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Macromedia ships Flex rich interface server

Macromedia has finally begun shipping Flex, its much-anticipated presentation server and application framework for enterprise developers. The product has been in beta since November 2003 and began shipping last week.

First announced by the company last fall, Flex is targeted to enterprise dev teams who want to put richer interfaces on their Web-based enterprise apps. It was developed to overcome some of the limitations of traditional page-based HTML applications. Macromedia's vice president of product management, Jeff Whatcott, said that HTML has fallen short of delivering what his company calls "rich Internet applications." Macromedia has long touted its own Flash technology as the best vehicle for this kind of interaction. The company claims that its Flash player is the most distributed piece of software on the Web, and is installed on about 98% of Web-enabled desktops.

"We've been talking about the importance of rich user interfaces for a long time," Whatcott told Programmers Report. "And we've delivered a variety of different technologies for building these types of applications. But we started to hear from enterprise developers - -teams that use J2EE and .NET as their primary programming environments -- that they wanted something that worked more consistently with their existing tools and within their existing infrastructures. We stepped back and said we need to come up with an alternative approach, and that's what led us to Flex."

The Flex server is designed to provide a standards-based, declarative programming methodology for delivering this so-called rich user experience via Macromedia's Flash player -- things like data dashboards, online product selection and configuration tools, and customer self-service applications.

The idea is to help developers to combine the user interface experience of desktop software with the reach and ease of deployment of the Web, Whatcott explained. Developers use the framework in conjunction with their own text editors and IDEs to build apps that run on the Flex presentation server. The product comes with an extensible and customizable class library of pre-built components, effects, behaviors and layout managers.

Macromedia sees this release as a "key milestone in the emergence of an important new application architecture." This new approach blends the flexibility of services-oriented data access with the superior reach and effectiveness of a cross-platform rich client, the company said in media release. The result is applications that are easier to build and maintain, use less bandwidth, deliver more functionality, and run on all leading server and desktop operating systems.

Pricing for the product starts at $12,000 for two CPUs, including annual maintenance.

Flex runs on several Java application servers, including IBM WebSphere, BEA WebLogic, Macromedia JRun and Apache Tomcat. IBM is currently working with Macromedia to develop a Flex plug-in for the WebSphere Studio Application Developer development environment. According to the company, a native .NET version is currently in beta and expected to ship later this year.

Later this year, Macromedia plans to release a new Flex development tool code-named "Brady," Whatcott said. Built on Dreamweaver MX 2004, Brady is expected offer visual layout, code editing, debugging and data connectivity tools for creating Flex applications. No pricing information was available at press time.

More information on Flex, as well as examples and a trial version that converts to a non-expiring Developer Edition after 60 days, is available at http://www.macromedia.com/go/flex.

More information on the IBM Flex plug-in is available on IBM's alphaWorks Web site at http://www.alphaworks.ibm.com/tech/wsadflex.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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