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Flashing into the future

Macromedia seems to be finally acknowledging what a lot of Web developers realized some time ago: Flash is a robust development platform for Web-based applications and should be supported as one.

In announcements made today, Macromedia's Chief Software Architect Kevin Lynch lays out the current and future components of the Flash development platform like so many puzzle pieces falling into place. At the center, of course, is the Flash player itself, which is now on some 570 million desktops and more than 30 million mobile devices. Those numbers make Flash the most widely distributed piece of software on the Internet.

The forthcoming version of the Flash player, code-named "Maelstrom," brings new graphics effects, including glows, blurs, and color transforms, which Flash developers have struggled to code. Additionally, Lynch claims, the runtime player will offer better video, faster performance, and more crisp fonts than available in the current version. Maelstrom also introduces alpha channel video capabilities, allowing developers to do some slick video blending effects.

If the player is the heart of the platform, then the tools, components, server software and developer programs are the central nervous system. Macromedia has delivered in each of these areas in the past, but now plans a more integrated and concerted effort in order to better support the growing base of application developers using Flash to deliver high-caliber applications and user experiences over the Web.

The company's development environment, code-named "Zoro," combines application and interface design, development and debugging, so that the rich interface design can be tightly integrated into the logic of the application.
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Today?s announcement was primarily a road map of products to come. Maelstrom, Zoro, a new Flash authoring tool code-named Eight Ball, a new Flash server, and Flash Lite for mobile devices, are all due "within 12 months."

The announcement is also a sign that Macromedia and Flash have grown up. From its humble origins as a two-person project – one coding the player, and the other writing the authoring tool – nearly 10 years ago, Flash has come a long way from the animation runtime that many still perceive it to be. Today, Flash is a development environment for communicating applications sporting rich user interfaces. Indeed, in talking with Lynch, who has been involved with Flash since nearly the beginning, you get the idea that the Flash platform snuck up on Macromedia. That is, over the years, the company added features and functions to respond to users' requests. In time, these pieces fell into step to provide a viable alternative to Java and DHTML for the creation of Web applications.

In many ways, perhaps, that's how products should come of age: by watching what customers do with them, responding to requests, and consistently outpacing customer expectations. Perhaps this will be the biggest challenge for Macromedia going forward. As the company announces its plans, developers may anticipate features and functionalities that may not meet expectations when released.

Still, Macromedia has a strong track record of staying in front of the crowd. As the company is absorbed into Adobe, let's hope that record stands and that Macromedia teaches Adobe a thing or two about great customer-driven software development and user interface.

Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld's DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMOletter and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at chris@demo.com. Shipley, has covered the personal technology business since 1984 and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. Shipley has worked as a writer and editor for variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine and Working Woman. She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the #1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers for two years in a row. To subscribe to DEMOletter please visit: http://www.idgexecforums.com/demoletter/index.html.

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