Flash 8 combines many of the key tools for multimedia authoring into one
Flash content is not only found on the Web. For example, it is also used for CD/DVDROM authoring, broadcast graphics, offline interfaces, and business presentations.
Flash 8 is a multifaceted application that can create a wide range of interactive products for the ever-growing variety of Web-enabled devices that surfers use to access the Internet.
Careful planning of Flash development will undoubtedly save you time and effort in the long run.
In This Chapter
Using Flash for Web deployment
Understanding the limitations of Flash
Looking at competing technologies
Preparing to develop Flash content
If you follow the development of "bleeding edge" technology, you may have noticed how often software is created, updated, and made obsolete. At times, this cycle seems to happen almost on a daily basis. But exactly how many practical and affordable options exist for Web development? How can production
Despite the devastation to Web production brought about by the "dotbomb" era (that is, the economic
With every release of a new version of Flash, Web developers have access to bigger and better capabilities. We've seen a vast evolution from the early days in 1997 of mere vector animations, which vastly reduced file sizes of standard GIF animations. In 1998, Flash 3 made a
In 1999, when Flash 4 was introduced, this attitude changed a great deal. The new version was much more powerful, and could accomplish many of the
In 2002, Web designers and developers were handed the
With all of these capabilities, it's hard to imagine that Macromedia could pack anything else into the Flash authoring environment or the Flash Player. But with the release of Flash MX 2004, Macromedia continued its commitment to pushing the Web to a new definition of excellence. Flash Player 7 was overwhelmingly optimized for speed. Everything from video play-back to text rendering to ActionScript performance has been vastly improved over Flash Player 6. This feature alone has encouraged business clients and Web surfers alike to adopt the new player version; everyone loves faster performance. Of course, there was a whole lot more to Flash Player 7. It enabled you to customize the contextual menu (that is, the right-click menu) that's displayed by Flash movies running in the player, and, by default, HTML
Introduce Flash Player 8. Flash Player 8 picks up where Flash Player 7 left off. Flash Player 8 further
In the span of eight
One of the crucial tasks of a Web designer or developer's job is to decide if Flash is the most appropriate tool to achieve the goals of a given project. Consider why you want or need to
With the Flash 8 authoring tool, you can create a wide range of presentation material or develop fully functional applications that run in a Web browser or on handheld devices:
Flash generates very small file sizes while producing
Nearly any multimedia file format can be integrated into Flash. Vector images (such as EPS, FreeHand, Illustrator, and PDF files), bitmaps (GIF, PCT, TIF, PNG, and JPG), sound files (such as WAV, AIF, or MP3), and video (such as AVI and MOV) are all importable into your movies. Plug-in technology or third-party software is not required (although it does exist) to accomplish these imports. Nor is it required to play back your movies in Flash Player 8. Significant editing advantages sometimes exist when using imported files, such as symbol and layer formatting from FreeHand and Fireworks files. These features can be beneficial if you will be working with a client's raw resources.
Precise layouts with embedded fonts are possible with Flash.
Formatting is usually inconsistent when you use HTML to describe page layouts, and formatting can easily vary from one browser to the
Flash Player 8 adds support for crisp-looking text at small point sizes. In previous versions of Flash, most embedded fonts did not display legibly at these sizes. You now have more control over how fonts render at small point sizes.
Text, movies, images, and sound files can be displayed in your movie from a remote
You can incorporate dynamic content into your movie as long as the data source (such as a database or XML file) can be accessed from your host Web server or application server. Flash Player 8 can
Just as you can receive information from a database in your movie, you can send data from your movie to the database. Flash movies can accept user input and send the data to a server. Built-in components make it easier and faster than ever before to build interactive elements that do not require an advanced knowledge of ActionScript. Your forms have the potential to be much more engaging with animation or sound additions. You can also use this technology to track user progression throughout your site and send the information to a database.
With the proper server-side software, you can produce multiuser interactivity. Since Flash 5, you have been able to use XML sockets for transmission of data between a socket server and one or more connected Flash movies. XML operates much faster using Flash Player 6 and higher. Also, with the release of Flash Communication Server MX, developers now have a consistent API to create multiuser applications. Remote Shared Objects, one of the mechanisms employed by Flash Communication Server MX, use an efficient and optimized binary protocol, Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), to broadcast data updates.
