What is it?
Coldfusion is a development environment for building and deploying web applications and web services. Now owned by Macromedia, it has been integrated into Macromedia MX Studio, which includes Dreamweaver and Flash.
Depending on your point of view, Macromedia's products either vastly enrich your online experience, or hold everything up while little fussy bits download.
Where did it originate?
Coldfusion is one of the oldest, best-established and most widely used web application development tools. It was first released in 1995 by Allaire Corporation, whose founder Jeremy Allaire became chief technology officer at Macromedia. It has now been fully rewritten and re-engineered to become Coldfusion MX and has moved to a Java-based architecture.
What is it for?
Coldfusion includes its own scripting language, a tag-based language that handles low-level programming tasks automatically. It has a suite of built-in application services and supports XML and web services, along with built-in connectivity for most data sources and a full-text search engine based on Verity.
Macromedia's JRun J2EE server is included, which offers support for Java Server Pages and Enterprise Java Beans. Applications developed using Coldfusion can also be deployed on IBM Websphere, Sun One, and BEA Weblogic Java application servers.
What makes it special?
Coldfusion application components are self-documenting and reusable. The latest version, MX 6.1, compiles from Coldfusion Markup Language to Java byte code, which increases performance at runtime without tying up the developer's time by going through an intermediate step when Java code is generated and compiled, as in previous versions.
How difficult is it to master?
Dreamweaver developers can pick up Coldfusion very quickly. Although it contains many automated features, such as an installation wizard, Macromedia promises to further simplify use with every new release.
Where is it used?
According to Macromedia, Coldfusion is used by 10,000 companies and 300,000 developers. Users include DHL, Boeing, Pepsi and Michelin.
What systems does it run on?
Most flavours of Windows, Linux and Unix, Mac OS X and IBM z/Series mainframes. Web server support includes Microsoft IIS, Sun One/iPlanet, and Apache. JDBC (Java Database Connectivity) drivers provide connectivity to Access, SQL Server, Oracle, DB2, and other data sources.
Coldfusion integrates with all the major internet standards and component models, including XML, Soap web services, Java, .net/Com and Corba.
What is coming up?
Macromedia said the latest release of Coldfusion, MX 6.1, had remedied the "dozens of areas where we had inadvertently broken backward compatibility", making upgrades of Coldfusion 5 and 4.5 applications less problematic. Upgrading to 6.1 is free for those already using MX.
Coldfusion training is available from Macromedia and its training partners and many independent training companies. However, the web is full of Coldfusion news group and community sites sharing tips and software components, including free tutorials. You can download the developer's version of Coldfusion for nothing.
Rates of pay
Coldfusion developers can expect to be paid between £25,000 and £35,000. Jobs usually require HTML, XML and other web skills, Dreamweaver and other Macromedia products, and sometimes databases.
Contractors can earn £200 a day and upwards. Sadly these rates are much lower than in the dotcom boom, when in addition to paying silly money, many employers were prepared to cross-train suitable candidates in Coldfusion.