Macromedia puts Flash at heart of new look Web

Software vendor Macromedia plans to overhaul the standard user interface for Web applications.

Software vendor Macromedia plans to overhaul the standard user interface for Web applications.

According to Jeremy Allaire, chief technology officer for Macromedia, there are two issues that have previously held back the proliferation of Web applications - the lack of a truly interactive Web interface, and the inability of previous generations of applications to interact with other applications and services.

"HTML is unable to fulfil the interactivity required by applications," he said. "As it is essentially a document browsing technology, what you get is a sequence of Web pages, and because you have to wait eight seconds for each page to load, you lose the context of the application."

"On the development side, applications are often created in 'silos' and are independent of each other which makes interaction difficult," he said.

While current and upcoming Web services standards like XML and Soap are expected to solve the problem of interactivity, Macromedia wants to revolutionise the user interface.

As such, it is aiming its Flash MX technology to enable rich universal client capability, something that Java and DHTML never achieved.

"Instead of five pages, you have one page that changes as data streams into it," said Allaire. "The graphical user interface also improves as the object model in Flash is richer than any HTML page."

Apart from a better user interface, Macromedia also touts the cost advantages of its Web model.

"Operating costs are lower because it relies on the client for more processing," said Allaire. "Etrade uses this technology for stock quotes and where it previously sent about 100Kbytes of data per request, it is now down to 2Kbytes. As a result, bandwidth requirements have eased, as well as the server load."

The small footprint also makes it suitable for the mobile environment, he said, and Macromedia has integrated it with J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition) as well as PocketPC and Symbian.

"We also have the ability to do realtime communications with audio and video," Allaire added.

Macromedia has recently launched a suite of integrated tools for developing Internet solutions - from HTML pages to rich Internet applications. Apart from Flash MX, the suite also comprises other developer tools like Dreamweaver MX, Fireworks MX, FreeHand, as well as the ColdFusion MX Java-based application server.

As competition is steep in the application server arena with players like IBM's Websphere, BEA's WebLogic, and Sun Microsystems' iPlanet, all providing alternative platforms, Macromedia has ensured that its ColdFusion MX product interoperates with all of these. Java classes and Enterprise Java Beans in those environments are exposed to the scripting engine as ColdFusion components, and conversely, ColdFusion components can be wrapped as Web services.

While applications built with Flash MX technology will require users to download the appropriate runtime environment - the latest Flash 6 player - Macromedia sees this as a natural upgrade.

"With Flash already on 83% of Internet desktops, it is a most ubiquitous application," said Allaire. "We've now transformed it into a rich client runtime."

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