Macromedia Hones Flash Development

Macromedia app developer shows first-version glitches.

Macromedia Inc.s Flash has become one of the most popular environments for developing rich, Web-based applications, but it generally doesnt work as well for developing stand-alone applications that run outside Web browsers. This occurs even though most Flash applications appear to be identical in function to many stand-alone applications.
Central Developer Release

Macromedias Central
is an interesting first try
as an environment for
developing and deploying
Flash applications outside a
Web browser, but it
suffers from early growing pains in testing
limitations and in somewhat frustrating
licensing limitations.
















  • PRO: Easily converts Flash applications into stand-alone applications; provides offline capabilities for Flash-based applications.
  • CON: Unattractive licensing for corporate use; doesnt support handhelds.

• Java development environments • Macromedias Flash and Director • Standard Web applications

Bridging this gap is Macromedias Central Developer Release, which was released last month. Central is essentially a stand-alone Flash application environment that can run outside browsers and work in offline situations. It comprises a client application, which runs on Mac OS and Windows systems and leverages the Flash players on those systems, and an SDK (software development kit), which includes sample applications and a set of extensions to the Flash MX and Flash MX 2004 development tools.

In tests of Central, eWEEK Labs found much to like, especially its ability to run data-intensive Flash applications offline and to link data in multiple Central applications in a way that would make most Web services advocates jealous. However, Central suffers from the typical weaknesses of a first-time offering: Several key features, such as support for handhelds, are not yet available, and there are limitations that can hinder some development and testing.

On top of this, while Central has straightforward licensing for those who want to use the product to distribute and sell commercial applications, its much more confusing for businesses that might want to use it inside their companies. This makes it much less attractive than standard development environments or traditional Web applications, which can be freely deployed.

Companies that want to use Central for internal applications must purchase annual licenses for each user of Central; this price scheme starts at $20 per user in 20- and 100-user packs. A free license for noncommercial use is available, but it isnt clear what organizations qualify for this, and it explicitly doesnt include nonprofits and educational institutions. The simplest license model for Central is for those who wish to distribute and sell applications. In this model, users find the application through the App Finder in Central (which is managed by Macromedia), and Macromedia gets 20 percent of all revenue.

The components Macromedias Central adds to Flash make it easy to create applications designed for the Central environment. Many less complex Flash applications can also be converted into Central applications with a few simple steps.

Because Central can handle application validation and simple product licensing issues, products that run in the Central client environment must have a valid product ID from Macromedia. Thankfully, a development-only product ID is provided in the bottom of the StartHere document, which we used to test Central applications before widely deploying them. The SDK does provide a debugging panel for the Flash development tool, which made it possible to test statements in our application, but this didnt substitute for testing within Central.

Included are XML code and Flash ActionScripts for Central, which let us integrate applications with the Central environment and provide advanced functions such as the Blast feature. Blast made it possible to share data among Central applications—for example, sending location data from a travel application to a weather report application.

Each Central application must also have a product.xml file, which includes the base properties of the Central application and information needed to install and run the application.

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Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at