Devin Scheller - 1 Macromedia’s Flash Explored Macromedia’s Flash is utilized every day by millions of people. Some people are creating Flash based websites while others are viewing such creations. Application of Flash is apparent in two different ways. First, Flash can be used to create entire sites. A site entirely created with Flash will be completely interactive. On the other hand, Flash can add interactive elements to html coded websites making ordinary HTML based websites more interesting and appealing to its audience. Flash is everywhere on the World Wide Web, but where did it start, who created it, and why was it created? Flash all started with a man named Jonathan Gay and his dream of being an Architect. He designed sketches of houses but was not an actual architect so could not see his creations spring to life. This inability to see his architectural designs in real life led him to programming. He realized that through programming he would be able to see such designs on the computer screen without having to be an actual architect (1). Gay’s first computer designing program was written in Pascal; it was called “SuperPaint.” This program was only used for drawing though, which makes it far removed from Flash. A step closer to flash though was “Airborne!” This game utilized digital sound and actual animation (1). The creation of this game seems to be where Flash has its roots. Flash incorporates animation and sound to create interactive multimedia on the internet. Gay’s game, “Airborne!,” also incorporated sound, animation, and interactivity of a human with a computer. Gay’s next game, “Dark Castle,” was a big hit and the money it generated got him through college. After graduating from college, Gay went to work for Silicon Beach Devin Scheller - 2 Software full time. Working for this company is where he created his next game, “Beyond Dark Castle” (1). The creation of these two games furthered his understanding of combining animation with sound. Taking a step back into the past and away from game creation, Gay would create “SuperPaint II” and “Intellidraw.” However, these drawing applications were never destined to be hits and their modest success would lead Gay to take a huge leap. He would leave Silicon Beach Software and start his own company (1). With the financial help of Charlie Jackson, Gay started FutureWave Software. The company was up and running in January of 1993. Gay realized that drawing with a joystick was hard and that Apple’s mouse would make computer drawing easier, but that wasn’t good enough. He set out to “… make drawing on the computer as easy as drawing on paper” (1). Due to a turn of unfortunate events the product Gay created, “SmartSketch,” had little success. Although it was unsuccessful Gay received a lot of feedback about “SmartSketch.” The feedback suggested that Gay change his product from a drawing utility into an animator. Gay was interested in this idea but realized that the market for such an application was very small. Also, the only possible means of distributing animation was through VHS or CD-ROM. Fortunately for Gay the best distribution method currently possible was just about to unfold (1). This distribution method was known as the internet. It seemed likely that the internet would become popular and people would want to display graphics and animation (1). If the internet were to become popular Gay would have an excellent means of distributing his product. People from all over the world would be able to us his product Devin Scheller - 3 to create animation. The internet would provide an audience with numbers equal to the people of the world with access to a computer and the internet. This created “a market for FutureWave to create a profitable two dimensional computer animation product” (1). Thus work began to modify “SmartSketch” so that it could animate. Since the product didn’t have a big company to back it and there were multiple drawing programs already in existence, “SmartSketch” was modified to have almost no drawing elements that didn’t involve animation in some way or another. The program was renamed “CelAnimator.” However, this name made the product seem as though it would be solely used to create cartoons, so the name was once again changed. The product soon after received its final name: “FutureSplash Animator” (1). Gay’s company however feared that with such a small name attached to their product, it would not generate the attention it deserved. They decided to demonstrate the potential of the product to larger companies in hopes of selling the rights to it, not just individual copies. Much to Gay’s surprise, “FutureSplash Animator” was not liked by potential buyers. In October of 1995, the company attempted to sell “FutureSplash Animator” to Adobe. Adobe was not impressed with the slow demo they we’re shown and declined the offer. In December of 1995, “FutureSplash Animator” was almost sold to Fractal Design, but they eventually declined the offer (1). Realizing