Macromedia later this month will release an early version of a tool that ties Flash authoring to the Eclipse open-source development tool.

Formerly code-named Zorn, Macromedia’s Flex Builder 2 will let a programmer use Eclipse, a popular open-source platform that many tools vendors have standardised on. The new product allows developers to build what Macromedia are calling Rich Internet Applications on top of the Flash player.

The change is significant because developers will not have to become familiar with Macromedia-specific tool features, said Kevin Lynch, the chief software architect at Macromedia.

“This is a big change here. Any coder here can write rich Internet applications and target the Flash player. This will hopefully open up Flash to a whole lot more developers,” Lynch said. He said there are currently 2 million people doing Flash authoring; the company hopes to enlist a million more.

According to Mark Blair, server product manager, Asia Pacific the free alpha download is part of the company’s mass adoption strategy. So far, the Macromedia has lacked developer support for Flex with many Web programmers using the popular AJAX stack of technologies to deliver rich applications through Web browsers.

Blair told Builder AU he hopes developers will test the Eclipse-based tools and will help fuel the debate between using AJAX or Flex. According to Blair the Flex architecture is superior to AJAX in many cases including visual effects, use of bandwidth, audio visual integration and real-time calls to the server.

Macromedia also announced the availability of an alpha version of the next Flash Player. The update of the Flash Player supports the latest ECMA standards in ActionScript 3.0, a similar language to JavaScript, a popular scripting language for Web developers.

The free version of the alpha will be available for download on Oct. 17. The company expect the final version of Flex Builder 2 to be released in the first half of 2006. It is currently planned to cost less than $1000 per developer.