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Adobe Flash Professional CS5 : Exploring Companion Technologies & Recognizing Project Potential

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3/30/2012 11:20:53 AM

1. Exploring Companion Technologies

Now that you have a better understanding of how Flash fits into the current World Wide Web, I can begin to discuss the technologies that contribute to Flash's well-being. In today's world of the Web developer, you not only need to know how to create your Flash movies but also how to implement Flash into existing environments, such as a Web browser or your business client's Web-ready (or not-so-Web-ready) application servers and related data sources.

1.1. HTML is here to stay

HTML is not going anywhere, regardless of the prolific nature of Flash on the Web. Using HTML to your advantage is very important because it is undeniably the best solution for certain forms of Web deployment. In addition, sites constructed entirely in Flash often require HTML to function properly. Here's how HTML works with Flash:

  • Displaying and formatting the movie on a Web page requires HTML. It isn't always easy to hand-code HTML to work with ActiveX for Internet Explorer and the plug-in for Mozilla-compatible browsers at the same time.

  • Placing some content within a Flash movie is not possible, so you sometimes need to link it from your movie to an HTML page. For example, some PDF files cannot be imported into a Flash CS5 document and will need to be linked from the Flash movie to be viewed separately with Adobe Reader. Or, you may need to access video files created for the RealOne Player or Windows Media Player. You can place links to these source files or link to an HTML document that embeds the source file.

If you want to integrate PDF documents with Flash movies, you might want to explore Macromedia FlashPaper. FlashPaper is a Flash movie file (.swf) that contains a document viewer and the document itself, enabling you to embed large print-ready documents on the Web or even within your own Flash movies. For more information on FlashPaper, see the FlashPaper section at www.flashsupport.com/links.

  • If your end user is not willing or able to view your Flash content, HTML enables you to provide an alternative version of your Web site. Despite the addition of accessibility options into Flash Player 6 and later, which enable screen-reader interaction, not all screen readers are currently able to access this feature. An HTML version of your content is sure to reach most of this potential audience.

Many people find learning, and perhaps even using, HTML to be painful and tedious. Accommodating the differences among browsers can sometimes be time consuming and dry work. However, knowing some HTML is highly recommended and well worth the effort. HTML should be understood by any Web professional. If you are uncomfortable with the code, using Macromedia Dreamweaver will help your transition into the HTML world.

1.2. Client-side scripting using JavaScript

ActionScript and JavaScript are similar beasts, especially since ActionScript developed into a full-blown language in ActionScript 2.0. By learning one language, you will be able to translate this knowledge with relative ease. Already knowing some JavaScript when entering the Flash realm definitely puts you at a strong advantage. However, JavaScript itself is frequently used in conjunction with Flash, as follows:

  • With JavaScript, you can create customized browser popup windows that open from Flash movies. By "customized," I mean browser windows that don't have any scroll bars, button bars, or menu items across the top of the browser window.

  • JavaScript can pass data into the Flash movie when the Web page containing the movie loads. Some browsers enable you to continually pass data back and forth between Flash and JavaScript. Also, you are able to dynamically pass variables from JavaScript right into the Flash movie.

  • JavaScript can be used to detect the presence or absence of the Flash Player plug-in in the user's Web browser, with JavaScript libraries such as SWFObject. Likewise, you can use VBScript on Internet Explorer for Windows to detect the Flash Player ActiveX control. JavaScript (or VBScript) can redirect the Web browser to alternative content if the player is not installed.

  • Flash movie properties such as width and height can be written on-the-fly by using JavaScript. You can also detect various system properties (which is also possible by using ActionScript) in JavaScript code and pass this information into Flash.

Flash Player 8 introduced the ExternalInterface API, which enables you to more easily pass parameters between a Flash movie and JavaScript. 

1.3. The world of Web services

By using Flash CS5, you can tap an ever-expanding world of data transfer directly to your Flash movies. If you've stayed in the loop of Web technologies, you've likely heard of Web services, which is a generic term to describe a standardized approach to transfer data from one Web application to another. Web services use a format known as Web Services Description Language (WSDL), which uses a type of XML formatting called Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). It's not really important to know these acronyms as much as it is to understand what they do. WSDLs (pronounced "whiz-duhls") enable you to share complex data structures in a uniform, standardized manner. As long as a technology such as the Flash Player or ColdFusion can interpret a Web service, it can utilize its data. And because all WSDLs use the same formatting, your Flash movie can easily access data from public services offered by various companies on the Web. You can also create your own Web services with application servers such as Adobe ColdFusion as well. Web services simply provide a gateway from which your Flash movie can access data over the Internet.


