In about 10 days, Macromedia will be releasing the latest version of its Flash authoring software. The new version will add some functionality currently provided by media players such as QuickTime Player, Real Player and Windows Media Player.
Flash is the Web’s most widely distributed interactive media player and the standard format for high impact, vector-based Web sites. Flash MX is a tool for creating a broad range of “high-impact content and rich Internet applications that go beyond the boundaries of the browser,” according to Macromedia.
The first in a planned MX line of products, Flash MX will provide a broad range of multimedia designs and rich Internet application development features in one product, Jeremy Clark, Flash product manager told MacCentral. It will provide designers with the ability to create graphics, sophisticated user interfaces and synchronized animation with audio and new video playback to provide supreme, branded experiences, he added.
“Since the economy took a bit of a downturn, several Macromedia customers have been affected,” Clark said. “People with Flash skills are looking to branch out and use those skills in more ways. We wanted to integrate our tools more and improve workflow. Plus, since we merged with Allaire, and they have great server-side tools, we were looking for ways to integrate our server-side and client-side applications, now that they’re under one roof.”
The Macromedia-Allaire merger occurred last March. It brought together Macromedia’s Web content creation software with Allaire’s application servers and application development solutions.
In some ways, Flash MX is a descendant of the merger. With it, designers can begin to take advantage of Internet application development trends by using templates, approachable scripting tools and interface components to begin rudimentary application design. Developers can leverage the multimedia capabilities along with tools such as an ActionScript editor, support for multiple developers on a project, a robust debugger and predefined Flash components to build rich Internet applications, Clark said.
Macromedia’s view is that the development and delivery of Internet content and applications are still in their nascent stages. Creating a better experience for the user, and doing so in a rapid and cost-effective manner, is something Macromedia believes is fundamental to the next evolution of the Internet, Clark said.
“We’ve noticed a shift in how people are interacting with Web content,” he explained. “Rather than just browsing, more and more people are going online to do things such as book travel arrangements, communicate with friends by instant messaging, and e-mailing clients. But despite this, and the fact that desktop computers have gotten much more powerful, the interface for using online applications hasn’t changed that much. Nor has HTML used the increased computing power very much. That’s where the Flash player comes in; it can do a lot on the client side and only interact with the server when needed.”
Macromedia believes that a major part of the Internet’s evolution will be in the experience that revolves around the client. Web sites are becoming more familiar and are beginning to feel like standard desktop applications. The enablement of these Internet applications lies in richer clients in conjunction with scaleable and open servers and services and rapid application design and development tools, according to Macromedia.
The company said its mission is “to make the development of dynamic content and applications more efficient, affordable and accessible.” Their plan: drive the adoption of rich Web applications through the combination of “rich player technologies, approachable server environments and powerful development tools.”
According to Clark, Flash MX will provide a scalable development environment, interactive video, Internet standards support, eLearning building blocks, and extensible template and component libraries. With it, you can use Macromedia’s own technology while leveraging such standards as ECMAScript (ActionScript), HTML, MP3, H.263 and XML.
Flash MX will also adopt one of the popular features of Macromedia’s Dreamweaver: the Property Inspector. Addressing the complaints of several users, the new Flash will combine multiple panes into one, Property Inspector-like window.
The interactive video feature has been one very popular among those beta testing the product, Clark said. Prior to this, there’s been no good way to incorporate video right inside a Web site, he added.
“A lot of sites require the user to choose which video player [Real Player, QuickTime, or Windows Media Player] they’ll use, and creators have had to produce their content in multiple formats,” he said. “Now you can now create just one video stream. You can incorporate video right inside your Web site, add it to existing Flash content, and make it interactive.”
Video content in Macromedia Flash allows designers to maintain control of the look and feel of their applications, unlike today’s existing video options that require external players to be launched and have platform inconsistencies, he said. Support for the Sorenson Spark codec ensures compressed, streaming, high-quality video playback.
Interactive video is one of the most “visible” features of Flash MX. However, it will also offer access to a broad range of resources, including templates, code samples and pre-defined components to build rich, eLearning applications. Custom templates and application interface components can be developed, extended and reused.
However, Macromedia doesn’t see the enhanced video ability making Flash MX a competitor with, say, Real. Clark said there’s s a key difference in that all of those media companies are focused on providing scalable solutions for linear video and also trying to sell servers that go along with their video product.
“That is where they make their money,” Clark said. “Our focus with Macromedia Flash MX is allowing people to add video capabilities to the already existing Macromedia Flash interactive capabilities. Also, to differentiate further, you can view video in Flash immersive in one client as opposed to launching external media clients.”
Plus, they do support importing QT and Windows Media files. For example, people can author their video in Final Cut Pro or iMovie to add interactivity.
“Also, we’re working to make Flash content more accessible to people with disabilities,” Clark said. “This is especially important for government and education agencies, and the companies that work with them.”
Development tools will include the aforementioned ActionScript programming tools, code reference and debugger to provide a complete, Internet application development environment. There’ll be a set of UI (user interface) components to let developers to create advanced Internet applications quickly, Clark said. Beefed up XML support will provide a gain of 20 times in performance when integrating data from any application server for data-rich web applications, he added.
Flash MX is Carbonized so it will run natively in Mac OS X, as well as Mac OS 9.x (with the CarbonLib extension installed). Due around March 15, it will cost US$499. Owners of previous versions can update for $199. There will also be educational, governmental, and volume pricing. In addition to the eight standard languages in which Flash usually ships, the MX version will also be available in Korean, and simplified and traditional Chinese versions.