Macromedia releases Flash Communication Server MX

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Continuing to enhance its MX line of products, Macromedia has announced the Flash Communication Server MX, which the company says is the first server to unite communications and applications. It offers server support for Windows 2000, NT, and XP (with Unix support due in the fall) and authoring support for Mac and Windows systems.

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"This is different than anything you've ever seen from Macromedia," Chris Hock, Macromedia's director of Flash product management, told MacCentral. "Macromedia Flash Communication Server MX takes advantage of the Flash Player and sever software. The spectrum of content on the Web has evolved from plain HMTL into rich content with good user experiences involving motion, video, audio and more interactive features, as well as information and data within content. We've seen an explosion across every type of Internet solution; they're now incorporating data driven content and rich Internet applications."

He added that Flash Communication Server MX had "powerful communications capability" with lots of built-in functionality. It was purposely built for streaming media, real-time collaboration and instant messaging, Hock said. Rich media messaging can incorporate text, audio, and graphics, as well as being multi-user and multi-way.

"Streaming media isn't a new category, but we're doing some unique things with it," he said. "Being able to sync multimedia content along with rich video streams is important for communications and helps provide content. With Flash Communication Server MX, you can control streams via scripting and offer a custom branding experience."

With the server, developers can add communication and collaboration capabilities into their Web sites and rich Internet applications. Macromedia Flash Communication Server MX integrates support for streaming media, multi-way video, audio and text messaging, and real-time collaboration into a single solution. The server also leverages the authoring environment of Macromedia Flash MX and popularity of the Flash Player, as well as integrating with the entire Macromedia MX product family.

"At Macromedia, we think there are areas of opportunity for communication on the Web, with emotion, context and interaction," Beth Davis, Macromedia's vice president of product management and marketing, told MacCentral. "For example, if you can 'meet' with someone face to face online, you can see how people are acting and reacting. Right now people are offered packaged software solutions for chat, VoIP, instant messaging, etc. All these things have taken the Web in the right direction, but have never been truly integrated together. We're offering an integrated server that works with people's existing systems to evolve communications on the Web."

With streaming media and live human interactions integrated directly into existing Web sites, companies can offer innovative product marketing, stock information, online learning and sales communications information within one integrated user experience. Designed as an open development platform, Macromedia Flash Communication Server MX enables completely custom solutions and integrates easily with existing Web and application server infrastructures, according to Jonathan Gay, Macromedia's vice president of engineering.

Flash Communication Server MX combines communication capabilities, including streaming media, rich media messaging and real-time collaboration. Streaming media features let developers integrate streaming video and audio with motion graphics in a customizable player environment for a new level of multimedia presentation on the Internet, said Davis. With the rich media messaging features, such as multi-way, multi-user video and audio chats, developers can add live human interactions and instant messaging to their Web sites. The real-time collaboration features, including the powerful Shared Object technology, enable multiple users to share live white boards and other real-time data in the context of an application.

On the client, the communication server takes advantage of Macromedia Flash Player 6 to receive and transmit video, audio and data. Flash Player automatically recognizes installed microphones and standard USB or FireWire Webcams, and lets end users grant or deny access before anything is broadcast. Macromedia Flash Player 6 has the fastest adoption rate of any player in Macromedia's history; 414 million users have the Flash Player installed, Davis said.

"Anyone wanting to deploy video on the Web will want to use Flash Player to get the biggest audience," Davis said.

For development, the communication server includes new extensions to the Macromedia Flash MX authoring environment. The extensions include new authoring, scripting and debugging capabilities as well as prebuilt components for login, multi-way chat screens, white boards, and video conferencing. The development technology makes it straightforward and easy for the more than one million developers who already have experience with Macromedia Flash to build communication solutions.

"Flash Communication Server MX offers pro development tools (with Flash MX used to build the user interface), prebuilt components, and a ubiquitous client (the Flash Player)," Hock said. "It's an open environment, so the look and feel can be changed very quickly. You can create your own customized presentation application via standard-based Action Scripts. Action Script is like a twin sister of JavaScript. Since there are millions of people in addition to Flash developers who understand JavaScript, anyone can author and customize using Action Scripts."

Flash Communication Server MX works with other Macromedia MX products, including Macromedia Studio MX for development and Macromedia ColdFusion MX on the server. In addition, the new server can integrate with Java and Microsoft .NET application servers and other Web infrastructure.

It's available today from the Macromedia Online Store. Pricing is US$499 for the Personal Edition (aimed at hobbyists and enthusiasts), and starts at $4,500 for the Professional Edition. Education, government, and volume licensing is available. "Capacity" packs are also available.

"Macromedia Flash Communication Server MX is totally appropriate and revolutionary because of the Flash Player's ubiquity," Davis said. "It's an opportunity waiting to happen and a natural evolution of our product line."

This story, "Macromedia releases Flash Communication Server MX" was originally published by PCWorld.

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