Meadowlark: Sheffield based computer consultancy

Software tools we use:

Adobe Flash Actionscript

Who could possibly have predicted the growth of the web twenty years ago. It is probably a fair comment that its growth is partly the result of improvements in web technology like Flash from Adobe, the makers of the portable document format (pdf).

Flash began as a means to produce simple animations in web pages, then developed from these humble and perhaps irritating origins to something that has allowed developers to produce some of the most outstanding web experiences of the millennium. It has grown into a fully featured object oriented programming language with comprehensive event handling, video support, XML support, database support, and of course its celebrated animation capabilities.

Flash is used extensively to produce stunning and innovative web sites. If you see an advertisement for a car with great animation, video and interaction, it was probably produced with Flash, but there are many reasons to use Flash other than these.

One of the biggest users of flash are Facebook users. At the time of writing, twenty four of the twenty five top Facebook games are flash based.

Advantages of Flash ActionScript

  • Flash and the Flash plug-in have ensured that flash applications can be experienced on the majority of computers be they Mac, Linux, PC, regardless of the browser in use. This type of portability has maximised the penetration of Flash applications, and often makes Flash the obvious choice, where other languages (with less coverage) may be technically better. At Meadowlark we have often found that choosing Flash was an easy and safe decision to make in the light of uncertain user demands.
  • Flash is powerful. Flash is a comprehensive program development tool. It does what conventional languages do, it is object oriented, is savvy with all the modern development tools and techniques, and runs on any browser with the Flash plug-in.
  • Flash applications are compact. Create a comprehensive Flash application and then take a look at the size of the program file. It is easy to produce files with tiny footprints and this means short download times for the user.
  • Flash addresses the needs of the typically pandered PC user who expects an application to have a sophisticated user interface akin to a Windows or Mac desktop application. It does this via its extensive event handling and exceptional control of presentation. The user rolls the mouse over a button and the button changes colour, re-sizes, or displays a list of outcomes of a button press. This is altogether more complex than the type of interaction that is typical of a web page using just HTML, and scripting. In fact Flash allow developers to exceed the expectations of users who have hitherto only been familiar with desktop applications and their standard (staid?) look and feel. The JavaScript programmers amongst you may be saying, "but JavaScript does all this", but JavaScript, unlike Flash, is in fact of series of different languages (though similar) from different sources and cannot be relied upon to behave identically as it executes in each browser. Think of Flash (which is based on JavaScript) as a bigger better more powerful version of its older sibling.
  • What can you do with Flash that you cannot with other languages?

    To produce the most stunning web based application with the best graphics, interactivity, animation, and sophistication, on the greatest number of web connected devices around the world, you have to use Flash.

    Why has Flash lost some of its lead?

    Flash has fallen out of favour over the last few years, and it is difficult to get a balanced, accurate explanation of why this might be. It has its critics, and I always ask myself if a staunch critic of some technology is basing their opinion on experience or something else. I.T. people are tribal, and they are not always rational. You might want to look at this page on Wikipedia for some facts about Flash and the competition.

    Like all programming languages, it is possible in the wrong hands to produce an end product, that is querky, a security risk, and generally of poor quality. But how many HTML based web sites have you seen that have one or more of those shortcomings? And HTML5 is the main competitor for Flash. More than that, HTML5 has incomplete support in the browsers that people use. Because Flash runs in its own plug-in, this is never a problem. If the Flash player is available on a machine, whatever it is, the Flash application will run. There is another issue to consider.

    If you are developing a Flash application, you have extensive resources within the language itself. It you choose however to develop an HTML5 application, you need also to master Javascript, CSS, and probably some Javascript library, like JQuery. Neither are intuitive. More than that there are some strengths that Flash has that are hard to beat.

    Complex animation that you might encounter in a typical game are hard to reproduce in an alternative to Flash.


    What you can expect from computer hardware in the future?

    Interactive web applications, assisted by Flash style tools are likely to change the way we use mobile phones (again). A mobile phone that - with the correct sensors - can monitor our physical wellbeing might extend our lives.