Macromedia has released the developer version of Macromedia Central.

This is a software environment that lets users access distributed information from desktop computers and handheld devices using XML (Extensible Markup Language) and Web services. The company also announced the addition of instant-messaging (IM) capabilities to Central through a partnership with America Online (AOL)

Based on Macromedia Flash, Central gives users continuous access to information distributed over a network or the Internet, whether or not a user is connected. Users can access the service through the installation of a Central client on a computer or Macromedia Flash Player 6 on a handheld device, according to information posted on Macromedia's Web site. When a user is connected to the network, Central automatically downloads the most up-to-date information, which can be accessed when the user is offline, it said.

Central also enables developers to distribute their applications through a "Try/Buy" capability, which automates the process of trying and purchasing applications, the company said.

The runtime environment includes application programming interfaces (APIs), a console for notifications, pods (smaller containers for application data), and persistent agents that manage data in the background, Macromedia said.

Alongside the Developer Release of Macromedia Central, the company also announced the availability of a software development kit (SDK) for Central. The SDK includes user-interface components, a debug panel, Flash authoring templates, source code for sample applications, libraries of application graphics and icons, documentation for APIs, and APIs and other development tools for AOL's IM platform, the company said.

This allows developers to integrate the chat and presence capabilities of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and ICQ with Central-based applications, Macromedia said. Developers will be able to use AOL's IM platform to offer discussion groups, virtual classrooms and multi-party chat, it said.

In addition, AOL will promote Central on its AIM client, making it easier for users to install the software on their PCs, it said.