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Macromedia expands J2EE pitch

Company adds to Flex, its Flash server software for Java developers.

Macromedia plans to release on Monday the first major extension for Flex, server software introduced earlier this year as part of a drive to expand use of the company's Flash format.

The new Flex Builder package is a set of design and development tools intended to help developers quickly build applications in Flex, which has largely been used to create slick interfaces for Web applications.

Flex is a server application that allows Java developers to create XML (Extensible Markup Language) code delivered to the Flash client software. Flex programs typically run on top of Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) Web applications to serve as a rich user interface.

Builder allows developers to work with a combination of coding and visual tools, so they can see what the interface they're creating looks like as they build it, said Kevin Lynch, Macromedia's chief software architect.

"We've designed the language to appeal to J2EE developers, but if you're a Java developer doing the task of building a user interface, they find it's helpful to have some visual," Lynch said. "You can still edit and code as a Java developer, but as you're doing it, you see the visual representation of that design come to life."

Initial specialties for Flex developers have included interfaces for product configuration tools, financial dashboards and customer service applications, Lynch said.

The application includes templates and pre-built components, he said, so developers unaccustomed to thinking in visual terms can still come up with attractive and consistent interfaces for their Web apps.

"We've taken the best practices we've seen emerge from the Flash community, and we've built them into the Flex framework," he said.

Macromedia is in the midst of a wide-ranging effort to expand the use of Flash, once largely associated with blinking banner ads, into a broad format for delivering Web applications. The company has revamped the Flash developer tools, created new Flash-based products such as the Breeze Web conferencing service and expanded Flash to a variety of non-PC devices.

Flex is meant to solve one of the thornier problems of promoting Flash as a development environment. The typical tools used by dedicated Flash developers use an interface familiar to animation and design professionals but foreign to more traditional software coders.