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March 27, 2003

Central Thoughts

After we completed the MX products last spring, it was time to begin what I believe is the next logical step--creating a better environment for Internet applications that bridges the gap between the desktop and the web, emerging out of the constraints of the browser. This is the mission for Macromedia Central.

We began by brainstorming about how basic infrastructure has been evolving over the past few years with mobile computing, wireless connectivity, web services and an increasing variety of applications on the Internet. We formed a small team around this and developed a vision of what we believe will make for a great experience over the next few years, combined with what we hope will be an interesting economic ecosystem supporting it.

These are some of the concepts we're working towards:

Instant Delivery. It should be possible to easily find great Internet applications and install them with a single click, while keeping these safely contained so they cannot wreak havok with your computer. Getting applications should be as safe and easy as browsing web pages is today.

Occasionally Connected. People are increasingly mobile and are occasionally connected to the network, occasionally not. Applications should continue working even when offline, and seamlessly take advantage of the network when online. You should be able to be productive regardless of whether you currently have a network connection.

Cooperative Applications. Web applications today are not able to work together as you move from one to another in a browser, and even desktop applications are generally limited to just copy and paste when using them together. It should be possible to unite applications in more useful ways, such as choosing to send a selection in one Internet application as live XML content to another. Users should be able to combine applications in useful ways, building their own connections between them.

Open Data. Information continues to be trapped in 'black boxes' in many applications today, such as spreadsheets. XML is becoming a great way to represent data openly and is becoming widely adopted for this, though we still lack agreement on the format for common information such as contacts, locations, and events. Data should be open enough that many applications can manipulate it, and users can then have their choice of applications which they find most effective in working with information.

Context. Internet applications have little knowledge of the context they're operating within, such as what your current location is, whether you're currently in a meeting, or what other data you're interacting with. Given more knowledge of this context, applications can save users steps and be more relevant. Of course this needs to be balanced with privacy, and users should retain control over where their information is used.

Collaboration. Applications are increasingly a multi-user experience. They are beginning to represent the presence of other people on the Internet, just starting to support collaborative work. Applications should have a common way of integrating communication with others in the context of the application, and be able to share application functionality to enable live collaboration in their use. The Internet is not only about connected web pages, it's about connected people.

There's a white paper (pdf, 300K) that describes these topics further as well as our early steps towards enabling them with Central.

Underlying this is what I believe is a great opportunity for Flash developers to produce many small Internet applications that can be quickly distributed to and possibly bought by users. It contains a transaction infrastructure that enables any developer to easily post an application they've developed on their web site and enable users to discover, install, and if they like, purchase simply in Central.

We're on a mission to enable this new frontier in Internet applications, and we're still in the development stage here. We look forward to thoughts you have on this, and I hope you'll start thinking about what kinds of applications you might make!

27 Mar 03 10:30 AM


Hans Omli says:

Wow. Flash has now fully arrived. Just tell me where to sign so I can begin changing the world of rich internet applications as soon as possible!

Posted by: Hans Omli on 27 Mar 03 02:23 PM

Marc Canter says:

Hey - I'm interested Hans. Are you planning on charging for what you do or giving it away?

Posted by: Marc Canter on 27 Mar 03 05:21 PM

Scott Fitchet says:

Because of the obvious power and future of Flash (or OpenSWF) I'm more interested in a list of what Central will not be able to do ...

how long after the Windows version will a Linux version be released?
how long until it works on available PDAs?
will the device manager specs available
how will it abstract the underlying OS?
what kind of Microsoft Windows applications do you expect it will be able to replace / compete with?
is it mostly a container for Flash MX?

Just curious for more info... ;) thanks! Looking forward to downloading the Beta.


Posted by: Scott Fitchet on 27 Mar 03 08:33 PM

Hans Omli says:

Marc, thanks for your interest. I've got a couple projects in mind that I'd consider charging a nominal fee for, and several others I'd more likely donate to the world... and publish the source for so long as this doesn't violate licensing of the Central SDK. Speaking of which, has Macromedia addressed how licensing will work for the SDK yet?

