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Flash as a serious environment?

It seems that Flash is coming from below to become a really serious medium.  A 95% browser penetration, if that's true, makes anything fair game.

I am wondering if programmers can use their tools with Flash.  For example, if handlers can be written in Java.  I find a lot of basic tutorials on Actionscript, but nothing is really well-organized.

Jess N.
Monday, July 01, 2002

flash is like html in email - unnecessary bloat.

what a stupid edit box, you can type anything in here
Monday, July 01, 2002

I don't want to get into a religious war, and I do agree that Flash is new and very overused.  But like any new tool, it can mature.

I familiarised myself with the binary spec some months ago.  It is not bloat, but very tight.  Many features were cut that SVG has, like no support for circles or even cubic splines, and you have to approximate them with quads.

I just don't know how people tie these little movie objects together into a strong useful app.

Jess N.
Monday, July 01, 2002

Just to Set you straight Kid!

Non-open standards no matter how really kewl, will ultimately fail[Flash included].

Most web surfers go out of their way to avoid sites with PDF, and FLASH.  Why you ask?

a). low bandwidth[connections], have an inverse affinity for "rich" content.  All bandwidth connections, have a direct aversion to rich content that soaks up excessive amounts of local working set.[i.e. it's not ok if the FLASH presentation takes up 50Megs of Local RAM].  Speed is life and small things are fast.

b).when a plug-in's memory requirement starts exceeding that of the invoking browser[You definitely have a problem].

c). Creative use of DOM primatives can easily match the feature/benifts of FLASH. [Yeah, you have to do that thing called programming, Bit..ch UH?]

Larry From Queens
Monday, July 01, 2002

Just because YOU avoid sites with Flash doesn't mean MOST people do.

On the contrary, most people I know LOVE flash sites, when they're done well. One person I know said recently that Flash makes the internet "look like the future".

Yes, there are horrible, crappy flash apps, but there are also horrible, crappy web sites. Well done Flash, used judiciously, are really nice looking and behaving.

With the new additions of "standard" widgets, database and SOAP support, Flash is poised to be a very strong player in the online-app market. Companies like Balthaser are doing amazing things with Flash.

Leave your personal biases at the door, and take another look at Flash. It's quite a product.
 

Not a flash user
Monday, July 01, 2002

"Most web surfers go out of their way to avoid sites with PDF, and FLASH. Why you ask?"

Actually, no... I ask "where do you find such a statistic?" Flash content can actually be very fast to load, depending on what it is, and many, many sites have flash. I don't think I know anyone who specifically goes out of their way to avoid Flash.

Kevin

Kevin Dangoor
Monday, July 01, 2002

Have you ever produced a FLASH animation my friend?
Clearly NOT, otherwise you'd have no need to ask such question.  Go get some knowledge, come back, then let's have a discussion.

[Actually, no... I ask "where do you find such a statistic?" Flash content can actually ]

Larry From Queens
Monday, July 01, 2002

I wonder how macromedia is doing these days?
:-).


Hey look tell you what.  This isn't like a religous war or anything. There are generally two camps when it comes to FLASH.  Graphics Artist/Content types that think they can program, and those who know better[I would suggest digging to into the implimentation/exposed functionality of FLASH]. You might learn something.

Road kill comes to mind.

[Companies like Balthaser ]

Larry From Queens
Monday, July 01, 2002

                 
                    --- press here to skip flash intro ---

Flash is appropriate for move promotion sites and such, but
not for serious web applications, just as roman numerals
are ok for movie copyright dates and names of popes, but
not much else.

I think the major flaw with Flash, is that it promotes the
creation of "home brew" navigation and menus on web sites and web applications.  I for one think of Flash as a "creative-guys-do-artsy-things-on-the-web" kindof tool.

Usability is the big problem of web sites. I think the solution to this is to do away with the web-browser, as we know it. I know this sounds insane, but if you could have the web-client (or browser) fill its "File..Edit...View" menu and toolbar with buttons and menus to perform navigation
of the web site that would surely help people. Do away with the navigation from the "work-area" of the application and leave that for interaction with the users. Just like any Windows program.

That would result in my mother being able to navigate the
web sites she uses, simply because she knows how to handle the menus in Solitaire and Tetris.

So, to sum up I think that Flash allows for too much of
"creative-freedom" to ever be used in creating real web applications that people have to use on a daily basis.

