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Flash includes server connectivity features that give it scriptable data binding for Simple Object Access Protocol Web services and XML, helping developers connect Flash applications to remote services. Flash's video editing and encoding capabilities have been enhanced, and several plug-ins allow integration with popular third-party editing tools. The ActionScript language used with Flash is at Version 2.0, and the package now supports Cascading Style Sheets.

Having lots of animation can mean big files, which translates into longer download and start times. Flash's popularity has been driven in large part by the small size of Flash files and the relative ease of development. One way that Flash accomplishes this is with "tweened" animation, where the artist specifies key frames as completely as needed and then lets the software automatically generate the frames in between. The result is that, compared with many other plug-ins (including Java, Acrobat Reader, QuickTime or Windows Media), the Flash Player is quite small and initializes very quickly.

Another reason for Flash's wide use is the fact that it's a relatively open and stable format. Macromedia has released the specifications of the basic Flash file format, and thus a number of third-party tools have been created to work with and create Flash movies.

Flash's vector-based graphics are drawn with mathematical formulas; when you resize a vector-based image, its formula is recalculated to produce a scaled version of the image without distortion, which can be introduced when scaling bit-mapped images.

History of Flash

In 1995, a small software start-up, FutureWave Software Inc., decided to add animation capabilities to its pen-based computing graphics package. The advent of the plug-in application programming interface for Netscape Communications Corp.'s browser enabled it to achieve decent performance, and FutureSplash Animator was brought onto the market in 1996. Its timing was good, and two important and developing Web sites adopted the new animation technology—Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and Disney Online.

The Walt Disney Co. was also working with Macromedia's Shockwave package, and it was through Disney that Macromedia learned enough about the compact animation tool to want it for itself. In December 1996, FutureWave Software was sold to Macromedia, and FutureSplash Animator became Macromedia Flash 1.0.

Flash has since become synonymous with Internet animation, and its creator, Jonathan Gay, opines that Flash Player may now be the Internet's most widely distributed piece of software, with more users than Microsoft Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator and Real Player.

Kay is a Computerworld contributing writer in Worcester, Mass. You can contact him at russkay@charter.net.

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An image of the basic Flash editing screen in timeline mode.
An image of the basic Flash editing screen in timeline mode.

Please click on image above to view a readable version.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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