Macromedia Takes Flash Beyond the Browser

In a move that extends the market for its digital media software offerings, Macromedia, Inc. on Thursday released a new software environment — Macromedia Central — that allows Flash-based applications to run offline without an Internet connection.

Macromedia Central, unveiled at Flashforward 2003 in San Francisco, Calif., allows Web applications built with the company’s Flash MX suite to download to a computer and let users interact with the applications while they are offline.

It is a significant step in Macromedia’s attempts to extend the market for Flash, the vector-graphic animation technology used for digital animation. By allowing end users to access Flash-based applications while offline, the company hopes developers would find new and creative ways to extend the technology beyond the Web browser.

Macromedia Central is expected to ship in the summer. Some apps within the environment will carry a cost but use of Macromedia Central will be free for end users, the company said.

Applications built with Macromedia Central would allow changes to be automatically made once a user logs off and gets back online. Even though some Flash-based applications can be downloaded and run on PCs, those applications do not have the capacity to update itself to add changes made while a user was offline.

Some applications can run offline using downloaded Java servlets and macros but only in a limited way that does not offer access to the complete application.

It is not the first time the company has taken the flash technology beyond the Web browser. NTT DoCoMo has inked a deal to embed Macromedia Flash into its i-Mode mobile phone service.

The company said Macromedia Central would provide distributed data storage, distributed computing, and real-time communication and support for occasionally connected computing, cooperative applications, and open data formats.

The environment also takes a stab at digital rights management (DRM), a system that enables secure distribution of data both on and offline. Using XML, Macromedia Central would allow vendors to police the distribution and licensing of software and applications.

Macromedia said had already signed on to use Central applications to allow its users to aggregate comparative shopping information. “By delivering a [Macromedia] Central application, users can access detailed product information from their desktop, review prices along with tax and shipping estimates, and get updates when the prices on those items go down,” according to Lee Barth, business development manager at

Macromedia Central will ship with try/buy functionality as a hook for developers as well as a transaction infrastructure to allow developers to hook into the product’s software update feature to ensure end-users always have the latest version of their software. It has also been fitted with Application Finder tool to shuttle details, cost, popularity rating, and other relevant information about specific applications.

Macromedia also used the Flashforward 2003 spotlight to release the Macromedia Flash Communication Server MX 1.5, an update that adds HTTP tunneling, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), support for Linux and MP3s. The MX 1.5 upgrade also features enhanced audio support and administration.

The Flash Communication Server MX 1.5 is a platform used for rich media audio/video applications like on-demand video, live event broadcasts, webcam chat, and recorded video messaging. It retails for $499 for the personal edition and $4,500 for the professional edition. Upgrades from version 1.0 is free.

Separately, Macromedia announced the availability of Macromedia Flash Player 6 for Microsoft’s Pocket PC 2002. The launch allows developers to publish standalone Flash device content and applications that can play full-screen outside of the browser, such as games, applications, and kiosks.