Just my 2 cents...feel free to disagree :-)

Patrik
Monday, July 01, 2002

Patrik,

I think a good analogy is to Unix.  It's a powerful environment, but the downside is that people are able to go wild.  I remember when one day my HP/UX Apollo was upgraded to use CDE, the "common desktop environment" for unix.  It was very unusable, but at least it was consistently unusable.

So things start out raw but powerful, and they evolve to have standard interfaces that rein in the power.

How do people make standard interfaces if they can't experiment with a raw system?  Things need to evolve.

Anyway, this is a board about "painless software management," and I think I attracted fun trolls like Larry from Queens. ;-)  I really wanted to know how to use proper programming tools with Flash, but maybe that's more a research than a management topic.

Jess N.
Monday, July 01, 2002

Patrik, the lastest version of flash includes standard widgets, so that people won't create their own.

Larry, obviously you're talking out of your ass, since your comment "get some knowledge" instead of providing a factual argument calls your comments into question.

Standard argument formation includes citing sources. So why don't YOU go get some hard numbers before shooting off your mouth?

Not a flash user
Monday, July 01, 2002

"Standard argument formation includes citing sources."

Yeah, you tell 'em.  Where do these people get the idea they can think for themselves?  Agree with the ex-spurts, that's what I always say.

Joe AA.
Monday, July 01, 2002


To me, Flash is a good thing for entertainment, but a Really Really Bad Thing (TM) when people try to use it as a complete web platform. I haven't seen a site made with flash that would qualify as "usable". No clipboard, no bookmarking, the back and forward buttons of the browser renders unusable, no cache management, and an excessive focus on appearance instead of usability makes flash made sites a true pain, at least to me.

Sure, I enjoy flash games just as much as the next guy, but I don't like entirely flash made sites. I can accept a logo, or a toolbar made with flash, but please don't broke my GUI.

Regards,

Leonardo Herrera
Monday, July 01, 2002

Joe AA:

It has nothing to do with thinking for yourself. Argument isn't a creative endeavour that allow you to just willy-nilly make claims without backing them up.

Otherwise, argument merely degenerates into "Yes it is!", "No it isn't!", which, as we all know from Monty Python, isn't an argument.

If someone wants to point to some hard numbers to prove that "most people avoid flash sites", please, come forth. I'd love to see them. Otherwise, it's merely opinion, which counts for much less, if you recall essay writing from grade school.

Not a flash user
Monday, July 01, 2002

Well Larry, I have created flash animations.  If you avoid using bitmaps, properly use tweening, keep your graphical objects simple, minimize the use of audio, optimize loading so some parts load in the backkground, etc., you can make flash presentations that have a small enough footprint to be tolerable on a low bandwith connection without losing any of the cool functionality.  They may take longer to load than a webpage, but if they are meant to be 'web apps' rather than web pages, the load times are totally acceptable.

OzzieGT
Monday, July 01, 2002

Clearly your first language is not English!!
What part of go get some knowledge don't you understand?

One can't have a discussion about a topic unless both parties have something of value to contribute.

Put another away, prerequiste for  meanful discourse on this FLASH topic requires symetric degrees of domain expertise, by all parties concerned.

So hurry up and finish going through the FLASH API set.
We'll  wait for you :-).

[If someone wants to point to some hard numbers to prove that "most people avoid flash sites", please, come forth. I'd love to see them. Otherwise, it's merely opinion, which counts for much less, if you recall essay writing from grade school.
]

Larry From Queens
Monday, July 01, 2002

Oh I agree!

Joe AA.
Monday, July 01, 2002

Now I'm laughing...!!
Sort like saying oh yeah I succeeded in squeezing an elephant on to the head of a pin.[So what part of the elephant did you put on the pin?]

Stripped down flash is a sort of an oxymoron!![sure if you leave out all the goodies, it's really fat free, with no taste too]

Your usage is tolerable comment ... is very insightful.  You see my friend end users don't want tolerable.  They demand usable. Otherwise just as on with TV, they'll just it the next channel button.

[Well Larry, I have created flash animations. If you avoid using bitmaps, properly use tweening, keep your graphical objects simple, minimize the use of audio, optimize loading so some parts load in the backkground, etc., you can make flash presentations that have a small enough footprint to be tolerable on a low bandwith connection without losing any of the cool functionality]

Larry From Queens
Monday, July 01, 2002

Jess N,

>How do people make standard interfaces if they can't >experiment with a raw system?
>Things need to evolve.

Agreed. Things need to evolve.

