Macromedia aligns with Eclipse

Trying to broaden its appeal with developers, Macromedia plans tool based on popular open-source method.

In a bid to get Java developers writing Flash applications, Macromedia is throwing its weight behind the Eclipse programming system.

Eclipse is an open-source "integrated development environment," or IDE, which provides application developers with programming tools and reusable components. While based on Sun Microsystems' Java programming language, Eclipse can be used to create applications in formats competitive with Java, including Flash.

Macromedia said it will join the Eclipse Foundation and create a "next-generation rich Internet application development tool," code-named Zorn, based on Eclipse.

"This is a big move for us because we've always used our own tools," said Kevin Lynch, Macromedia's chief software architect. "Now we're adopting an open-source framework to build a new tool. It's important for the Flash platform because there's a growing community of developers adopting Eclipse and we would like to enable developers for the Flash platform to take advantage of it."

For the past few years, Macromedia has been trying to transform Flash from a Web design and animation tool into a technology for creating Internet-based applications. Against heated competition by everything from existing Web technologies to Microsoft's long-delayed new operating system, code-named Longhorn, Macromedia has claimed some success with the adoption by more than 300 enterprises of its Flex application server software, which is used to create Flash applications.

Now Macromedia, which Adobe Systems in April announced its intention to acquire, is taking the Web application fight to developers, many of whom have long regarded Flash as a design language.

"Historically, one of the challenges Macromedia has faced is that the Flash development metaphor has been foreign to people familiar with (Microsoft's) Visual Basic and Visual Studio," said Burton Group analyst Peter O'Kelly. "These people think in terms of projects and forms and code modules, as opposed to timelines, movies and scripts that Flash's creative designers know."

Macromedia's embrace of Eclipse won't be the first time that developers have been able to bypass traditional, design-oriented Flash tools to create Flash applications. Xamlon, a company focused on Longhorn's XAML markup language, in April released software that lets Windows developers create Flash applications without knowing Flash.

O'Kelly said Macromedia could give Flash development a significant boost by embracing Eclipse.

"There's a huge market designed to extend Eclipse," O'Kelly said. "If you want Flex to be a full competitor, you need to support the mainstream application developers in the tools that they're working with. In the case of the Java developers, that's Eclipse."

Macromedia said it would now refer to Flash as a "platform," indicating that recently announced upgrades to Flash technologies, along with the Eclipse project, qualified the technology as a broader set of tools for application development.

"The pieces have been evolving, but we've been reluctant to tell the story of how it all fits together," Lynch said.

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