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Chapter 4. Flash and Generator

One question that frequently gets asked is “What is Generator and what does it have to do with Flash?” The Macromedia Web site describes Generator as “. . . the solution fordelivering dynamic content graphically.” Well, it certainly is that, but it’s really a lot more. With Generator, you can combine Flash-based templates with data sources to serve up live, dynamically changing content in a wide variety of formats. You can use Generator to produce Flash movies, GIFs,animated GIFs, JPEGs, PNGs, QuickTime movies, and Flash Projectors—all at the same time. You also can take advantage of Generator at your desktop to simplify some of your everyday Flash tasks.

Templates are the key to working with Generator. You create templates in the familiar Flash environment with special placeholders for text, graphics, and sound. At runtime, these placeholders are replaced with values stored in a data source. One enormous advantage of this approach is that it enables you to separate the content from the design. Designers are free to design once and not worry about manually updating graphical content for pages that change on a frequent basis. (See Figure 4.1.)

Figure 4.1. A Pie Chart object on the Stage along with the Generator panel for a Pie Chart.

This chapter introduces you to the basics of Macromedia Generator. In Chapter 28, “Working with Middleware,” you further explore Generator’s capabilities by learning how to use middleware, such as Cold Fusion, ASP, Perl, or PHP, to connect Generator to a variety of databases.

The next sections walk you through the basics of using Macromedia Generator. You’ll take a look at the following:

  • Generator. Explore the differences in Macromedia Generator’s three lines of products: Generator 2 Authoring Templates, Generator 2 Developer Edition, and Generator 2 Enterprise Edition. You then can decide which one best suits your needs.

  • The Generator interface. You might have stumbled across some of the Generator interface elements as you’ve worked in Flash 5. Learn how to use the Generator Objects palette, the Generator panel, and the Set Environment Variable button.

  • Generator variables. Learn how to create text variables on the Stage and replace them with content when a Generator template is processed.

  • Internal and external data sources. Data sources provide the values for your Generator variables. In this chapter, you look at using internal data sources and simple external text files as data sources.

  • Variables to replace Generator settings. One of the amazing things about Generator is that almost every setting can be turned into a variable. That might not mean much to you now, but it gives you an incredible degree of power to customize objects on the Stage.

  • Predefined Generator objects. Generator comes with a nice set of predefined Generator objects that you can use to insert media, create charts, create scrolling tickers and lists, and so on. Even if you don’t plan to use the Developer or Enterprise editions of Generator, you still can use the objects to create Flash movies.

  • Publishing the Generator templates. Explore the options for publishing your templates and learn which settings make sense to change and which settings you should just stay away from.

  • Online and offline Generator. You have the option of publishing your Generator templates live or online. You also can process your templates offline and upload the created media to your server.

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