Macromedia unveiled on Thursday a new, low-cost development environment that links the Eclipse open-source framework with the company's Flash multimedia technology.

The new tool, called Flex Builder 2, enables developers to use the Eclipse environment to build Internet applications that incorporate content from Macromedia Flash Professional 8, the most recent release of Macromedia's authoring tool for multimedia content. The company also unveiled Flash Player 8.5, the latest client that runs Flash-based applications.

Flex Builder 2 and Flash Player 8.5 will be available in alpha versions on October 17, according to the San Francisco-based company. A full version of Flex Builder 2 is expected to be available in the first half of 2006 at a price less than$1,000 per developer. That price will include the ability to develop, compile and deploy Flex applications with no added charges or server licensing required, making the tool more affordable for professional developers of all levels, according to Macromedia.

Macromedia first unveiled its Flex tool in March 2004 as a way for enterprise developers working in object-oriented programming environments such as Java and .NET to build applications that feature multimedia Flash-based content. However, the pricing for the tool -- $12,000 per two CPUs -- is prohibitive for developers who do not work for large enterprises.

Flex Builder 2 will expand the number of developers that can use the Flex environment to build extensible applications incorporating rich media content, said David Mendels, general manager for Macromedia, in a press statement.

Long a leader in the Web-authoring tools market, Macromedia is facing increased pressure from rival Microsoft, which recently unveiled a set of design and development tools aimed at directly competing with the popularity of Flash and other Macromedia software. At its Professional Developers Conference last month, Microsoft took the wraps off the new suite, Microsoft Expression, which is available now as a Community Technology Preview. Expression is expected to ship next year.

In addition to its new toolset and Flash client, Macromedia Thursday also unveiled a set of software accessories for the Flex development environment. Flex Framework 2 is the latest programming model and component library for Flex. Flex Enterprise Services 2 are a set of data services, automated testing support and an open adapter architecture for integrating data-intensive Internet applications with enterprise applications. Macromedia also introduced Flex Charting Components 2, a set of extensible code snippets for data visualization in Flex.