One popular Web service is the Amazon associates program. Just about anyone can become an Amazon.com associate. See http://associates.amazon.com for more details about enrolling in Amazon's developer program for Web services. You don't have to use Amazon.com's Web Service, but it's a fun source of information to keep you engaged while you're learning how to use Web services with your Flash content.


Don't forget Flash Remoting! Flash Player can send and receive data by using Flash Remoting gateways, which can be installed on a variety of application servers. Flash Remoting is built into Adobe ColdFusion and provides a faster and more efficient means of transferring data between a Flash movie and an application server than Web services can accomplish.

1.4. Adobe server technologies

Nowadays, it's always helpful to have more than just client-side Flash development skills. With Adobe Flash Media Interactive Server, Flash Remoting, and Adobe LiveCycle Data Services, more and more business clients are looking for experienced Flash designers and developers to add real-time interactivity to their company's Web sites or Internet-aware applications. Applications created for Flash Media Interactive Server use server-side ActionScript (ASC files) to describe and control the interactivity between a Flash movie and the server's resources, including real-time streaming audio/video media and synchronized data updates between multiple Flash clients and the application.

2. Recognizing Project Potential

In this section, I provide an overview of the categories of Flash projects that you can produce. This is just a starting point to prime your creative juices and break through any self-imposed limiting perceptions that you may have about Flash media. The categories I have devised here are by no means industry-standard terms — they're broad, generalized groups into which most Flash development falls.

2.1. Linear presentations

In the early days of Internet growth, Flash shorts (cartoons) were the media buzz. These cartoons generally played from start to finish in a very linear fashion. Generally speaking, these movies load and then play — and count on catching the user's attention through the story and animation. These movies sometimes contain advanced ActionScript for animation, including randomized movement or content.


Linear Flash presentations do not necessarily have to be displayed within a Web browser — or even online. Several film-production and advertising companies use Flash to create high-quality animation for use in broadcast TV and feature films.

2.2. Interactive presentations

Interactive presentations represent the next step up from linear presentations. They provide the user control over the way information is presented, the flow, or the experience altogether. Usually, Web sites of any construct will be considered an interactive presentation. If you have information or content in a section somewhere in a movie or Web site, then you probably have an interactive presentation. An interactive presentation enables end users to choose the content they see by enabling them to navigate throughout a site, bypassing some content while accessing other content. A Flash movie in this category may have all the content viewed stored in a container movie or across several Flash files linked to a main site.

2.3. Data-driven presentations

The data-driven presentations category of Flash development represents any movies that load external data (either dynamic or static) to deliver the presentation to the user. For example, a weather site that uses Flash may download dynamic Flash graphics of precipitation maps to display to the site's visitors. These graphics may be customized for each user of the site, depending on where he or she lives. Data-driven may even simply mean that text information within the Flash movie changes from time to time. Simply put, anytime information is separated from the actual Flash movie, you can say it is data-driven.

2.4. Data-driven applications (or Rich Internet Applications)

The data-driven applications category is somewhat loosely defined as those Flash movies that enable the user to accomplish some sort of task or enable a transaction from the Flash movie to use an external remote data source. For example, an online Flash ATM (that is, bank machine) could allow a bank customer to log in to the bank's secure server and transfer funds from one account to another or pay a bill. All these tasks would require a transaction from the Flash movie to the bank's server. Another example could be an online Flash shopping cart, in which visitors add products to their virtual carts and check out with their final order. Again, these tasks would require the Flash movie to send and receive data. The term Rich Internet Application, or RIA, was coined during the Macromedia MX product line launch and implies the use of integrated data and rich media within a graphical user interface (GUI), in or out of a Web browser. Typically, RIAs combine Flash movies with one or more server-side technology, such as Flash Remoting and Adobe Flash Media Interactive Server.
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