Today you can find current weather on the Web, then use instant messaging to warn your friends at their PCs and cell phones that a downpour's on the way. As early as next year, you may be able to do both of these - plus find a movie theatre where you can take shelter from the storm, and blog the entire experience - in a browser-free software environment that combines Web and IM functions.
America Online and Macromedia are working together to integrate instant messaging with Web and wireless applications. They plan to offer a Software Development Kit early in 2004 that will let developers work features of AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ into a software environment called Macromedia Central. The two companies announced their partnership this week at the Macromedia Developers Conference.
Macromedia Central, announced earlier this year, is based on Macromedia Flash. It can deliver Web or network content to PCs or wireless devices without requiring an open browser window. Central applications can be automatically updated with new information such as current weather, news, or movie listings. The Software Development Kit was a step toward integrating messaging and presence with Macromedia applications, Macromedia's chief software architect, Kevin Lynch, said.
"This is a renaissance in application development," Lynch said.
Central and IM go together "like chocolate and peanut butter", senior vice-president and general manager of AOL desktop messaging, Edmund Fish, said. "Presence and communication are core capabilities. Those same powerful features of IM can be used in other applications."
Fish foresaw IM working with Central applications such as Macromedia Movie Finder.
"You've just found a movie that looks great, then you want to know if your friends want to go," he said. Macromedia Movie Finder already uses one interface to search film ratings at Rotten Tomatoes, check show times though Tribune Media, and buy tickets through Fandango; adding IM would allow you to round up your friends through the same interface.
The possibilities extend beyond simply tossing your AIM Buddy List into other applications.
"The partnership opens the door for developers to build applications that add context through online forums such as discussion groups, virtual classrooms, and multiparty chat," Lynch said.
The partners plan to also add IM to Central application BlogReader, so blog keepers can broadcast their presence status to readers.
A reader could look at the presence monitor and opt to IM the keeper instead of taking the slower routes of posting a comment or sending an email message. However, due to security concerns, Central will not allow file transfers through IM.
AIM and ICQ users would retain their accustomed screen names in the Central environment, AOL's director of product management for AIM, Jamie Odell, said.
Central will offer Flash versions of AIM and ICQ.
In return, AIM will promote Central and make it easy to download and install that program.
The IM clients "will look remarkably similar," Fish said.
AOL wouldn't alter that user interface, Lynch said. It was very seamless."
Central is available for both commercial and non-commercial application development. An early Developer Release of Central is already available at Macromedia's Web site. Some third-party Central applications may be out late this year. Developers can decide to create either commercial or non-commercial applications.