Most of you have visited web sites filled with video-like animation, sound effects and music synchronized to animation, enhanced interactivity, and stunning graphics - all of which appear to load and play almost instantly.
These sites seem to have rocketed their design to "another level"… and you've surely wondered, "How did they do that?"
More than likely, you were experiencing a site designed using Flash or SWF file format.
Flash (developed by Macromedia) is leading vector graphics technology for designing high-impact, low-bandwidth web sites. SWF (ShockWave Flash) is file format used by Macromedia Flash to deliver graphics, animation and sound over Internet. These techniques are rapidly changing way we play, work, or just browse online.
What are vector graphics? Vector graphics, which manipulate coordinates and mathematical formulas rather than pixel-by-pixel bitmaps, produce graphics files that are one-tenth size of bitmaps. Additionally, SWF can deliver animation, rich colors, sound, and interactivity. Moreover, this approach downloads faster, it's scalable (more on this below), and it boasts higher quality than other graphics formats.
Well over 95% of Internet users can now view SWF content: over 300 million people have downloaded Flash Player for their browser. Even better, if you already run at least a 4.0 browser, no plug-in is required - it's already there. Macromedia published specifications for SWF in April 1998. It is now an open source format for development by third parties. The SWF file format is being integrated into web design and graphic applications more and more, and it's becoming increasingly easier and faster for web designers and developers to learn and to use.
Still, some of us just don't have necessary time to learn (or money to invest) in these high-end applications. What to do?
A quick search online will bring up dozens of resource sites specializing in Flash and offering free ready-to-use SWF files for you to download and embed into your site. So take advantage of these generous offers and flash-up your site too.
But if you've never worked with these newer SWF files, you might encounter a few initial problems -- or be unaware of some interesting capabilities. Here's an explanation that will make it quick, simple, and painless.
The SWF or Flash needs two basic ingredients. First, you need SWF file itself -- which contains animation and any sounds, all in one easy file. For our brief explanation here, let's call this file "super.swf".
Second, you need HTML script to place in your web page. The HTML script contains simple instructions (called parameters), and executes SWF file in area of your web document where you insert script -- kind of like a Java Applet, but that's where any similarity ends.