Power User: Can Flash MX beat .Net?

John McCormick

The latest contenders in the Web wars are Macromedia Inc.'s new MX versions of ColdFusion, Director, Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Flash. The San Francisco software publisher boasts that the XP suite can build what it calls Rich Internet Applications.

For Web site visitors, that means seeing search results and real-time updates without having to reload any pages. It saves bandwidth and makes sites friendlier.

For developers, MX tools are well-integrated with tighter interfaces. The most important tool is ColdFusion MX application server, which sits between a database and a Web server to supply the application logic.

Flash MX works by sending data to a local Flash player as an SWF file. The user can then tap the server information via Action Message Format'binary code that invokes server-side objects. In other words, Flash MX creates interfaces that act like applications. It's striving to become what Java and Dynamic HTML never quite managed to put together: a universal client.

Flash MX developer software includes a Dreamweaver-like editor with built-in debugger, breakpoints and code stepping. Flash MX has grown up as a software development tool. It has the potential to move Web sites to an entirely new level of usefulness and interactivity, and not just in vector-animated ads. Real-time messaging and two-way videoconferencing are potential uses.

Almost all browsers support Flash, so Flash MX could improve everyone's Web experience instead of just generating bandwidth-wasting eye candy. Although I like Macromedia development tools, it has always been in spite of, not because of, Flash.

One fly in the ointment is the recent discovery of a security hole that admits a virus embedded in Flash code. I'm sorry to say that Macromedia at first dismissed it as not that serious.

Microsoft FrontPage has been a longtime player in Web development. Now Microsoft .Net is poised to take over for Web applications development. And Flash MX could be a real competitor.

At the same time, Adobe Systems Inc. is challenging Macromedia's lead in Web development. Adobe Photoshop is tops for image processing, and Acrobat has a strong position in text management.

For government offices, Macromedia's tool collection might be a better fit than Adobe's or Microsoft's, because it focuses on text and business graphics rather than photo images. But for the most part this is a tossup. More photo editors use Photoshop; more Web developers are likely to be familiar with Fireworks. Training time should be minimal if your office moved entirely to Macromedia products, however.

Will Flash MX beat Java? They both handle many of the same tasks but are complementary, so they will probably coexist for a long time.

Can Flash MX challenge .Net? Quite possibly, for many Web sites. The two technologies tackle some of the same jobs but are essentially different. Flash MX makes Web sites interactive for visitors, while .Net ties together enterprise applications for intranets.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at powerusr@yahoo.com.

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