Following up its JavaOne announcement to join the Eclipse Foundation, Macromedia is announcing the first fruits of that effort.
Macromedia is announcing version 2 of Flex, the framework used for developing Flash clients. It will include Flex Builder 2, previously code-named Zorn, an Eclipse plug-in for developing Flash applications.
It also includes announcement of the Flex Enterprise Services 2, the successor to Flex Presentation Server, which adds support of Publish/Subscribe (PubSub) models for pushing content out to clients. And Macromedia will announce Flash Player 8.5, which takes advantage of new features in ActionScript that add fuller support of objects and promise better performance.
Zorn and Flex have been part of a strategy to make developers take the Flash environment seriously. Traditionally, Flash was seen more as the deployment environment for web authors creating animated graphics. The Flex framework for Flash was first released roughly a year ago, while Zorn was announced (but not released) a few back at JavaOne.
These new announcements are for now strategy posturing, as actual product won’t hit general release until sometime in the first half of 2006. However, the rich internal app space is growing more competitive. Microsoft and IBM trying to muscle in, while a vendor-neutral architecture, Ajax, is already gaining actual market penetration.
Consequently, Macromedia wants its stake in the ground known and will push out alpha versions of Flash Player 8.5, Flex Framework 2, and Flex Builder 2 on October 17, 2005. (Flex Enterprise Services 2 alphas won’t come until a later date.)
Similarly, Macromedia is also introducing entry level pricing to more aggressively get Flex technology in the hands of web developers. Normally, you would have to pay $50,000 per each server instance of Flash Presentation Server.
However with web services, you might not have to run against a Flex server back end, but simply generate a SOAP call. In that case, you would only need to pony up about $1000 for Flex Builder and not have to worry about paying for additional run times that would be bypassed.
Before, the compiler was embedded in the server only, said Jeff Whatcott, vice president of product management. Now if you want to connect to XML, you don’t have to connect back to the server.
However, ActionScript 3 won’t run on previous versions to the Flash 8.5 player. That means two things: first, Flex Player 8.5 will have to support two versions of Flex so older applications can run on it. And it means that Flash clients will have to get the new player to take advantage of the more powerful features.
That ups the ante for Macromedia to replicate Flash Player’s ubiquitous presence. Unlike past history, it can’t rely on Microsoft to distribute the necessary plug-in with Internet Explorer. Macromedia says that’s a non-issue, claiming the Flash 7 (which wasn’t supported by Microsoft) achieved 98% penetration within 12 months anyway. It expects the same result for 8.5.
Availability and pricing for the Flex products have not yet been announced.