Macromedia To Add Offline Flash Capabilities

Environment to be unveiled at Flashforward in San Francisco

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At the Flashforward 2003 show Thursday, Macromedia is expected to unveil a new environment for running Flash applications offline as part of a new strategy to extend Flash beyond an Internet-connected Web browser.

Kevin Lynch, Macromedia's chief software architect, will unveil the product, Macromedia Central, in a keynote here.

According to sources familiar with the company's plans, it is only the first in a series of product releases to support this strategy. An upcoming release of the Macromedia Flash Player expected later this year also will have enhanced offline capability, followed by other product rollouts, these sources said.

Macromedia Central also creates a new distribution channel for Flash developers, enabling them to include in the environment Flash applications they have created, Lynch said. Users and other developers can download those applications for a designated fee set by the developer. Developers will get 80 percent of the revenue, with Macromedia taking 20 percent of the sale, he said.

Macromedia Central is free and is expected to be available this summer with versions for Mac OS X and Windows, Lynch said. A beta software development kit for the new product will be available in April.

Macromedia Central is installed using the Macromedia Flash player through a browser and then runs offline on a local client, Lynch said. Users and developers can view multiple applications at the same time, use the applications in conjunction with each other or move information from one application to the next in Central.

Applications in Central can communicate using SOAP and WSDL, which are widely adopted standards for Web services, Lynch said.

Macromedia Flash is traditionally known as a tool for building rich media content for Web sites, such as movies and other multimedia features. But since Macromedia made the MX version of Flash available in March 2002, Flash has become much more conducive to building real business applications that can run in the widely distributed Flash Player, solution providers said.

A user forecast for Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC estimated that 507 million Web users had access to the Flash Player by December 2002. Another research firm, Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group, reported that 98 percent of Internet users had access to Flash content by the end of 2002.

Matthew Berk, senior analyst with New York-based Jupiter Research, said Macromedia Central gives Flash developers more access to the desktop by providing an offline venue for technology that until now has been tied to creative Web site development.

"As Flash developers move up the Web services curve, you can do all sorts of creative development we haven't seen yet," Berk said. "Giving Flash developers access to the desktop [means] their value is no longer chained to a Web site."

"The whole idea of online and offline applications that are distributed over the Internet give you tremendous reach with applications that run on any platform," agreed Darryl Gehly, vice president of corporate development for Boston-based solution provider Molecular. "There are key applications you can build for clients that would benefit from offline use."

Gehly said the Flash Player currently allows some offline use, but it is limited to about 1 megabyte of information. Macromedia Central would allow solution providers and developers to create richer applications that can run offline, he said.

For example, an application that runs on many automobile company Web sites allowing users to design their own car could be downloaded and run offline, giving the user a better experience than if the information had to be continuously sent to the server. "There's no reason you should have to go to the server just because you change the color of the automobile," Gehly said.

Alon Salant, principal with San Francisco-based solution provider Carbon 5, said allowing Web applications to run offline "blurs the line between using a Web site to do something and using local software." "It stops mattering whether you're using installed software or Web-based software," he said. This opens the door for more widespread use of Web-based software and less major IT software installations in the enterprise, Salant added.

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