If I can get my hands on the beta, I'd also consider writing a "Writing my first Central application" article up for DevNet and/or the blog I'm trying to write a Flash interface for (and will definitely get around to much faster as soon as I can get my hands on DRK 3, another great advance for Macromedia!)

Posted by: Hans Omli on 28 Mar 03 01:05 AM

Samuel Christie says:

Collaboration, what a great idea! I mean, it's just great that MM wants its MX users to make collaborative web apps while they continue to hand us versions of Flash that support only single-developer environments. I guess Flash applications just are big enough or important enough to merit having a multi-developer IDE. Maybe someday...

Posted by: Samuel Christie on 28 Mar 03 01:59 PM

Kevin Lynch says:

Hi- good questions. We'll have more info when the beta SDK is available, but here are some answers in the meantime..

We're starting with Windows and OS X platforms initially, and if people like Central we'll bring it wherever Flash Player 6 is (and Flash Player 6 is available for Linux right now). We're also working to bring Central to handhelds, on PocketPC first -- we just released Flash Player 6 for PocketPC yesterday.

I don't expect Central apps will replace or compete with Windows applications -- Central apps are extensions of Internet apps people are starting to interact with in the browser today. Small purpose-built user interfaces to interact with information on the Internet. These will run in Central using the Flash Player, similar to how they do in the browser today.

Samuel, we're working on more support for group development on Flash projects. In Flash MX we worked on this a bit -- you can place all ActionScript in external files which can be edited by different people (this is what we're doing with Central development here for example), and symbols can be reimported and reconciled more easily in MX. We definitely want to make team development easier.

Hans, glad you're interested in developing apps, I'm looking forward to what will be created.

Posted by: Kevin Lynch on 28 Mar 03 02:55 PM

Andrew says:

Kevin, can you comment on how MM's experience with the ill-fated Shockmachine of a coupla years ago has informed this new effort? Shockmachine had a few of the same ideas: allowing Shockwave pieces to be downloaded and stored locally within an environment, a sales channel oppurtunitiy for small developers, and a vision of a unified user experience. As I recall, Shockmachine was a pretty big flop, and lots of Director developers hated the thing viciously.

Posted by: Andrew on 30 Mar 03 11:41 AM

Pandu Rudraraju says:

Kevin, I am excited about the possibility of using Central as a light-weight front-end for Web Services. An entirely new class of services can be delivered to the desktop. What I have in mind is type of functionality assembled on the desktop out of hundreds distributed Web Services. If Central enables this - you have a winner. I can't wait to get hold of the Beta.

How do you compare this with MS InfoPath?

Posted by: Pandu Rudraraju on 03 Apr 03 09:12 PM

Scott Fitchet says:

> I don't expect Central apps
> will replace or compete with
> Windows applications"

The application most people use all day long---from CEOs to grandmothers---is Outlook Express. It hasn't changed much since as far back as I can remember ... (the freedom to innovate!).

I'm sure someone out there is capable of building a more modern replacement in Flash (or Central) although it won't be worth switching to until PC/Mac/Linux are totally synched.

Posted by: Scott Fitchet on 03 Apr 03 11:07 PM

Scott G says:


Congratulations on Central! I have been developing Contact Center CRM applications with Cold Fusion for 4 years now. Our short development time has caused us to compete with and beat our Corporate Standard Siebel CRM developers to the punch on many projects(I presented to the Showcase people but corp legal didn't want to release the 'sensitive application' information). The only thing we have not been able to accomplish is a disconnected client for mobile users such as Field Techs and Field Sales representatives. I believe Central will provide an excellent alternative to the convoluted Siebel environment. I haven't used Flash in a few years, so I guess it's time to brush up and head to Figleaf for some courses.

Scott G

Posted by: Scott G on 01 May 03 11:35 AM

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