Macromedia Flash is a fusion of design and development tools used to produce everything from websites to computer-based training modules. It has a set of richly featured drawing tools and an object-oriented scripting language that when combined can be used to create attractive interfaces with V8 engines (so to speak). What's more, with the introduction of the Flash Lite Player, Flash can be used to create software for mobile devices.
Flash is actually broken up into two separate pieces of software. First is the editing environment, which you use to produce your own software. The second is Flash Player, which interprets, displays, and executes applications distributed as SWF files. (SWF stands for small web file, and although the format is primarily used for delivering web-based applications, it is by no means limited to that.) Whichever way you distribute it, the SWF file format can be viewed only if the end user has Flash Player involved.
Flash 8 Basic and Flash 8 Professional allow you to publish your applications for previous versions of Flash Player, as well as for Flash Lite (for mobile platforms).
So why should you care about Flash? Well, for starters, it's very flexible, and (in fact) extensible, so what it doesn't do out-of-the-box, you can make it do on your own. Better yet, other people have written extensions that you can download and install directly from the Macromedia website. For another, Flash Player is practically ubiquitous, being installed on roughly 97% of web browsing computers worldwide. Flash Player is small, quick and easy to install and update, and freely distributed. Finally, the Flash product is integrated with other Macromedia software, such as Fireworks and Dreaweaver, and other third-party software to streamline your workflow.
For extensions to Flash, go to www.macromedia.com/exchange, and browse the Flash category. Some extensions are free, some you have to buy, and hardly any of them are made by Macromedia. Be sure to check the ratings before you decide to download anything.
There are numerous other reasons to use and care about Flash, all of which you will explore as you move through this training book. So don't panic; those other things you've heard of (such as sharing assets across SWF files and preloading and all that other industry jargon) will be covered.