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What is Flash?

In the 1990’s, most websites were simply made up of static graphics, text and sometimes simple animations (called animated Gifs) which made many sites nothing more than glorified brochures and text heavy resources. With the birth of the ‘New Media’ industry, new tools were developed to make the internet a much more interactive and entertaining medium.

Flash enabled website designers and developers to create complex animations, incorporate decent quality sound/video and develop unique and experimental interfaces for their online projects. Using vector graphics and special compression techniques, Flash allows websites to show high quality graphics, play great sound and add ‘extra dimensions’ of interactivity without choking up bandwidth. This has made Flash one of today’s most popular website development and design tools.

Flash today has become superseded by HTML5
In the past, the web was restricted to display ‘bitmap graphics’. Bitmap graphics (such as jpeg, gif and bmp files) display graphics by storing information on every single pixel (or dot) that makes up the picture. This can lead to very high quality graphics such as photos but has the disadvantage of having large file sizes, which leads to slow downloading times on the internet.
Flash uses vector graphics which are a different type of graphic. The information stored in the graphic file is less specific in respect to how the image is made up. For instance, say you had a simple graphic that was a line 20 pixels long and coloured red. A bitmap version of this image would have the following data: pixel #1, colour red, pixel #2, colour red, pixel #3, colour red, pixel #4, colour red.. etc. all the way to pixel #20, colour red.
A vector image, on the other hand, would have the following data for the same image: draw line from location 1 to location 20, colour red. As you can imagine, a complex graphic would have a lot less data in vector format than a bitmap graphic, this gives vector graphics a great advantage when using them on the internet as they load much faster. Another benefit of vector graphics is that they are ‘scaleable’ which means they can be shrunk or magnified without losing any detail at all.
Although there are many advantages with vector graphics, bitmap graphics have their advantages too. The main advantage is that bitmap graphics handle gradients and other detailed information much better than vector graphics. This means that high detail graphics such as photos will display much more reliably in bitmap format.
Flash uses another internet friendly technology called ‘streaming’. Streaming enables information to be displayed as it is downloading, rather than only displaying once downloading has completed. This enables a well designed Flash project to seem to load instantly or very quickly while in fact it is downloading information as the user views it.  A good example of this technology is ‘streaming audio’ where you can listen to music while it is downloading across the internet instead of waiting for it to completely download.
For Flash to work on a website, the person visiting the website needs to have a ‘plug-in’ installed. This plug-in enables the browser to identify and then display Flash content. Although the plug-in is a separate program, recent statistics show that around 95% of internet users already have the Flash plug-in installed. Flash is heavily supported by the I.T. industry and therefore comes installed with most windows based PC’s and some Mac computers. In later lessons, we will show you how to make your website detect if the visitor has the plug-in installed and if they don’t, how to direct them to the flash site to install it.

Macromedia Flash
 (Click here to see a course outline or enrol)


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