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Chapter 1. Introducing Flash 5

Macromedia Flash is the solution for delivering high-impact, low-bandwidth Web sites. Flash’s capability to produce streaming media means that Flash files can begin to play before the entire file is downloaded. This minimizes wait time for your audience.

Chances are that if you are reading this book, you already have some idea of what Flash can do. You might have worked with an earlier version of Flash and now are eager to get started with Flash 5.

If you’ve never worked with Flash before, you might be wondering what all the excitement is about. The first source of that excitement is how Flash handles graphics. If you’ve spent any time at all surfing the Web, you’re familiar with the typical GIF and JPEG image formats that are commonly used. Those image types are known as bitmapped or raster graphics. In these types of graphics, the image itself is composed of a series of discretely colored dots or pixels. As you enlarge the image, you can begin to see the individual squares that make up the image; this effect is known as pixelization.

Bitmapped graphics are fine for many purposes, but not always for Web applications, where you need a combination of small files and high quality. Flash offers a better solution: vector-based graphics. Vector-based graphics use geometrical formulas to represent graphics and take advantage of what computers do best: calculations. (See Figure 1.1.) Because of this, vector-based graphics are smaller and more versatile than raster-based graphics. Not only are Flash files quick to download, but because of Flash’s internal scripting language, they also can be highly interactive. Thus, you can use Flash to build complete Web applications.

Figure 1.1. The image on the right is a raster-based graphic, and the image on the left is vector-based. Vector-based graphics can be scaled and still maintain their crisp edges because they’re based on mathematical formulas. Raster-based graphics are composed of individual pixels. As you scale a raster-based graphic, you’ll begin to see the individual pixels.

In this chapter, you’ll get a quick overview of key Flash 5 features. Even if you’ve never used Flash before, this chapter will give you a good introduction to some of Flash’s capabilities. The topics include the following:

  • What’s new in Flash 5. Flash 5 has a host of new features including a new interface, customizable shortcuts, shared libraries, the Movie Explorer, Generator support, improved integration with FreeHand and Fireworks, HTML support, ActionScript enhancement, XML support, Web-native printing, and the Macromedia Dashboard.

  • Toolbars. You have some choice in presence and positioning of toolbars in Flash. You’ll learn which toolbars can be detached from the application window and which can’t.

  • Panels. Where did all those panels come from? The introduction of panels is one of the biggest changes to the interface.

  • Basic drawing. If you’ve never worked with a vector-based graphics program before, Flash can pose some interesting challenges. Learn how to deal with basic shapes.

  • Layers and frames. You can use layers to help organize your file and give the illusion of depth to your movie. Frames represent time and are used for animation in Flash.

  • Scenes and movie clips. There are different ways to organize your Flash files as you build them. Take a look at the two ends of the spectrum and decide which works best for you.

  • Symbols and the Library. Any shape you create can be converted to a symbol in Flash and reused. The key to keeping your file sizes small is to use symbols.

  • The Macromedia Dashboard. Think of the Dashboard as your online connection to the Flash developer community. You need access to the Internet to take advantage of the Dashboard.



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