Macromedia Needs More Flash In The Channel

As part of a concerted effort to usurp Microsoft's client dominance, Macromedia recently rolled out its Flex development environment that allows solution providers to build a rich client interface to multiple back-end systems. Microsoft's alternative to Flex will be its forthcoming Avalon development environment for Windows. Michael Bergeron, senior vice president of business development, and Lloyd Hill, director of systems integrator partnerships, spoke with Editor in Chief Michael Vizard about why the channel will ultimately play a strategic role in creating a new class of rich user interfaces.

CRN: Traditionally, Flash and related technologies have been considered eye candy for Web applications. How does Flex change the perception of Flash?

BERGERON: Flex is the first time we've had more of a standardized application development environment and a programming model that's very similar to what a Java programmer expects. Rather than a Flash authoring model, with Flex you have an XML-based language with a standardized scripting environment that leverages a services-oriented architecture. That's all pretty straightforward for people to understand and really get familiar, with from a programming model standpoint.

CRN: Why do we need to change the basic experience people have on the Web today?

BERGERON: For an application, the Web is not a great environment and HTML in particular is not a great environment for applications. It's a bad metaphor for complex applications, and people get lost in it. We've all had the experience of trying to get an airline reservation or a hotel reservation on the Web, and it's a frustrating experience. I think on the commerce side that's why the drop off and abandonment rates are still so high. I think there's a class of applications on the Web that needs a rich front-end that feels and acts more like a desktop application but can be deployed over the Web.

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CRN: People increasingly compare what you are trying to do with Flash and Flex to Microsoft's stated intentions of building a next-generation interface around its Avalon and Longhorn projects. What is the difference in your approaches?

BERGERON: The fact that Microsoft is talking about Avalon and Longhorn actually helps us, because we're both talking about the same kind of user experience. From a practical standpoint, that helps us because Avalon and Longhorn are still far enough away, and people are looking for solutions now that work across multiple platforms.

CRN: Do you worry about losing that lead over Microsoft?

BERGERON: That's certainly on our minds. There's a lot more in the upcoming 2.0 release that, in conjunction with other things we're doing, will broaden our footprint in the marketplace through a channel.

CRN: Given Macromedia's traditional focus on application development, what are you looking for in the way of channel partners?

BERGERON: The most active part of our channel for Flex at this point is system integrators. We have another team of people focusing on ISVs. We have five to six ISVs that have already signed agreements and are building Flex into their projects. We have another 12 to 15 ISVs that actively looking at the product in the pipeline and going through evaluations. More traditional VARs will probably be the next thing on our list.

CRN: In what types of applications are you seeing interest for Flex?

HILL: We're seeing it in things like product configuration applications and business-process automation, which includes visualization and dashboard applications. The verticals that we're targeting are areas like financial services, insurance, retail and consumer package goods, telecommunications and media and entertainment. These are anchor applications that are part of an enterprise branding strategy.

CRN: Are you hearing more call for sophisticated presentation layers associated with these and other composite applications?

HILL: Many of the applications that are being built are calling upon different types of data through a presentation server. That kind of architecture is gaining momentum in the marketplace. We think Flex is going to be a big part of that.

BERGERON: We're pretty confident this is going to be a direction that many applications that run on the Web will take. There will continue to be more richness in the user experience, more online/offline capabilities and more integration into Web services. We're pretty optimistic about this becoming a standard kind of rich experience. I think you'll see it first in the communication marketplace with a lot of the announcements being made regarding rich communication and clients that bring video, audio and voice together.

CRN: Do you think people really understand what Macromedia is trying to do with Flex and Flash?

BERGERON: That's frankly one of our biggest challenges. That's clearly an area where we really have to step up our investment. Once people find out that we have this, almost universally they are surprised because we have so many assets to pull this off. And nobody else has the ubiquitous footprint of the player across desktop and even across devices.

CRN: How are you reaching out to partners to teach them about Flex?

HILL: We've rolled out an initial curriculum around Flex and we provide on-site and quarterly training to our partners who either are in the Flex designated program or have premier or strategic relationships with us.

BERGERON: We don't have a broad-based certification program yet. As time goes on, that's clearly going to be an important initiative. Right now, we're maintaining a very focused approach to a selective group of systems integrators that we're trying to go fairly deep with.

CRN: So at the end of the day, what will it take for you to succeed?

BERGERON: For us, it's really all about execution in the programs. Our systems integrator partnership is getting us a lot of exposure to very large accounts and very big projects. Executing on those and turning those into reference accounts is tops on our priority list. And then frankly, it also will be really leveraging the channel and involving the channel more than we are at today so we get much broader reach in the marketplace.