Macromedia Tools Move Beyond Animation - InformationWeek

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Macromedia Tools Move Beyond Animation

New forms environment turns Flash from animation engine to business building block.

Health-care software maker Mitem Corp. has built a user interface for busy physicians in hospital settings, giving them patient information they need from a variety of sources without forcing them to learn a variety of "green screen" computer systems.

The system is called Blue Iris and is in use at Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone, N.Y., and other hospitals. The latest version of Blue Iris was built using Macromedia Inc.'s Flash MX Professional development tool, which lets doctors access information from wherever they can open a browser window, "unchaining them from green-screen computer terminals" typically found in hospital patient systems, says Martin Fincham, VP of marketing at Mitem. In addition, the information presented to a doctor might show patient temperature, blood pressure, and other vital signs based on the latest readings. By clicking on the information, the doctor can get more vital-sign information, stretching back into the patient's history, without switching systems or making queries to a database.

Mitem developers are using Flash MX Professional 2004, introduced this week, to build more enterprise-oriented and less entertainment-oriented applications, Fincham says. Blue Iris now has ways of presenting more information on a single screen, with the capability of expanding the area of the screen that has the information that the doctor is interested in.

In addition to links to other systems, the Blue Iris patient-information system is now developed in a forms environment, where developers build discrete sets of interactions with users, as opposed to Flash's typical time-line-sequence environment used by animations. In a time-line approach, a Flash program is developed to run through a sequence of actions without interruption from start to finish in the browser window. In a forms environment, a doctor may branch off a common pathway and pull up only the screen she is interested in, rather than being forced to go from point A to point B and point C, explains Norm Meyrowitz, president of Macromedia products. In the past, enterprise developers have not taken the Flash MX development tool seriously because it was best known for creating animated applications that run in the browser. "That time-line metaphor was more alien to professional developers" than a forms-based approach that mimics Microsoft's Visual Basic environment, says Fincham. Flash is best known for generating those sometimes irritating animations in a Web-based user presentation. "Flash MX has enabled us to deliver rich applications that you expect on a desktop, but we can cast them in a Web browser," says Fincham.

The change to a forms environment is one of many changes to Flash MX and other elements of the Macromedia Web-site product line introduced this week. Dreamweaver MX 2004 now supports Cascading Style Sheets, a World Wide Web Consortium standard since 1997, which sets and then implements a set of style conventions on a set of Web pages. Cascading Style Sheets "are difficult to use to author pages. You need a WYSIWYG tool to use them," says Meyrowitz, and Dreamweaver MX now provides one.

Dreamweaver MX also includes MX Elements for HTML, or user interface components and effects that allow one view of information to dissolve or blur into another, and other special effects. Dreamweaver MX 2004 is priced at $399. Flash MX 2004 is priced at $499. Studio MX 2004, a Macromedia integrated development environment that includes Dreamweaver MX, Flash MX, and graphics optimization application Fireworks MX, is priced at $899. All products are slated to be available in September.

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