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Chapter 26. Flash and Shockwave

Flash is a ground-breaking multimedia format developed by Macromedia. Flash gives you the ability to create full-screen animation, interactive graphics, and integrated audio clips, all at remarkably small file sizes. Its magic lies in the fact that it is a vector-based format (rather than bitmap), resulting in extremely compact files well suited for web delivery. Vector graphics define objects with mathematical formulas that require far less data than describing each individual pixel of a bitmap image.

Flash began its life as FutureSplash, an animated vector technology by a company named FutureWave. Macromedia acquired FutureSplash in 1997 and developed it into the robust multimedia tool it is today.

Flash movies (.swf ) are created using Macromedia's Flash authoring tool. Flash (the application) includes tools for illustration, animation, interaction sequencing, sound editing, and a scripting engine. Flash 5, the latest version as of this writing, offers an improved interface and advanced scripting capabilities (ActionScript), making Flash one of the most versatile and powerful formats for web multimedia. For more information (and to download a demo copy), visit Macromedia's site at http://www.flash.com.

Shockwave for Director is another multimedia format from Macromedia that allows rich CD-ROM-like multimedia interfaces created in Director to be published on the Web. Director is a powerful tool for synchronizing video, animation, and sound into a complex interactive presentation. While Director Shockwave movies are much smaller than their Director counterparts, they tend to be much larger than Flash movies and are therefore not as well suited for web delivery. In its favor, Shockwave movies can take advantage of the sophisticated Lingo scripting language for complicated interactions (such as games) and presentations. They can also contain QuickTime movies, MIDI audio, and other formats that Flash doesn't support.

This chapter looks at both of these multimedia formats, but it focuses on Flash primarily because it is the most popular and appropriate format for the Web.

26.1. Using Flash on Web Pages

Flash movies can be placed on a web page, or they can be used as a web page.Moreover, with the advanced scripting capabilities introduced in Flash 5, the uses for Flash movies are limited only by imagination. Some possibilities include:

Splash page animation

Interactive navigation toolbars

Animated ad banners

Interactive and zoomable maps

Interactive games

Complex applications (such as shopping), tied into a database on the server

Interactive forms

A whole web site interface, taking the place of traditional HTML pages


Music videos

A "jukebox" interface for playing MP3 files

While Flash introduces a number of significant improvements over what can be accomplished using just HTML, there are a few drawbacks to using Flash as well. Let's look at the pros and cons of using Flash on a site.

26.1.1. Advantages

Many aspects of the Flash file format make it ideal for adding interactive content to web pages:

26.1.2. Disadvantages

And on the downside . . .

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