that no big name was going to take an interest in “FutureSplash Animator,” they put the product out on their own. Eventually interest in the product began to develop (1). “FutureWave's biggest success was in August of 1996, when Microsoft was working on their web version of MSN and they wanted to create the most television like experience possible on the Internet, FutureSplash was their solution. Devin Scheller - 4 FutureWave's other high profile client besides Microsoft was Disney Online. Disney was using FutureSplash to create animation and interface for their subscription based online service Disney's Daily Blast.” (1). FutureWave’s big break came in November of 1996. Macromedia offered that they work together on “FutureSplash Animator.” In December of 1996 FutureWave accepted the offer. “FutureSplash Animator” would become Macromedia Flash 1.0 (1). Flash is now in its fifth version and “…has become synonymous with animation on the Internet” (4). Being the leader in animation on the internet is quite the title to hold. Why is Flash so popular? What sort of benefits make it so popular? “With Flash, you no longer need to worry about which browsers your page will render correctly in and which will choke on it. Your page renders the same way -- correctly -- in all browsers” (2). The fact that Flash looks the same in every browser is Internet gold. A major problem with designing web pages in HTML is that your web page can look aesthetically pleasing in a certain browser and look absolutely horrid in another. In worse case scenario, your page might not even work at all. Let’s not even worry about what web browser your viewer is using, let’s just think about the size of the web browser. Is your user’s web browser maximized? Or maybe your user has their web browser only take up half the screen so they can utilize the rest. What shape your user’s web browser is in means absolutely nothing to Flash. “Because of Flash's vector rendering it has the ability to adjust the entire screen size based on the browser size and while doing so keep your images and text clean and unpixelated. This will become more of an advantage as people surf the web from Devin Scheller - 5 alternative sources other than a desktop computer, such as a PDA, mobile phone, car display or wrist-watch” (2). If that wasn’t good enough, try modifying the browser size while running a Flash movie. What would happen? “Flash gives you the ability to display data as part of an ever-changing process without having to reload or refresh the page! That’s right -- the data can change without even so much as a flicker from the browser” (2). For these reasons it is apparent how versatile Flash is. This versatility allows for wide spread distribution and usability. This is most likely a main reason for Flash’s popularity. Another strength that might account for Flash’s popularity would be it’s versatility in importation of multimedia. “Flash allows you to integrate any multimedia file format into your site. For example, bitmap image formats (such as, GIF, JPEG, PNG, PCT, TIF), vector image formats (including FreeHand files, EPS, Illustrator files), and… sound formats (WAV, AIF, MP3) can all be imported into a Flash movie” (2). Being able to easily and effectively import multimedia into a webpage makes Flash very useful, as the Internet is one of the top means for transfering multimedia. One of the biggest strengths of Flash comes not from how well it can perform certain tasks, but instead stems from one of the actual tasks that Flash can perform. Since Flash can be used to provide greater interactivity between the user and a website, it is not surprising that many games are created using Flash. Examples of these games are apparent all over the internet. Let’s say a corporation was attempting to draw in a bigger crowd to their company’s website. Or, let’s say that the corporation is trying to draw in a crowd of people that are from an unusual demographic. What attraction could possibly be better Devin Scheller - 6 than fun? Placing a fun interactive game on your corporation’s website might be the answer. If you were to place this link, http://www.pepsi.co.uk/football/game.asp#, into a web browser, it would bring you to a section of the United Kingdom branch of Pepsi’s website. This section includes an interesting soccer related game where you attempt to score goals while keeping soldiers from stomping on your giant soccer ball kicking hand. While the plan was to find an example of this type of Flash application an unexpected outcome occurred. The outcome was 30 minutes of attempting to beat previous high scores in this silly, yet extremely fun, corporate attraction. This outcome is a shining example of how interactive Flash based games can draw people towards a corporation’s website. Any application on the Internet that involves text has to use fonts. However, in order to view certain fonts, the user has to have the actual font on their computer. A prime example of this would