Software turns .Net to Flash

Xamlon prepares to release software it says will let any Windows developer write Flash-based applications.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
3 min read
The race to build more-powerful Web-based applications could accelerate with the addition of software that lets Windows developers create Flash applications without knowing Flash.

Xamlon, based in La Jolla, Calif., will release next week its preview version of Xamlon Pro Flash Edition, software that converts applications created with Windows programming languages and development tools into applications that run in Macromedia's Flash animation player.

"This has been a huge problem--that the entire Windows development community hasn't been able to apply its skill set to Flash," said Xamlon founder and CEO Paul Colton. "We're opening up the door, so that if you know C# or Visual Basic, you can write Flash applications."

Web application development has seen an array of competitors offering different software and systems. Macromedia's Flex software for creating Flash applications is one contender. Laszlo Systems' Flash-based system is another. Microsoft's emerging system for developing Windows applications closely tied to the Internet involves a programming language called XAML, or Extensible Application Markup Language, and a graphics system called Avalon.

Recently, developers have been taking a closer look at existing Web technologies, grouping them under the new acronym AJAX, for Asynchronous JavaScript + XML.

AJAX proponents have pointed to Google's applications--such as those on its Gmail and Google Maps sites--as examples of powerful applications that older technologies can produce.

In answer to the AJAX discussion, Xamlon said one of its engineers produced, in a single weekend, a Xamlon Pro Flash Edition version of Google Maps.

Why should Windows developers want to develop Flash applications in the first place? One potential motivation Xamlon cites is that Microsoft's .Net applications require a significant download to run. The Flash player, by contrast, is a small download that already exists on the vast majority of Internet-connected computers.

Another advantage of Flash applications is that they run on a wide array of operating systems and browsers. A disadvantage for some enterprises: Corporate firewalls sometimes block Flash content.

A major retardant for the growth of Flash-based applications has been the shortage of Flash developers.

San Francisco-based Macromedia developed Flash to produce animations, not applications. Recent additions, such as the Flex development tools and server software, have beefed up Flash's application development credentials, but the number of Flash developers remains dwarfed by the number of Windows developers. And many of those Flash developers are designers, not application developers.

If successful with its Flash edition, Xamlon could wind up helping Macromedia by expanding the pool of application developers creating Flash applications.

"This could be an additive market for Macromedia," said Burton Group analyst Peter O'Kelly. "There's a bunch of developers that Macromedia isn't addressing at all--they live in Visual Studio and want to take advantage of Flash's near universal deployment and the effects you can't use in ASP.net."

Macromedia said it welcomed Xamlon's contribution. Following Macromedia's decision to open up the Flash file format (.SWF) in 1998, more than 100 third-party applications have sprung up that output Flash content, according to the company.

"We're trying to build a large ecosystem here," said David Mendels, executive vice president and general manager for Macromedia's platform group. "We're the leading vendor in this space, and we happen to think that the Flex server and programming model is the best way to do that. But there are different frameworks for building different applications."

Xamlon will release its preview of the Flash Edition on April 6 at the FlashForward2005 conference in San Francisco. It plans a full release by May 3. At some point in the next six months, the company plans to release a version for Java developers.