Flash 4.0 from Macromedia is currently one of the hottest programs around for creating highly interactive, animated Web Sites. Flash is the Web standard for vector graphics and animation. The Flash Player, now available with most Web Browsers, displays Web Sites that contain graphics, sound, animation, and interactivity. Flash can be used to create animated logos, navigational controls (such as buttons), animation sequences (with snychronized audio if desired), and complete Web Sites.
There are several factors that make Flash the Web standard today. First, the Flash plug-in (the player needed) is built into the recent versions (versions 4 and higher) of Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. These two Web Browsers make up most of the browser market today. Browsers that predate the version 4 releases can still use Flash by downloading and installing the plug-in. A second factor that makes Flash the Web standard today is speed. Movies (quicktime and avi) can take minutes to download whereas a Flash Movie can sometimes download and begin playing in a matter of seconds. A Flash Movie is composed of mathematical formulas that describe what the viewer sees on the screen. This is know as vector graphics and only a small amout of data is needed to create a screen or moving graphics (animation). A third factor is the ability to be scaled. This is because everything is vector graphics (mathematical formulas as mentioned previously). The formula that describes the graphic stays the same when you zoom in (make the movie larger) so that there is no loss of detail (as long as there is detail in the original graphic). Finally, Flash allows you to create a screen or series of screens with very high quality text and graphics. An antialiasing option allows for the best quality text and graphics possible. Antialiasing is defined as the process where the edges of text and graphics are smoothed.
A file created in Flash is called a movie. When you are working in Flash 4.0, the file you save has the *.fla format. When you create a movie from the fla file, the format is *.swf. The Flash movie is a compact file and the graphics are vectorized which means that they download rapidly and scale to the screen size of the user. The Flash movie can be played inside the Browser window or as a stand-a-lone application.
A Flash movie is created by drawing artwork using Flash's drawing tools or importing graphics such as bitmaps. Text is added using a Text tool. Information is placed on a stage (the viewing area as seen by the user) and can be animated using a Timeline. The Timeline is composed of a sequence of frames. Keyframes are used to create "breaks" or frame actions along the Timeline. The Keyframe can be used to make the movie do something when it reachs that point along the Timeline or as a point that can be navigated to when a button is clicked. Different layers can be used to hold different artwork and the layers can be arranged to produce the effect you desire. Objects created on the stage can be converted to Symbols which allow them to be reused. The Symbols are stored in the Libary as either graphics, buttons, or movies. A Library is a repository of objects that can be used in your Flash movie and you can have several different Libraries. You can have different Instances of a symbol which means that you can change the properties of a symbol and store those changes separate from the original Symbol. You can also open a Library of a Flash project other than the current one and add objects from that Library to the current project.
A Flash Movie is made interactive by setting it up to respond to events such as a buttonclick or moving the mouse over a button.
Flash 4.0 allows you to export the move as a Flash Player movie and embed it within an HTML page if you choose. You then are ready to transfer the file(s) to a Web Server.