be AOL Instant Messenger. If you have altered your default font and instant message someone that does not have that font installed on their computer, a different font will be displayed on the recipient’s screen. “With Flash you have the ability to embed any font you wish and have it display in the client browser regardless of whether they have the font installed on their machine” (2). While these strengths make Flash a wonderful application, it is not without flaws. Certain aspects of Flash require plug-ins which could curb availability in certain cases. “Flash movies still require a separate plug-in installation in order to run in most browsers. Many companies do not allow their employees to install applications on their computers, which automatically denies some Flash site owners access to a portion of their potential userbase” (2). A real life example of this would be how Shippensburg University Devin Scheller - 7 restricts the installation privileges on certain computers in the Math and Computing Technologies Building. A student attempting to view a web page that required a plug-in for flash may be unable to install the plug-in and not be able to access the information desired. The only way around this would be to minimize the amount of plug-ins your site requires. Otherwise, the user could ask permission from the administrator to download the plug-in. The fact that Flash requires a plug-in may be one of its biggest downfalls. Let’s say a user surfs to a site and has never viewed Flash before. A message appears which informs them that they need to download a plug-in to view the Flash on the web page. The user doesn’t mind and proceeds to download the plug-in. This could be a very fast process if the user has a broadband connection to the internet. However, if they are connecting to the internet using dial-up, this could be a slow and painful process. Slow download times for the Flash plug-in may discourage users from downloading it right away or from downloading it at all. What about the cautious user? Let’s say another user surfs to the same site and also has never viewed Flash before. The same message appears informing them that they need to download a plug-in to view the Flash on the web page. This user has received a wide variety of spyware and viruses from the internet before and declines to download the plug-in. “…some surfers are very cautious about what they download from the internet, and they may see this "Download Now" box as threatening to their system. Some surfers do not even go into sites that require plugins for this reason only” (3). Another flaw of Flash arises when web pages are entirely composed of Flash. “Typical Web search engines (or spiders) cannot index content within Flash movies. If Devin Scheller - 8 you create a 100% Flash-based Website, you may want to provide some text or HTML, displayed or hidden, on your Web pages if you want your content to be indexed by search engines” (2). Having the HTML hidden on your web page is an easy fix to this problem, but it is still a flaw of Flash that needs to be addressed. “However, we can see that search engines are making an effort to embrace Flash,” (2) and some believe that “ in the future we’ll see Flash make an effort to embrace search engines” (2). What if an individual is looking for information to print out? If your website is comprised entirely of Flash there may be a problem. What if the individual is not computer savvy or isn’t very familiar with Flash? “Printing and selecting text in Flash movies is often not as simple (or familiar) to users as that on HTML sites” (2). Certain steps may need to be taken to familiarize users with the steps that need to be taken to print information from a Flash only website. All of Flash’s weakness seem to be minor and don’t appear to outweigh all of its strengths. “Flash allows for freedom of development not found anywhere else. Flash allows the designer to place objects anywhere they want without having to worry about absolute / relative placement, box model problems, inconsistencies across browsers, z- indexes, tables-in-tables-in-tables, sliced up graphics and screen resolutions. In Flash you simply place the object on your canvas where you want it and move on” (2). Benefits such as this make Flash a valuable tool in any programmer’s repertoire. Although Flash provides such developmental freedom, what if you don’t know how to utilize such freedoms? What if you are new to Flash? Well just go to the following website for help: http://www.macromedia.com/devnet/mx/flash/ . The Flash website contains a vast quantity of tutorials which can be used to teach all sorts of aspects Devin Scheller - 9 of Flash. Also included on the website are sample programs which can be used to understand how Flash works by seeing actual code. While on the topic of code, how is Flash such a concrete application? Flash is a computer program and thus is created with code. So in order to make Flash better, more stable, and hold