Macromedia expands base with Meteor deal

28 Jul 2005

Web design and publishing software firm Macromedia has closed a deal with Meteor, which will see the mobile operator use its Breeze web conferencing and online training software via a hosted service. The deal is understood to be worth an estimated €25,000 a year.

The contract is the latest in a growing number of enterprise deals signed by Macromedia, whose products include leading web design package Dreamweaver, ubiquitous animation program Flash and web application toolkit Cold Fusion.

Meteor plans to use Breeze to rapidly update sales staff on key commercial information such as tariff and handset changes.

“Meteor had the classic problem of how to train lots of people spread all over the country within a very short time frame. Breeze allows it to do this,” said Ann O’Sullivan, Irish country manager for Macromedia, who also revealed in an interview with the company had appointed Midia as a second distributor in Ireland in addition to Microwarehouse.

Breeze is a web-conferencing tool that, because it runs on Flash — already found in 98pc of web browsers — requires no extra plug-in software on the part of users. It incorporates voice over internet protocol, videoconferencing, PowerPoint slides, the ability to view and annotate documents and to screen share, allowing colleagues in separate locations to see and work on the same document. Existing users of Breeze in the Irish marketplace include Blanchardstown Institute of Technology and haulage firm Hireco.

The product is available in two formats: a hosted service and stand-alone product. Meteor is to use the hosted version, whereby Macromedia hosts Meteor’s training materials on its servers and Meteor employees access them via a web browser. The system also allows Meteor to see which individuals completed the course and how many questions they answered, thus allowing it to measure the success of the programme and devise ways in which it can be improved.

According to Ian Turner, managing director of Macromedia Northern Europe, the creators of the training materials don’t need any technical knowledge; they can simply create them using a Microsoft PowerPoint plug-in to Breeze and then upload them to the site.

“In the e-learning environment most of the content is created by developers. But if I’m the domain expert on mobile phone price tariffs, I shouldn’t have to hand off to a technical expert to produce the training materials. But we can all use PowerPoint, so Breeze puts the content creation in the hands the domain expert,” he told during a visit to Dublin yesterday.

Two years ago Macromedia embarked on a strategy to push products such as Breeze to help it shed its image as a box shifter to the design and publishing sectors and address the largely untapped enterprise market for its products. As a result, enterprise sales now account for about 30-40pc of new company revenues.

Macromedia Flash player is one of most widely used software programmes in the world, being installed on an estimated 500 million PCs. Despite becoming somewhat reviled as the software behind gratuitous animation such as the intro or ‘splash’ pages on countless websites, the product has evolved and matured into something of much greater substance, believed Turner.

Both Breeze and sister product Flex — which allows developers to build sophisticated web applications based on Flash — were evidence of this change, he said, and meant this technology could be taken seriously by even large businesses building web-based applications.

O’Sullivan lightheartedly noted the evolving customer base had come as something of a culture shock to the T-shirt and sandals culture of Macromedia. “People wear shirts and ties at Macromedia now whereas a year or two ago we didn’t,” she said, while Turner noted the move into the enterprise market required a tactful approach: “The challenge is you’ve got to get into the new Macromedia but you don’t want to disenfranchise the traditional business.”

The other strand of Macromedia’s growth strategy has been to extend its franchise into the mobile market — making Flash as prevalent on mobile handsets as it currently is on PCs. In the past two years, the company has signed original equipment manufacturer agreements with 100 wireless device manufacturers, including market leaders such as Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Motorola, which have factory installed the software on their handsets.

“We’ve already sold some 400 million licences that are being rolled out on mobile phones worldwide,” said Turner. “Japan is about two years ahead of the US and we’re about in the middle in Europe. Nearly every phone [Japanese mobile operator] NTT DoCoMo ships has got Flash on it.”

If Macromedia’s strategy is successful, Flash will become the de-facto design tool for the thousands of software programmers developing the user interface (UI) of a plethora of mobile phones and other wireless devices. “There is not that many developers who can code for, say, the Motorola Razr whereas if the UI running on that device is Flash, there are a million developers who can code for that,” said Turner.

Where this might eventually lead, suggested Turner, is that mobile operators could have their own branded UIs running across all the different phones they offered for sale. “So if you ring the operator’s call centre and say I can’t figure out how to put the call divert on, it’s going to be same on every single phone. This is where they want to get to ultimately and pretty much the only way to do that today is Flash. It’s the only technologies that runs across all those [mobile phone] platforms.”

As a result of this strategy, Turner claimed the market for Flash-based content was “growing exponentially” especially in Japan.

He added other electronic devices such DVD players, set-top boxes and internet fridges — in fact any device that needs to communicate information to the user — could be transformed and improved using Flash. “A lot of the existing UIs are not very intuitive and because people are familiar with using Flash-based animations on their laptops and PCs, Flash can be brought on to these devices to make things easier. And the fact it’s an animation medium as well, movement and sound just makes it more usable.”

Turner was speaking ahead of the upcoming global launch of the latest version of Macromedia’s Studio portfolio, a bundled offering incorporating many of the firm’s key products. It replaces the existing Studio MX product line, which was launched in September 2003.

The company is currently in the middle of a friendly takeover by larger publishing software house Adobe, an acquisition that is due to be completed by the autumn. Until the takeover is completed, it would be “business as usual” for Macromedia, Turner said, with the company’s focus firmly on the upcoming launch.

By Brian Skelly