An Overview of Flash and ActionScript

You can find Flash almost everywhere on the web, adding its magic touch to web sites. ActionScript makes it work. If you’re thinking of making your web site a little more flashy, keep reading for an overview.

Flash has become one of the most recognizable technologies used on the Internet today. There is good reason that this individual developer’s tool is so well-known; websites designed with Flash have a tendency to stand out and simply look much better than those that do not feature it. Flash websites are exactly what you would imagine: flashy.

Adobe Flash is a program that website developers use to create Flash files. These Flash files are what are hosted on websites and what users see and are familiar with. Basically, Flash allows developers to create animations on their web pages. However, the complexity and power of Flash lies in significantly more than just animation. The program has been around for long enough that it has been developed to the point that it offers a wide variety of highly useful features that extend its capabilities far beyond animating images.

ActionScript is the scripting language that is embedded into Flash files. This scripting capability allows for Flash to become dynamic in content as well as just image. ActionScript is what gives Flash developers the ability to create games and interactive menus (some of the more common and widely recognized applications of Flash). While ActionScript, as a script, is relatively simple to learn and implement, it offers a wide variety of functions that provide vital improvements to the abilities of the program.

While the benefits of Flash development are many and great, there are also some down sides to its implementation. Flash files are generally much larger than traditional web pages. This can negatively impact users on slower connections like dial-up. Also, users must have Flash player installed in order to view Flash files. If they do not have the player, then they are unable to view any of the Flash. There are other issues dealing with standards compliance and search engine optimization, but they do not affect as many users and are therefore not considered big enough to outweigh the benefits of Flash.

{mospagebreak title=Flash Capabilities}

On the graphic end, Flash has most of the main features that other graphic development suites (such as Adobe Photoshop) offer. If you have ever used Microsoft Paint, then you are probably familiar with some basic implementations of these features. Of course, there are nuances to designing with Flash, but mastery of these techniques simply takes time and familiarity with the program.

The one area in which Flash blows away the competition is—logically—animation. Flash was the first program to offer the capability and control of animation that it does. While its abilities have evolved over time, Flash has always been the undisputed master of computer two-dimensional animation programs. Animating in the program is as easy as a few clicks, but can be controlled so well that experienced animators will have no problem creating an explosion or animating a pencil writing words.

In typical website implementation, the full features of Flash are never seen. Most Flash on websites simply consists of an interactive navigation menu with moving and flashing buttons and sounds. For these purposes, Flash is a very simple tool that provides for great functionality. The difference between a website with a menu designed in Flash and one with a static menu is phenomenal.

Some sites make slightly more use of Flash by having the entire website designed using the program. These websites typically look very trendy and have no difficulty attracting and holding the attention of their potential audiences. Unfortunately, there are many down sides to such implementation that limit their effectiveness for smaller websites.

The full potential of Flash is only realized with a limited number of applications. Among those are online games. Anyone who has been bored at work or school has probably found their way to Flash games online. These often simple games are brightly colored and feature fast-paced animation that can entertain a bored individual for hours on end. Flash is absolutely perfect for this use.

Flash lends itself to simple shapes, bright colors, and quick animations. Coincidentally, these are the same features that most free online games contain. However, what Flash really offers that is of tremendous value to online game developers is the quick and easy power that comes with ActionScript.

{mospagebreak title=ActionScript Capabilities}

ActionScript transforms Flash from a simple animation program to a full-fledged development platform that can produce just about any type of application. The possibilities are nearly limitless when ActionScript is being used to supplement the features of Flash design. ActionScript provides the power behind interactive menus, online games, animated advertisement banners, and just about any online Flash implementation.

What ActionScript does is basically allow the person using the computer and accessing the website to interact with the Flash application. It can register when you click on a menu or when you press the keys on your keyboard. That is what makes it perfect for implementing the most common Flash applications. It is also what makes it substantially different from other scripting/programming languages online. PHP, Perl, HTML, and others all have difficulty interacting with the user in real time.

One of the really neat things about ActionScript is that while the basics are easy to learn and use, there are such complicated techniques that a complete mastery of the language takes years. This means that there are plenty of advanced features of ActionScript that lend enormous power to the developer if they know what they are doing.

For instance, Flash applications can communicate over the Internet and interact with each other. This gives the capability for multiple users to interact through a Flash application, such as a game or chat room. Flash can also interact with databases. While it is not quite as good at database interaction as some other languages (such as PHP), it gives Flash the ability to offer many of the most common online applications (blogs, forums, etc.).

Basically, ActionScript offers such power to Flash that a skilled developer can satisfy even the farthest-fetched ideas of anybody looking to buy a website. Although true masters of Flash are rare and can often be too expensive for small businesses or individuals, the services that they offer to medium or large businesses are truly impressive. ActionScript, when combined with Flash, brings an entirely new element to the Internet that significantly improves the entertainment value of many websites.

Of course, as a basic programming/scripting language, ActionScript is a significantly different skill from typical Flash design. Programming does not typically come naturally to artists. As such, it is relatively rare for a single individual to have a full mastery of all that Flash has to offer. If an individual can fully develop the skills necessary to be both a good graphic designer and coder, then they are able to be a true Flash master and create amazing works.

{mospagebreak title=Applications}

As previously mentioned, most people are familiar with the most common Flash applications. Everyone would recognize a basic interactive Flash menu on one of their favorite websites if it was pointed out to them. Likewise, most people are familiar with at least one or two free online games that have been developed in Flash. It is perfect for such applications, and therefore has seen a great deal of usage in those specific circumstances.

Flash is also used in other circumstances where it is more subtle and less known. For instance, many corporations use Flash in relatively small applications on their websites. These smaller sections feature trendy design and flashy graphics that appeal to a specific audience (typically a younger generation). In these situations, Flash is tremendously more attractive for the intended audience. Coincidentally, it is also the audience that is most likely to be able to see the Flash content. The younger audience is generally more technologically savvy and will have faster computers and Internet connections.

As one example, the MyCokeRewards section of the Coca-Cola website is designed entirely with Flash. The result is that it looks very nice and attractive to its users. However, if you have a slower computer or Internet connection, you may be out of luck. Fortunately for Coke, they are not very worried about catering this individual promotion to those that are more likely to have slow computers and Internet connections.

100% Flash websites serve much the same purpose as the smaller Flash sections on corporate websites. They are typically trendy websites, like the ones for DJs, artists, or restaurants and night clubs. Flash is a good fit in these circumstances for the same reasons mentioned previously. By developing with Flash, these companies are able to bring a much more dynamic element to their websites that is more likely to attract the attention of their intended audiences.

Interestingly, the field of Flash development is still growing at a rapid rate. New versions of the program and player are being released nearly every year. As a result, the uses and applications of Flash are developing at an equally rapid rate. It is difficult to tell what the future versions of Flash will have to offer. However, it is certain that Flash will continue to bring a dynamic and flashy edge to the Internet that would otherwise be lacking.

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