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Flash steps out of the browser

Macromedia releases a trial version of its Central software for running Flash applications offline.

Software maker Macromedia on Wednesday released a test version of Central, a new add-on for its widespread Flash animation format intended to make Internet information easily available offline.

As previously reported, Macromedia hopes Central will expand the market for Flash developers by allowing them to create applications that don't depend on a Web browser. Central runs on Macromedia's free Flash Player software to give a unified interface for using Flash-based services that could range from restaurant recommendations to workplace directories.

Typical services will suck in information from the Internet when a connection is available and store it on the PC for retrieval later, whether or not the PC is connected.

Macromedia is offering two sample services with the test download of Central. Movie Finder combines information culled from media giant Tribune Media, reviews site Rotten Tomatoes and other sources to offer localized film information, including show times. A weather service will offer updated local forecasts and other data culled from AccuWeather.

"We're basically doing a couple of free applications, so people can get an idea what Central is about," said Kevin Lynch, Macromedia's chief software architect.

Macromedia is working with several partners to popularize the Central concept, including Intel, which will promote the service as part of its Centrino campaign that emphasizes mobile computing. Central applications will be demonstrated as part of the chipmaker's One Unwired Day promotion on Thursday.

Lynch said thousands of Flash developers have applied to receive the software development kits that will be available next month. He expects that a wealth of applications--which Macromedia will sell through its Central Web site--will be available when the final version is ready at the end of the year.

Macromedia last year began a wide-reaching campaign to expand the role of Flash in Web design, promoting the software as a broad format for designing Web applications and building user interfaces.

The beta, or test, version of Central is available in Windows and Mac OS X versions from Macromedia's Central Web site. Future versions of the software will work on handheld computers and other devices. "Our intention is to take Central wherever the Flash player goes," Lynch said.