Monday, March 22, 2010

Adobe Flash

By: Dave Lash

If you've ever seen an animated splash screen or played games online, chances are you have seen Adobe's Flash engine in action. With its animation, video, and sound integration, Flash is a great way to add interactivity to a web page. The powerful tool set that comes standard with Flash make it relatively easy to create these video animations and other Flash components. This blog post is about the history of Flash as a multimedia platform, the uses of Flash today, and some of the future possibilities for the platform.

A History of Flash

Surprisingly enough, the product now known as Adobe Flash was not created by Adobe, but was originally the intellectual property of Macromedia, who acquired the framework for Flash from FutureWave Studios. In 1996, FutureWave released what was to become Flash under the moniker FutureSplash Animator. Shortly after the release of FutureSplash, Macromedia acquired the studio and re-branded the software as Macromedia Flash. Macromedia continued to develop the software through version 8, at which point, Adobe acquired Macromedia and all of their products, which included Flash, Dreamweaver, and Fireworks. Adobe has continued development of the software, releasing Flash as part of Creative Suites 3 and 4, with Creative Suite 5 under current development.

Prominent Features

Flash boasts a full set of animating, video, and sound editing tools that work together to create Flash animations, banners, advertisements, games, and a host of other objects that can be used on a webpage. One of the biggest features of Flash is its own coding language for creating the interactions or animations of the Flash component, ActionScript. ActionScript is used to control 2D vector animations and gives more control to the designer over elements in the Flash animation. ActionScript has been developed into a language allowing for game creation and video and audio streaming in addition to 2D animations. The language continues to evolve and improve the animating capabilities and other functional aspects of Flash as a multimedia platform.
Flash is able to detect input from the mouse, keyboard, microphone, and webcam, which makes it highly efficient for creation of Flash modules with user interactive components. Flash provides many options to web developers for adding functionality to a webpage, and it continues to improve upon an already robust set of tools.
While Flash is capable of animating, it is important to note that it is not so much the high-profile 3D animations that some other animating tools can provide. Flash can support moving text and moving still images, which differs from video where each frame is a new image. Despite this fact, Flash has become a popular web animating platform and continues to gain popularity today, and has even garnered competition from products such as Microsoft's Silverlight and open source alternatives SVG and SMIL from the W3C.

Current Flash Uses

Flash is currently applied all over the web in a variety of different ways. As I mentioned earlier, one of the most common uses of Flash today is for flash-based games. Sites such as and provide users with a variety of such games. There are an endless number of games for people to browse and play over a number of different genres. While games are a great application of Flash and display a number of the capabilities that Flash can provide, some other sites use Flash in much different ways. is a great example of a Flash interface. The NHL has implemented a Flash module for their news on the homepage, as well as for audio and video highlight playback for users. Video and audio streaming are an important part of the application of ActionScript and demonstrates the powerful tool that Flash can be. These techniques are applied all over the web on multiple sites in a variety of different ways. There are many possibilities, and I have tried to provide a few great examples. Many sites that must deal with multimedia such as audio and video streaming turn to Flash, but it is a market with growing competition.

Future of Flash

Currently, Adobe is in the process of working on Creative Suite 5, which will feature a new version of Flash. Adobe is looking to improve upon the audio and video streaming, animating and game creation capabilities of Flash, and are looking to add support for iPhone game creation. It is important for Adobe to continue to improve Flash, as competition from Microsoft's Silverlight is increasing. Silverlight was used to stream live coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympics and 2010 Winter Olympics. While Adobe says that they have an installed user base of around 98% of all internet users who have downloaded their Flash player, Microsoft is gaining credibility with its video streaming. As Adobe takes Flash into the future, they must continue to innovate and build upon their features to keep pace and even outperform the competition in order to remain number one. If history is any indicator, Adobe will definitely be able to provide that cutting edge multimedia suite and will continue to keep Flash the number one multimedia web software.


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