Several Flash movies can be loaded into one large container movie.
You can create a master Flash movie and then load many Flash assets into it for each individual area of the interface or presentation. Using this method of asset management enables you to delegate tasks in a team production environment, where several designers and developers can work simultaneously. This workflow also enables you to create byte-optimized large Web sites and applications, in which assets are downloaded on an "as needed" basis while the user
Flash Pro 8 features a Project panel that can tap versioning system software such as Microsoft SourceSafe. The Project panel has several file check-in and
You can dynamically load images and MP3 files using Flash Player 6 or higher. These versions of the Flash Player can load standard JPEG image files and progressively download and play MP3 files. Flash Player 7 can also progressively download Flash Video (.flv) files over the standard Web protocol, HTTP. Flash Player 8 can also load progressive JPEG, PNG, and GIF image formats.
A progressive download is any file type that can be used before the entire file is actually received by the Flash Player. Progressive downloads are usually cached by the Web browser. You can stream MP3 files with the use of Flash Communication Server MX 1.5. This server uses true streaming of all audio and video content, where nothing is cached by the Flash Player or the Web browser.
Creating components in Flash 8 enables developers to form reusable template interfaces or assets for Flash movies.
The components that ship with Flash 8 greatly reduce the development time of interfaces that require common UI elements such as text input areas and radio
Flash 8 uses the .swc file format for components in Flash documents. Components can be precompiled, which means that you cannot edit their internal elements or code unless you have access to the original source .fla file used to create them.
The Flash Player is available on many different platforms and devices, including Windows, Macintosh, Solaris, Linux, OS/2, SGI IRIX, Pocket PC, and even some mobile telephones. Refer to www.macromedia.com/shockwave/download/alternates for the latest version available for these and other alternative platforms. Just about any Web surfer will be able to view Flash content by downloading and installing the latest version of the Flash Player.
Movies can be developed to run presentations of their own, commonly known as Projectors. Projectors are Flash movies running from an embedded player, so you do not need a browser to view or use them. They can be burned onto DVDs or CD-ROMs, or saved to any other media-storage device.
Like HTML pages, content from Flash movies can be sent to a printer.
API in Flash Player 7 or higher ActionScript language offers you the capability to precisely control the layout of the printed page. The quality of the printed artwork and text from Flash movies is
These are only some of the things that Flash movies can do. Regardless of the intent of your production, verifying the use of this software is usually a good idea during preproduction. In the following subsection, we consider situations in which you may not want to use Flash to develop your content.
We'd like to hear how you've come to use Flash technology in your projects. Post your comments at www.flashsupport.com/howdoyouflash .
If you're enthusiastic about Flash and have used Flash for previous Web projects, you can easily develop a bias in favor of Flash. It may even be hard to consider that other options could be better for development. Knowing which technology is best for each solution will assist you in offering the best quality products to your clients.
Flash movies play in a Web browser using a plug-in.
Despite the near ubiquity of the Flash Player, there are still some users who may need to download it. If you're using Flash 8 to create Flash Player 8 movies, many Web
The type and version of a Web browser can affect the functionality of a Flash movie.
While internal ActionScript code should largely
Later releases of Flash Player 6 and all
Web browsers will not automatically redirect to alternative content if the Flash Player is not installed. You, as a developer, are required to create detection mechanisms for the Flash Player.
Flash 8 has an updated detect version option in the Publish Settings. You can learn more about this feature in Chapter 21, "Publishing Flash Movies." To learn how to use this detection feature and other custom detection methods for the Flash Player, refer to Chapter 22, "Integrating Flash Content with Web Pages."
3D file formats cannot be directly imported or displayed in Flash movies. To achieve 3D-style effects, frame-by-frame animation or ActionScript is required. Macromedia Director, however, has built-in features for importing, creating, and manipulating 3D content.
In Chapter 17, "Displaying Video," you learn how a video of a 3D model can be used for 3Dlike effects in a Flash Video.
