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Commentary: Reaching true interactivity

The Web has always promised an interactive experience, yet it remains passive. Macromedia Flash MX is out to change that, a Gartner analyst says.

By Lou Latham, Gartner Analyst

The Web has always promised an interactive experience, and yet it remains essentially passive. Macromedia Flash MX--an enhanced set of tools based on the popular Flash media player--is out to change that.

The problem has always been the Web's heavy

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Macromedia promises better Web apps
reliance on static "pages" that reside on servers, rather than on the user's desktop or client. To receive new information--the results from a new set of figures entered into a Web-based mortgage calculator, for example--the Web user must call up a new page from the server. It's a clumsy, time-consuming approach, and one that keeps the Web experience from being truly interactive.

Macromedia Studio MX brings together three widely used sets of tools--Flash for presentations, Dreamweaver for Web design, and ColdFusion for application development--to create an application integration layer powerful enough to rival the Java-applet model. Another key advantage is Flash's rich-client architecture. Flash achieves high efficiency by rendering graphics on the client, but it can also execute application functions on the client using the local processor to carry significant parts of the workload.

The result: That mortgage calculator can perform its calculations on the user's desktop, without going back to the server to call up a new page every time a new set of figures is entered. Flash MX also includes functionality from Macromedia Generator, allowing charts and graphs to be rendered from numerical data on the client, rather than the server. This enables the Flash client, for example, to render stock charts based on data supplied by a server.

Flash MX incorporates programming tools from Dreamweaver, and its applications can interact with ColdFusion code on a server. To ensure security, these interactions take place in a controlled environment, which prevents code from accessing the system's memory or other resources in unauthorized ways. For additional security, the application can specify Secure Sockets Layer interactions, like those used for credit-card transactions.

Flash's popularity--it is already the most popular browser enhancement, supported by 95 percent of browsers--gives Macromedia a strong head start in the race to deliver enhanced interactivity for Web users. Macromedia applications have always been challenging for developers to learn and use--and the enhancements in Flash MX will make it even more so--but the potential benefits, to businesses and individuals alike, make it well worth the effort.

(For related commentary on Macromedia, see

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