Maximizing Interoperability With ColdFusion MX
Macromedia's ColdFusion MX Server is one of the best examples of an application server that succeeds without following the big general software systems Java/J2EE or Microsoft .NET step for step. Macromedia has redesigned its ColdFusion server package, building it with Java and in compliance with J2EE 1.3, but has made it also able to fit into .NET technology.
Even better, we found ColdFusion MX moving significantly further toward of distinguishing itself as a server for graphics- and media-oriented Web development. This is no surprise since Macromedia is one of the leaders in the multimedia market, and ColdFusion (which prior to Macromeida's merger with Allaire had been owned by Allaire) has a long history of server-side scripting and application management.
While this is a review of the application server that is an integral part of ColdFusion MX Server, it is important to understand that the key to the ColdFusion approach is the scripting language ColdFusion Markup Language (CFML). This tag-based language began as a very popular way of overcoming the data-handling limitations of HTML, and it has grown through the years into a more or less complete Web developer's language for server-side programming.
The server associated with ColdFusion began long before the name "application server" was coined, and it was operated as a process running under a Web server that interpreted the CFML tags and handled connections to databases.
ColdFusion does a lot more than that now.
Under the ColdFusion MX banner, the integral application server is a variant of the Macromedia JRun server, written in Java and compliant with J2EE 1.3. It comes in two editions: Professional (for departmental and workgroup applications) and Enterprise (for demanding, large-scale applications).
Cold Fusion is a very easy application server to install and manage. Small footprint, relatively uncomplicated security, and administrative options help it to consume fewer resources (both man and machine) than some of its big competitors. It still has some heavy-duty features such as connection pooling and thread management and performs well, especially with database connections. One of the new features is an engine for Web services, which, combined with some CFML code (using new ColdFusion Components), makes creating and consuming Web services about as easy as any similar package on the market. Underlying the Web services capability is a built-in XML parser and other features that keep this application server close to par with similar .NET and J2EE servers.
The specs, performance, and management of the ColdFusion MX server are good but are not the highlight of the package. What makes this application server special is the linkage between it, CFML, and the capabilities in other Macromedia MX products: Macromedia Dreamweaver MX combines the features of the now defunct ColdFusion Studio with the multimedia tools of Dreamweaver to make a powerful Web application development environment.
Macromedia Flash MX provides the streaming media kick that supports Flash ActionScript that can either be called from within CFML or used as a server-side script. Both Dreamweaver MX and Flash MX are fully supported by the ColdFusion MX Server. We barely touched the surface of this combination in our testing, and still found it full of useful and relatively accessible features.
The ColdFusion MX server itself adds to the multimedia capability with an improved charts and graphs module, and it has long included the Verity search engine for indexing Web site content. By combining Java and Macromedia elements, ColdFusion MX Server is a quasi-open or semi-proprietary environment -- depending on how you choose to look at it. In this case, because of the special links to other Macromedia tools, the proprietary aspect that comes with the territory should be expected.
While ColdFusion MX Server is fitted in the enterprise edition with some powerful features (e.g., server clustering), it cannot (and apparently is not intended to) compete directly with all the features of that the leading application servers have. For Macromedia, the popularity and effectiveness of CFML is a more important element of the system than the application server itself, which accounts for the new Macromedia ColdFusion MX for J2EE Application Servers. This version allows CFML to connect with IBM WebSphere, Sun ONE Application Server and, shortly, BEA WebLogic.
Macromedia ColdFusion MX Server may not be the ultimate application server for general Web applications, but it does have the chops for the multimedia environment near and dear to the Macromedia developer. As such, it's a welcome alternative to .NET or J2EE application servers and points to ways that specialized servers can compete in this important market.
Pros: 7 Provides a unique multimedia oriented application server when combined with other Macromedia products; 7 Low resource consumption and relatively easy to manage; 7 Excellent pricing for the value, especially the Professional edition.
Cons: 7 Learning the main tools of the application server, CFML, and the new ColdFusion Components represents a major learning curve for those familiar with more-mainstream object-oriented languages.
Version Reviewed: 6.0
Date Reviewed: 6/26/02
Reviewed by: Nelson King