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Macromedia tests new Flash Player

The company releases a new edition of its widely used Web software, claiming that it will process some types of Flash content as much as 10 times faster.

Macromedia has begun public beta testing of a new version of Flash Player, its widely used Web software.

The new version is the first major revision of the software since Macromedia introduced Flash MX last year, along with a dramatically expanded concept of the utility of Flash. Instead of pushing Flash as an animation format to serve up blinking and moving online ads, Macromedia repositioned the format as a broad base for developing entire Web pages and delivering Web applications.

The new version of the Flash Player, available for download from Macromedia, concentrates on performance improvements that allow the software to process some types of Flash content as much as 10 times faster, said Lucian Beebe, Macromedia's product manager for Flash.

"We've found a way to deliver much better performance for everyone developing content today," Beebe said. "Everything's going to work better, look better, run faster."

Such improvements are especially important as Flash moves into a broader role of delivering Web applications and streaming media such as video, Beebe said. "We've got to stay out front of people," he said. "We need to look into the future and say, 'What are people likely to do with Flash Player in the future, and what do we need to do to accommodate that?'"

The new Flash Player will also include an "auto-update" feature that's designed to make sure that PCs have the latest version of the software, Beebe said, an important addition to ensure a consistent experience for Flash users.

Macromedia hasn't yet announced a name for the new version or set a firm release date for the final version, but Beebe expects it to be ready within a few months.

"We like to rely on our users to set the schedule; they tell us when it's ready," Beebe said. "But we wouldn't have released something for beta if we thought we had a long way to go."