My main concern was the "creative-freedom" that Flash not only allows, but encourages, so in order for Flash to be useful it needs to be more standards-oriented in lack of
a better word. As Larry pointed out, and I can second, most of the Flash guys I have worked with are the "Graphics Artist/Content types", which means they treat their Flash hacks as a means of getting their PhotoShop stuff on the Web. And WOW, we can make it
animated too.

So in order for Flash to evolve into a usuable plattform for real web applications and sites it needs limits on the "flashy" stuff. Flashy and cool is not useful.



Not a flash user,

>Patrik, the lastest version of flash includes standard >widgets, so that people won't create their own.

So does Windows ;-)

http://support.nvc.net/faq.php?article=33

Still people seem to invent their own widgets. Flash not only allows, but encourages missuse of cool home brewed widgets. Its not the presence of standard widgets, but
the ability to use non-standard ones that is the problem. As long as there are non-standard ways of doing an UI someone will consider that cool and do so, which in
turn renders Flash useless for every day Web Applications and sites that people must use.

Users does not consider web sites cool, they see it as a necessary evil of getting their work done, and they couldnt care less about feeding some graphic-flash guys ego.


Another 2 cents...

Patrik
Monday, July 01, 2002

Larry...I think our interpretations of what flash should be used for differ.  Sure if you want a full fledged multimedia application, flash is bloated.  However, there are plenty of other things that can be done with Flash which don't require a huge footprint. 

As far as 'tolerable' goes, why should we have to wait for 56k users to play catch-up?  The standard for the size of the average download is increasing, and so people who are on slower internet connetions really just need to get used to the idea of some web pages taking 30 seconds to load instead of 5.  I wonder what percentage of current web users are on dial-up nowadays anyway...

OzzieGT
Monday, July 01, 2002

People might find this link interesting:
http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/javascript/2002/06/18/flashmx.html

Macromedia is definitely attacking the applet space in an interesting way, with a little language that happens to be strong at graphics and the worse-is-better approach.  In fact, Flash apps are probably more crossplatform than Java's since Flash fonts appear identically on different platforms.  With Java, even if you use Swing layouts, OSX fonts can just be too big.

Unclear whether Macromedia's doing financially ok.  They've appeared on fuckedcompany a few times, but it seems to force them to start embracing opensource and blogging.

I know people who write their own tools to automate movie generation (for branded bizapps), and no doubt they do something funky with actionscript too.  Still, for the forseeable future you might want to think of Flash apps as enlightened dumb terminals.

http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/javascript/2002/05/24/swf_not_flash.html

Sammy
Monday, July 01, 2002

Here are some flash development houses that make some excellent webpages with small footprints...check out their portfolios:

http://www.cabedge.com
http://www.juxtinteractive.com

OzzieGT
Monday, July 01, 2002

A cautionary tale : http://www.bbspot.com/News/2002/04/flash.html

Matthew Bloch
Monday, July 01, 2002

OzzieGT, you say "why should we wait for 56k users to catch up"?

Well, because it's a pretty well established fact that most people who connect from their home use 56k modems, sure broadband penetration is increasing and I believe it is even over 50% in South Korea, but unless you're designing only for the South Korean market it's kind of irresponsible and short-sighted to say that users should catch up if the context of your work is publicly available web sites intended to provide some service to the general public.

Please, read some Zeldman.

Walter Rumsby
Monday, July 01, 2002

i'm kinda jumping into the conversation a little late, but with the current state of flash, is there a good way to produce dynamic content? I'm not talking about a simple paragraph that is displayed according to a state, but database interaction, dynamic generation of nav bars, etc. 
    If so, can a server dynamicly "write" flash? (instead of just using macromedia's database interface for flash).  If you could script flash adn have it compiled or whatever on the fly, that would kick ass, but if not, i'm definatly sticking to javascript.  (well, i'm having the front end guys stick to javascript, since i mostly do ss programming)

vincent marquez
Monday, July 01, 2002

Vincent,

Sadly, I don't know if you can do real db interaction from flash.  However, where I work I can't imagine a use for that.  If people can connect from their web browsers to my databases then I'm not secure.

Larry:
34.2% of users love flash
65.32% of users really love flash
24% of users only like flash

If you question my numbers than you must lack flash programming experience. :-)

vanguard
Monday, July 01, 2002

>34.2% of users love flash
>65.32% of users really love flash
>24% of users only like flash

are those the ofishel macromedia figgers?

blech
Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Thought this might be of interest: A Flash front end to the J2EE Pet Store demo http://blueprints.macromedia.com/PetMarket/flashstore.html

Chris Altmann
Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Vincent,

You can use Flash to import XML, which could be pulled from a db and assembled with server side scripting.