together more efficiently, this code needs to be in good shape. To ensure these qualities Flash is constantly updated. The most recent update of Flash is Macromedia Flash MX 2004, which tightened its functionality in many ways. “This update to Flash MX 2004 increases developer productivity by making the application lighter and more efficient to use. The updater offers substantial improvements in performance and stability and more comprehensive documentation, including: faster initial launch time, compile times up to twice as fast, more than 400 additional code examples, additional documentation on working with components, and over 100 bug fixes” (5). A large amount of information needs to be digested in regards to Flash. The preceding history, strengths, weaknesses, applications, etc, were briefly detailed. The tip of the iceberg was explored and if the tip is this detailed then the rest of the iceberg must be enormous. In order to better help you utilize this information, a summary may be useful. Flash was created by Jonathan Gay but wasn’t created in a vacuum. All of his life experience and programming endeavors lead him on the path to creating the application. He has come a long way since his first application, “SuperPaint,” but Flash might not exist if it weren’t for all of these previous applications. We have the hard work of Gay and all of the individuals at Macromedia to thank. Devin Scheller - 10 Why is Flash such a great application? There are many strong reasons for this. For one, Flash is versatile in how it can be viewed. It renders correctly and beautifully in all web browsers. This frees the mind of web programmers to concentrate more on content, rather than on functionality. Flash is also excellent when it works in synch with multimedia. Importation of multimedia into a Flash generated website is very simple. Flash can also be used to create interactive games on websites. This attraction may draw in more customers from a certain demographic, or bring in customers from a completely different demographic. Flash is not without faults however. Flash requires a plug-in in order to run in a web browser. Plug-ins may be time consuming to download, which in turn may discourage people from downloading it. Also, if users are hesitant about the genuineness of the plug-in, they may be hesitant to download. The fear of viruses and spyware is commonplace on the internet today. Search engines are also commonplace on the internet today and many people use them to find the information they are looking for. Search engines are not able to recognize websites that are entirely composed of Flash and HTML will have to be incorporated to fix this problem. Running concurrently with this problem is how to print out information in a website composed entirely of Flash. The steps that need to be taken to do so might not be known to the average user. No computing language is easy to pick up and Flash is no exception. However, detailed documentation is available from Macromedia. They have a multitude of tutorials on their website to help anyone from the average beginner to the expert. Also source code is available for viewing to further understand how Flash works. If you can’t find what you are looking for at Macromedia’s website, then you can turn to the internet. You Devin Scheller - 11 would most likely be able to find the information necessary on any number of websites or in Flash based forums. In the end, Flash is a constantly evolving internet organism. It started out as a single celled amoeba and is now a full fledged multi-cellular organism. People from all over are working every day to improve the functionality of Flash. And people aren’t just working to improve the functionality of Flash every day; people are also working to improve the implementation of Flash. Every new Flash application created is another bit of information that makes Flash grow stronger. How well will it hold up in the future? One would hope that all of Flash’s strength will eventually distinguish the weakness making Flash an even better application than it already is. Devin Scheller - 12 Works Cited (1) - Flashmagazine. The Flash History. July 31, 2002. http://www.flashmagazine.com/html/413.htm. (2) - Angeletti, Mark. Search-This. Why Flash Will Never Die. September 14, 2003. http://www.search-this.com/website_design/why_flash_will_never_die_1.aspx. http://www.search-this.com/website_design/why_flash_will_never_die_2.aspx. http://www.search-this.com/website_design/why_flash_will_never_die_3.aspx. (3) - Rohner, Angela. Evrsoft.com. To Flash or Not to Flash? That is the Question…. October 1, 2004. http://developers.evrsoft.com/article/web-design/web-design- tutorials/to-flash-or-not-to-flash-that-is-the-question.shtml. (4) - Macromedia. The History of Flash: The Dawn of Web Animation. http://www.macromedia.com/macromedia/events/john_gay/page04.html. (5) - Macromedia. Macromedia Flash MX 2004 Update. http://www.macromedia.com/software/flash/special/7_2updater/.