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Macromedia readies ColdFusion update

Electronic forms capabilities added to application server.

Macromedia plans to wade into the growing electronic forms market with the next version of its ColdFusion Web application server.

Macromedia recently began initial "alpha" testing of the next major release of the server software, code-named Blackstone. A beta version is set for release this fall, with the final release in early 2005.

Besides new management and reporting tools, the next ColdFusion will include an arsenal of tools for creating interactive forms based on Macromedia's Flash format or the XForms offshoot of XML (extensible markup language), said Tim Buntel, ColdFusion product manager for Macromedia.

ColdFusion forms would mainly be aimed at replacing clunky HTML forms by using Flash or XForms to create a more effective interface, Buntel said. Such "rich forms" can dramatically improve the often cumbersome process of submitting data through a Web page, he said.

"There are a number of things you can do with Flash to help users take advantage of complex forms," Buntel said. "It's really just an alternate front end for what you would typically do with an HTML form."

Such a restricted scope means ColdFusion is unlikely to collide much with e-forms products being pushed by Microsoft and Adobe Systems, which are promoting their respective and Portable Document Format (PDF) products as versatile containers for capturing and routing corporate data.

The new version of ColdFusion is also expected to include new tools for generating reports, eliminating the need for separate reporting products such as Crystal Decisions, plus new tools for presenting Web application data via graphics and charts. The new version will also focus on improving the presentation and formatting of documents ready for print.

ColdFusion will support "gateways" for connecting ColdFusion applications with other systems, such as instant-messaging clients. "We'll ship with a number of these gateways already created, and we also document how you can create your own gateway," Buntel said.

Macromedia acquired ColdFusion with its buyout of Allaire three years ago. Recent revisions to the product have focused on architectural changes intended to support Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), one of the most common environments for building Web applications.

Macromedia, which usually tightly guards information on upcoming products, has given developers plenty of advance notice on Blackstone, Buntel said. The company wants to let customers know that the J2EE plumbing work is largely done--to counter persistent gossip that Macromedia plans to abandon the product.

"A lot of this is to dispel the rumors," he said. "We're 100 percent invested in ColdFusion. Not only is it not dead, it's really blazing some new trails."