Typical search engines (or spiders) have a difficult time indexing the content of Flash movies.
When you make Flash-based sites, you should create some alternative HTML content that can be indexed by search engines. If you simply place Flash movies in an
Flash 8 enables you to add metadata to your Flash movie files (.swf). This metadata is added in the Document Properties (Modify ⇨ Document) of the Flash document, and can be published with all Flash Player versions of the document. This metadata can be indexed by search engines to provide better placement of your Flash content within search results.
Flash sites were never
You can add right-click menu support to HTML-styled text containing URL links. For example, this feature of Flash Player 7 and higher movies enables a user to open a link in a new browser window.
In many circumstances, HTML is quicker, easier, and cheaper to develop than Flash content. There are many established applications supporting HTML development, and clients can tap an ever-increasing designer and developer base for cheaper and competitive pricing.
Of course, there are always exceptions to any rule, and these suggestions should be
Now let's focus on Flash's competition in the multimedia authoring arena. This section is not intended to give you a comprehensive background on these technologies. Rather, we seek simply to give you some context of Flash as it exists in the rest of the multimedia world.
Dynamic HTML (DHTML) is a specialized set of markup tags that tap into an extended document object model (DOM) that version 4 browsers or higher can use. Using
tags, you can create animations and interactive effects with Web-authoring tools
Flash Player 7 and higher movies support the use of cascading style sheets (CSS) to share formatting specifications from DHTML pages with Flash text fields. Refer to Chapter 30, "Applying HTML and Text Field Formatting," for an introduction to this feature.
XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language. XML looks like HTML, but it's really a language that can manage structured or
Originally, Macromedia's flagship product, Director, was the multimedia powerhouse authoring solution. Since its inception in the 1980s, Director has had the benefit of many years to establish its mature interface and development environment. Director can integrate and control many media types, including video, audio, and entire Flash movies. Director also has an Xtras plug-in architecture, which enables third-party developers to expand or enhance Director's capabilities. For example, you can use an Xtra plug-in to tap hardware-specific input and output, such as a motion detector or pressure-sensitive plate connected to the computer's serial port. More recently, Director 8.5, MX, and MX 2004 have added true 3D modeling support. You can create Shockwave games with textured models and lighting effects! However, there are two major drawbacks to Shockwave Director: It requires a larger download for the full player installation, and the player is available only for Windows and Macintosh platforms. Director remains a popular authoring tool for CD-ROM and DVD-ROM development.
Authorware, like Flash, was originally a technology developed by another company and then bought by Macromedia to add to its software lineup. Since this acquisition, Macromedia has significantly developed the features and capabilities of Authorware. It is an authoring application and a companion plug-in technology, with similar audio/video integration capabilities as Macromedia Director. However, Authorware was developed with e-learning in mind. You can use it to structure training solutions and monitor student learning. We mention Authorware as a potential competitor to Flash because many Flash developers use Flash to create Webtraining modules that interact with server-side databases.
The Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format is widely supported by some of the largest
PowerPoint is usually considered a tool for making offline presentations to show in business meetings, conferences, and
SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language) also looks a lot like HTML markup tags. SMIL enables you to layer several media components in SMIL-compatible players such as the RealOne Player and the QuickTime Player. You probably have seen SMIL at work when you load the RealOne Player and see the snazzy graphics that compose the channels interface. With SMIL, you can layer interactive buttons and dynamic text on top of streaming video or audio content. You may not even think of SMIL as a competing technology, but rather a complementary one Flash can be one of the multimedia tracks employed by SMIL! You can even use Flash as a track type in QuickTime, without the use of SMIL. When Flash 4 was released, Macromedia and Apple announced QuickTime Flash movies, which enable you to create Flash interfaces that layer on top of audio-video content. The RealOne Player will also play "tuned" Flash files directly, without the use of SMIL. A tuned Flash file is weighted evenly from frame to frame to ensure synchronized playback. Note, however, that
Several multimedia companies are developing proprietary plug-in-based authoring tools for Web multimedia. To participate in a discussion of multimedia formats, check out the forum at www.flashsupport.com/mediaformats/ .