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America Online on Wednesday said it will open the door for Macromedia software developers to create applications on its AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ products.

Beginning early next year, AOL will offer a software development kit for AIM and ICQ to Macromedia Central, the software maker's initiative that allows its Flash animation to retrieve information without an Internet connection.

Macromedia Central applications can tap information from Web sites while connected to the Internet and then store it on a person's hard drive. The PC user can then launch the application and view the information when offline.

AOL will provide to Macromedia Central its application programming interfaces and development tools for AIM and ICQ. Developers can then integrate the IM software's real-time communications and online presence features into their products.

Macromedia envisions Macromedia Central spawning hundreds of "occasionally connected" applications, such as weather forecasting and movie listing services that grab information whenever an Internet connection is available. Most of the applications will be sold through Macromedia's Web site, with the company taking a small cut and the rest going to developers.

"This partnership opens the door for developers to build applications that add context through online forums such as discussion groups, virtual classrooms, and multiparty chat," Kevin Lynch, Macromedia's chief software architect, said in a statement.

The company also announced Wednesday that Macromedia Central tools for Flash developers, include the Central Software Development Kit, are now available for download from Macromedia.

The deal marks the first time AOL has opened its IM software to third-party developers. The company has long guarded its IM products from any outside influences and has blocked companies from communicating with its millions of users.

AOL offers AIM and ICQ as a free download from the Web and also offers instant-messaging features to its proprietary online service members.

Over the past year, AOL began loosening its messaging policies. In September, it struck a deal to allow Reuters Messenger users to communicate with all of its IM users.

CNET's David Becker contributed to this report.


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