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David Becker

Staff Writer, CNET

Macromedia is set to announce an update on Monday to Flex, its server software for adding slick interfaces to Web applications.

Version 1.5 of Flex, set for release in November, will include an expanded menu of components for creating custom interfaces and new tools for turning corporate data into dynamic charts and other graphic representations.

Macromedia launched Flex early this year as part of a broad effort to expand its Flash animation format–once largely associated with blinking banner ads–into a broad foundation for the delivery of Web applications.

Flex is designed to get around one of the perennial sticking points for Flash adoption–the graphical development interface traditionally used to create Flash content. Flex allows Java developers and other non-Flash professionals to work in a familiar text-based environment to create XML (Extensible Markup Language) code optimized for the Flash client software.

“Flex is reaching into the traditional application development community,” said Kevin Lynch, Macromedia’s chief software architect. “They’re able to create a much richer (user interface) using Flex, and they create these interfaces using a text editor, which is the preferred environment for a lot of developers.”

The support for the creation of custom components in Flex also allows design and development teams to work together better, Lynch said. Visually oriented design professionals can create a custom Flash widget for a Web application and hand it off to the development crew to drop into a Web application.

“We’re really focused on enabling those teams to work effectively together,” Lynch said. Design elements are packaged as discrete components, “so people can reuse them very easily.”

Flex 1.5 adds support for additional server environments, including Oracle Application Server 10g, IBM’s AIX Unix and Fujitsu Interstage 6. The new version also allows applications to run outside a Web browser, via Macromedia’s in-development Central project to create a framework for free-standing Flash applications.