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Macromedia to use "exchanges" to aid software development

With the release of its new Web-building software, the software maker is taking a page from the open source programming model to stimulate third-party development of new features.

With the release of its new Web-building software, Macromedia is taking a page from the open-source programming model to stimulate third-party development of new features.

At its Dreamweaver Conference 2000 to be held Monday and Tuesday in Monterey, Calif., Macromedia will show off version 4 of its Dreamweaver Web-authoring tool, its UltraDev Web site- and application-building tool, and its Fireworks Web graphics application.

While Macromedia will focus on the applications' bells and whistles, of perhaps more lasting importance is the company's new emphasis on its "exchange" sites, where both Macromedia and independent software developers can post extensions to Macromedia products and download extensions other developers have posted.

"With the integration of the production and work flow, we're talking about hours a day that you save," Macromedia chief executive Rob Burgess said in an interview. "We're pretty differentiated (from the competition) now when it comes to extensibility and work flow, but this takes it to the next level."

Extensions are extra features or add-ons to existing software products. Typically, developers offer them free of charge to enhance their own programming reputations, but in some cases extensions come with a fee.

Macromedia said the exchange concept bore a limited comparison to the open-source programming model, in which a software title's underlying source code is published, anyone can contribute to the coding, and the resulting product is made available for free and licensed use.

"People contribute to Exchange for the 15 minutes of fame because they want to be recognized within the community," said Eric Ott, product manager for Dreamweaver. "It's the same idea behind why open source works and it's so successful. But some groups are creating solutions that they are going to sell. This is such a big strategy that there is going to be some selling of these things."

Macromedia's exchange sites have attracted a surge of interest from developers since their launch earlier this year. The Dreamweaver Exchange, launched in April, has passed the 1 million download mark. The site boasts 270 extensions posted by 85 different developers.

UltraDev's exchange launched two months ago. Macromedia's popular Flash authoring software is due for its own exchange site in the near future.

"Exchanges are something that we're looking at for the rest of our product line," Ott said. "We will be rolling out more of them and are getting behind it as a concept."

Increasing integration and automation
With version 4 of Dreamweaver, UltraDev and Fireworks, Macromedia is emphasizing the integration of Fireworks into the other two. UltraDev is essentially a superset of Dreamweaver, with all its Web-building capabilities plus Web application development tools.

"With the integration of the production and work flow, we're talking about hours a day that you save," Macromedia chief executive Rob Burgess said in an interview. "We're pretty differentiated (from the competition) now when it comes to extensibility and work flow, but this takes it to the next level."

Version 4 of the trio will make it easier for Web developers going between Fireworks and either of the two development tools. Based on XML, a round-trip graphics editing feature will let Fireworks communicate with the other applications and smooth the way for graphics altered on either end.

In a nod to developers working on Web pages designed to be read by wireless devices, Macromedia has introduced support for WBMP, a wireless protocol for handling GIF and JPEG graphics files.

Dreamweaver 4 significantly extends existing "round-trip HTML" coding capabilities that let Web authors use the Web design tool and examine the HTML code that the tool generates underneath. With version 4, authors can manipulate that HTML code exclusively.

In a big win for technology publisher O'Reilly, Macromedia has signed a three-year exclusive contract to incorporate O'Reilly's reference materials into Dreamweaver. The royalty-based agreement means that Dreamweaver authors can access O'Reilly explanations and other information directly from the application.

Dreamweaver 4 also includes a JavaScript debugger, which will automatically examine JavaScript code for flaws.

Something for everyone
Several new features fall under Macromedia's efforts to appeal to less experienced people and therefore the lower end of the authoring tool market. Up until now, Macromedia has largely ceded to Microsoft and its lower-priced FrontPage software, concentrating instead on the higher-end commercial ground also staked by Web-authoring challenger Adobe Systems.

These features "hearken back to the days of desktop publishing, where you were not really thinking so much about the code," Ott said. "Now you can build sophisticated pages without thinking about the code, which starts to appeal not to just the high-end professionals but to lower-end users as well."

In one example, a new layout view will let authors create tables by drawing them on the page, rather than hand-coding them. Another feature will size tables automatically, proportional to the size of the browser window.

A third move targeted at less-experienced Web page authors will let them create Flash text and buttons within Dreamweaver without using the Flash authoring tool. The move follows Macromedia's September release of Dreamweaver extensions that helped Flash authors add interactive features to Flash movies while bypassing the use of JavaScript.

UltraDev 4 includes a "server behavior builder," a user interface that lets developers turn their own scripts into reusable objects. Another automation tool, "live objects," will automatically coordinate certain Web page functions and database queries. For example, the feature would automate the process whereby search engine results are linked to product information pulled from a database.

With the Dreamweaver, UltraDev and Fireworks upgrades, Macromedia continues an effort, launched with the August release of Flash 5, to create a standard, uniform user interface across its product line. Freehand and Director are next for the makeover.

Dreamweaver 4 and Fireworks 4 cost $299 apiece. Sold together they cost $449. Upgrades to the Dreamweaver 4 Fireworks 4 Studio are $199. Dreamweaver UltraDev costs $599, and the Dreamweaver UltraDev 4 Fireworks 4 Studio is $699. All products will ship next month.