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Flash heads to handhelds

To promote the development of Flash-based applications, Macromedia has released its Flash Player for Pocket PC-based handhelds to developers.

    To promote the development of Flash-based applications, Macromedia released its Flash Player for Pocket PC-based handhelds to developers Monday.

    The player, available free for download, lets programmers get a jumpstart on writing Flash-based applications. Pocket PC is Microsoft's operating system for handheld computers, such as Compaq Computers's iPaq, Casio's Cassiopeia and Hewlett-Packard's Jornada.

    The release is part of Macromedia?s larger strategy to expand the use of Flash beyond the desktop PC. Although the company says its Flash product reaches 96 percent of Net surfers, the handheld market is quickly replacing PCs as the hottest growth area. Macromedia is looking to cash in on the opportunity.

    Recent sales data shows that Macromedia could use a boost. According to PC Data, the company's overall retail sales in January grew by 11 percent, compared with an 80 percent surge during the same period last year. In contrast, its Flash sales grew by a solid 42 percent in January.

    "With the PC market collapsing, it's not a good place for anyone to be limited to," said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group. "With the Pocket PC being the only true multimedia platform, it's a natural market for Macromedia to attack aggressively."

    Brian Schmidt, Macromedia's product manager for embedded Flash, said the Flash Player has already begun moving beyond the PC and is available on select Internet appliances, AOLTV and Microsoft's WebTV.

    "A lot of analysts are predicting non-PCs sales are going to overtake PC sales, and we see this as a great opportunity for Flash," Schmidt said.

    Macromedia has sought other opportunities for growth as well. In January, the company merged with Allaire, a move executives said would expand the company's audience from Web authors using its products, such as Flash and Dreamweaver, to Web developers who build sites using server software such as Allaire's ColdFusion and Jrun.

    But several analysts subsequently downgraded the company's stock over concerns about a smooth merger transition. Since the beginning of the year, the company's stock has fallen 44 percent from $54 to $30.

    Macromedia also announced Monday a $100 rebate on its Macromedia Flash 5 software. The rebate lasts through March 31. Aimed at new customers, the rebate will only be available to people buying the entire software package and not those looking to upgrade.

    And hoping to make its products available to the widest possible audience, Macromedia will also announce that its Flash 5 player is available for Linux and Solaris operating systems, in addition to Windows and Macintosh. Previous versions of the player have been compatible with these platforms as well.