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What is shockwave Flash? Why is it often smarter than applets or GIF's? What do I need to be able to create my own flash movies? Where should I start?
HTML is ideal for creating static websites where text and images are placed at fixed positions.
But it doesn't really support dynamic sites, where text, images, and animations are moving around on the screen.
Traditionally, these effects were achieved with animated GIF images or java applets.
Before we move on to concrete examples of Flash movies, we will compare Flash to both animated GIFs and java applets.
FLASH vs ANIMATED GIFs
An animated GIF is actually many images saved in one.
When the animated GIF is loaded onto a webpage, the browser simply loops the images. This means, if you make an animation of a clown that moves his hand up and down in 25 small movements, then the animated area of the image is saved 25 times. So it doesn't take a lot of animation to create a GIF image that's remarkable bigger than a regular clown image.
Therefore, even small animations take forever to load.
While animated GIFs can be used for animations, they do not support interactivity. They simply loop images in a predefined order and that's it.
In Flash, you can control the animations. For example, you can make the animation stop and wait for the user to click a button. And when the animation starts again it can be dependant on which button was clicked.
A final obvious difference is that GIF images are limited to a 256 color palette.
So compared to animated GIFs, the advantages of Flash are that:
Flash movies load much faster.
Flash movies allow interactivity.
Flash movies can use more than 256 colors.
FLASH vs JAVA APPLETS
Aside from animated GIFs, another approach has been used to add dynamic effects to web pages: java applets.
One of the most famous is the lake applet.
Unfortunately, java (the programming language for applets) requires programming skills. This means that you can't just start creating your own applets.
Therefore, some programmers have created free applets that allow customization. So instead of learning the programming, people can simply use the already programmed applets.
Again, the lake applet is a good example. It makes a wave effect on any image of any size. But if you wanted to add anything else to the applet you would have to either program it yourself or find a free applet that actually did what you wanted.
Flash movies are in many ways similar to java applets. Small programs that can be embedded into your HTML pages. But unlike java applets, it is fairly easy to create animations in Flash without programming skills.
Applets have often be criticized for "killing" browsers.
Sometimes, java programmers are not as skillfull as one might have wished. Some applets are programmed so they eventually take up all resources on the computer, and this results in "freezing" the browser.
So compared to java applets, the advantage of Flash is:
Flash movies are easier to create than java applets.
Flash movies are more stable in web browsers than java applets.
Note: While Flash has these advantages over applets, there is more to the story. There are things that you can program in java that just can't be done with Flash. But since the focus here is Flash we will not go into the details.
On the next page we will look at a few examples of Flash...
FLASH ON THE WEB
If you're completely new to Flash, you should try clicking some of these links to see examples of what can be made.
EYE4U.COM (Full screen animation)
This site has several examples of what can be made with Flash. The intro is particulary interesting.