PHP can handle SWFs on the server-side: http://www.php.net/manual/en/ref.swf.php

Flash uses the same language basis (ECMA-262) as JavaScript, so most things you can do with JS you can do with Flash, and some you can do with Flash that you can't with JS.

A lot of Flash sites have bad usability, but with MX it's a lot easier to make good ones (including integration with back button, standard elements such as scrollbars...). That said, I don't think there's any particularly great Flash examples out there right now, but there's nothing to hold Flash back.

Not that I personally use Flash, because I don't like the thought of even 5% not being able to see stuff, but Flash is heading in a good direction.

Lachlan
Tuesday, July 02, 2002

You guys are killin me. I just skimmed down the thread, so let me try to clear up some questions.

Flash can dynamically pull in any kind of text or images from any datasource through ASP or Java APIs. It can also natively import XML without using any third party software.

The newest release, Flash Mx, has two completely different development environments, one for designers, and the other for actionscript developers.

Now, on the topic of usability and how much Flash currently sucks as a user interface, I'll point you to two seperate sites. The first is Jakob Nielsen's, where you'll find an article from October 2000 entitled "Flash: 99% Bad".

http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20001029.html

For anyone who might be unfamiliar with Nielsen, if you work on designing ANYTHING for the web, bookmark his site.

The second is on CNet (News.com), and I'll let you figure it all out from here.

http://news.com.com/2100-1040-930301.html

My only point is this- Don't judge Flash by what it's already done, judge it by what it's capable of doing.

Mark
Tuesday, July 02, 2002

> If so, can a server dynamicly "write" flash?

Vincent, I did precisely that.  Maybe there are opensource tools that do this now, I don't know.

The project I completed was to write a library that abstracted away the Flash file format's primitives, so the user could concentrate on drawing a GUI's geometry.  The primitives are things like strokes, fills, lines, curves, text.

The user of my library used it in a serverside script, so an xml file would request things like (for example) a textfield with white background and bevelled border, with some buttons on a frame underneath, and the resulting binary would be sent to the user.

I didn't work on the Actionscript level, but it's derived from ECMAscript, like Javascript.

sleepily anonymous
Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Patrik:
"...I think the major flaw with Flash, is that it promotes the
creation of "home brew" navigation and menus on web sites and web applications. I for one think of Flash as a "creative-guys-do-artsy-things-on-the-web" kindof tool.
..."

Jacob Nielsen goes into a lot of detail on this at http://www.useit.com . I believe he has started on some initiative with Macromedia developers to try and sort out the pain-in-the-ass mess that Flash UIs turn into. UI Consistency is much more important that UI creativity.

Patrik again:
" ... Usability is the big problem of web sites. I think the solution to this is to do away with the web-browser, as we know it. ... "

ROFL, had me going there. There is nothing inherently unusable about a web browser. There are a lot of things that are very unusable about menus - they don't scale well wrt lots of choices, you need a very effective pointing device, you can't see what the main choices are without interacting with it.

"Most web surfers go out of their way to avoid sites with PDF, and FLASH. Why you ask?"

I try and kill flash a lot. I pump a lot of sites into my restricted sites list, generally to kill off spyware and ads. With the growing amount of flash ads, flash gets throttled for those sites.

I like flash games, some flash content and humour, but to suggest FLASH as a platform based on X% penetration is a bit misleading. HTML has 100% browser penetration, is based on open standards and is cheap to produce with massive amounts of how-to literature and tools available. The use of FLASH as a browser platform for interactivity is to suggest it as an alternative to HTML. The usability issues about flash-in-browser are still not solved. Standard set of widgets is really standard set of FLASH widgets for new FLASH content only. These things are not native controls don't behave the same and don't take up the browser pane properly. The Java crowd hit all of  these problems before. They don't go away with an alternative set of 'internally standard' widgets. Usability is more than just consistency.

The web isn't a desktop OS stop trying to make it so.

PS I worked for a company who used out-of-browser and standalone flash applications to make high-presentation UIs for the consumer space (essentially credit card software that was skinned like a credit card, essentially using a direct metaphor). That was pretty cool, but that UI would never really scale in complexity.

Richard
Tuesday, July 02, 2002

"... Jess N,

>How do people make standard interfaces if they can't >experiment with a raw system?
>Things need to evolve.

