The second component for Macromedia’s vision is addressed with the release of its new ColdFusion MX product, Allaire said. The upgrade redefines ColdFusion, moving the product from a proprietary application server to one that works with J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) application servers and makes it easier to develop Web applications and services, according to Allaire. The new version of the software will allow script writers, rather than developers, to create Web services and applications, he said.
ColdFusion MX also supports Microsoft Corp.’s .Net Web services initiative and will allow users to develop code to work with .Net, Allaire said. The product also includes Flash Remoting, server software that will allow developers to create Flash applications that can interoperate with business logic and Web services, he said. The product runs on Windows, Linux, Solaris and HP-UX and works with application servers from IBM Corp., BEA Systems Inc., and Sun Microsystems Inc.’s iPlanet division, he said.
The third component of the company’s vision requires new design tools, which arrive in the form of MX-series versions of the visual Web page creation package Dreamweaver and the Web graphics and animation tool Fireworks, he said. Dreamweaver MX now includes four previously separate products: Dreamweaver, Dreamweaver UltraDev, ColdFusion Studio and HomeSite, Allaire said. The four applications have been tightly integrated and share a common code base, he said.
The new Dreamweaver improves the visual tools for creating Web pages and integrates other applications, such as Flash MX, to enable the creation of Web applications and services, he said. Dreamweaver MX also allows for the creation of .Net services and Java applications as well, he said.
Fireworks MX adds support for XML (Extensible Mark-Up Language), eases repetitive tasks and smoothes the export of graphics and HTML (Hypertext Mark-Up Language) to other applications, he said. Fireworks is used by designers to build and optimize Web graphics and small animations.
Dreamweaver and Fireworks run on a number of Windows and Macintosh platforms; the new versions add support for Windows XP as well as native support for Mac OS X, he said.
Macromedia also announced the release of Studio MX, a suite of products that includes Dreamweaver MX, ColdFusion MX Server Developer Edition, Fireworks MX, Flash MX and the Freehand 10 illustration package.
The new MX products were designed to be tightly integrated and the tools, such as Dreamweaver and Fireworks, ship with the MX Workspace, a common workspace for those MX-series applications, Allaire said.
All the products announced April 22 will be available in early June, Allaire said. ColdFusion MX will be priced at US$799 per server for the Server Professional Edition, while the Enterprise Edition will run US$4,999 per server. Dreamweaver MS will be priced at US$399 and Fireworks MX will sell for US$299. Studio MX will be priced at US$799.
The MX series of products further underscores Macromedia’s move away from head-to-head competition with Adobe Systems Inc. into a more Web-focused area, Allaire said. While Adobe is strong in publishing, especially with its PDF (Portable Document Format) technology, Macromedia is looking more squarely at the integration of applications runtimes and Web applications and tools, according to Allaire.
One Macromedia customer happy with this focus on integration is FoxSports.com, which is developing an application that will run on users’ desktops and provide them with real-time sports scores and news, said Adam Bain, FoxSports.com vice-president of production and development. The application, when it is deployed, will use Flash MX and XML to deliver the information to users, he said.
FoxSports.com had been waiting for the kinds of capabilities offered by Flash MX and was excited to get a chance to implement them, Bain said. In addition, Flash MX offers support for microphones and cameras, hinting at possible future multimedia applications that FoxSports.com is interested in, he said.
Along with Flash MX, FoxSports.com is beginning to look seriously at using Dreamweaver MX to develop its site, Bain said. It currently uses Web tools that were created internally. New features in Dreamweaver MX, especially the XML support, have made the product more attractive to FoxSports.com and the company is considering a switch, he said.
“Overall, they’ve done a really great job of addressing some of the sticky spots from earlier versions,” Bain said. The new versions are “a nice evolution for both products.”
The marriage of Flash and Web applications makes a lot of sense, according to Randy Souza, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc. Interactive Web applications right now are “anemic,” he said, but Flash “allows you to put together some pretty compelling and, most importantly, some pretty responsive applications.”
Along with making these sort of Web applications responsive, Macromedia has also helped to make them easier to develop, Souza said.
Macromedia has a history of “(making) it easy for developers to understand new and emerging Web technologies,” he said, citing the releases of Dreamweaver and ColdFusion as tools that allowed users who weren’t sophisticated programmers to adopt new technologies. The company is “continuing that with MX,” he said.
While he doesn’t necessarily agree with Allaire that this is Macromedia’s broadest and most significant announcement to date, Souza did see Monday’s news as making “a ton of sense.” Bringing the various products that form Dreamweaver MX together, along with outlining a strategic direction for the company, makes for “a line of products that is very compelling,” he said.
For that line and the vision that accompanies it to succeed, however, Macromedia will need to convince developers of the importance of the user experience, demonstrate the power of the MX series and stick to their core focus of front-end applications, he said.