Agreed. Things need to evolve.
  ..."

But that evolution is dictated more by the OS & application vendors with big research budgets and mass consumer penetration. Effectively only Microsoft, Apple, possibly Netscape too, maybe the KDE/Gnome crew. Sometimes an interesting UI pattern might get noticed by one of the big groups and some form of it incorporated into their products; effectively moving the evolution of UI. there are not many really useful widget types being created nowadays.

Don't expect the artistic types to evolve the UI - generally, even in standard application design those people are quite dangerous to usability (and developer sanity). Effective UI is not about making UIs pretty.

As for flash as a platform with its standard widgets, the browser penetration aspect is a bit of a misnomer:

How about FLASH as a platform for 95% of browsers, LESS  { those who use screen res <1024 x 768, non Latin-1, non-US english, non-standard pointers, ....... }

Richard
Tuesday, July 02, 2002

OzzieGT:
"... As far as 'tolerable' goes, why should we have to wait for 56k users to play catch-up? The standard for the size of the average download is increasing, and so people who are on slower internet connetions really just need to get used to the idea of some web pages taking 30 seconds to load instead of 5. I wonder what percentage of current web users are on dial-up nowadays anyway...
..."

Probably because they represent teouhe vast majority of internet users. Consumer broadband is stagnating, if not imploding, and corporatations are going to great lengths to control employee internet use. All of these 56k users are your target market. Whatever you deploy has to be suitable for them too. I can tolerate large d/ls for certain things only, like file content, service packs/updates, game patches and software that I am intending to use. I am not willing to wait while redundant content loads. If i am going to a site, it is typically so that I can read something there, possibly download something. But to D/L I typically have to read too. Waiting for someones flash content to load, redirects to respond, popups, popunders, poparseways just pisses me off. This is costing me time and reducing the quality of my experience.

These longer page loads offer nothing to the viewer.

Richard
Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Does anyone remember search engines?  They were the worst blight on the internet.  They were Portals, with a tiny text box to do the search.  Then came Google.

I like inefficiency.  I like everyone misusing a tool.  That means differentiation when I don't.

Still, there are dark clouds with Macromedia.  Why does Microsoft not consider them a threat?  Even the name references Microsoft.  Because Macromedia agrees to limit the power of their plugin?  Or because they've signed up to do integration with .Net, potentially aiding MS' server push?

Sammy
Tuesday, July 02, 2002

In general, flash should be avoided in practically all situations because of its well-documented deficiencies. However, it can be a useful tool such as when used like this: http://reservations.broadmoor.com/

pb
Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Duh,.  Of course it's clear why MSFT won't kill Macromedia.  Just think of Joel's last article.  Big companies release complements for free.  Small ones release opensource to not appear as threats to their large partners.  Microsoft could kill them if they wanted, which is why they don't.

Sammy
Tuesday, July 02, 2002

I'm not a flash user either.  Haven't given it much thought.  My daughter is the one that browses all the "way cool" websites.

But I did try the PetMarket link some posts above.  Gave the appearance of slowing my cable modem down to a dialup.  That didn't impress me, nor did anything on the site - why wouldn't someone just use plain HTML for something like that?

Got me.  Flash must have it's followers... and rumor has it that visual basic does also.  Just another thing I'll never understand.

Joe AA.
Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Queen:
Yes, you're very clever. I know the Flash API, so I have the knowledge. You, however, are contributing nothing but bullshit to this conversation. Shame, that, because you may actually know something, but don't seem to know how to express it in polite company.

Patrik: Yes, you're very clever - windows DOES have a standard set of widgets. However, Flash runs on many platforms, not just Windows. Perhaps that's why they are creating their own.

In any case, few seem to have anything better to do than troll this conversation, speaking with their emotions and not their minds, so I won't bother anymore.

Not a flash user
Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Flash Me!!:-)

1.)My Fix for Content versus speed
Here is what I have done to try and fix that issue.  When you enter my website your connection speed is automatically measerued and determines if you go to the regular web site or the Flash version of my site.
The test only takes about 3 seconds on dial-up and if you are on broadband you don't even hardly see it.
Granted I do need to slim down my regular site a little bit more because it is still a little slow.

2.)Flash UI
I think that when done with the user in mind that it can be just as easy and familiar as Windows.
See for yourself:  http://www.infinitetech.net
I don't know how much more user friendly you can get.
If you are dialed up then you won't get any flash.

Just my attempt at a compromise.

RodDog
Tuesday, May 25, 2004

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