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What is Flash?

Flash! What is it?!

An vector illustration and animation tool?
A video format?
A programming paradigm?
AS3 + movie clips?
Endless font frustrations?
A tool for developing specialized Flex components?

I'm heading out for the Gordon Research Conference on Visualization in Science and Education this week. While there, I will undoubtedly be talking about Flash a lot...about what I do with it. About interaction, and dynamic animation, ...

A lot of people have an idea of what Flash is, and what it can do. Do they have the complete picture? What would you say, if someone asked you what Flash is?


I think I'm perhaps too-well-trained, but I'd first make sure we're agreed on the naming and terminology... "Do you mean the Adobe Flash Player 9, which is available in virtually all browsers throughout the world today? or maybe we're talking about the Adobe Flash CS3 Professional authoring tool, or maybe the entire set of technologies which use the SWF file format?"

Otherwise, I'm a Barry Allen guy, never got into that Wally West stuff.... ;-)


John, I think you've hit on why it's a hard question to answer. A lot of people I run into, think of Flash as "animation" and cartoons...yes, still.

You could say that Flash is swf. But then, we need to start talking about how to create content and publish it in swf format. The near ubiquity of the Flash player has made "Flash" appealing to many folks in the science, math, and data viz and education world.

Can a discussion of Flash not include authoring? Be it from Flash authoring tool, Flex Builder, or Mathematica 6! Can we discuss authoring without the capabilities of the swf format? We can, but *should* we?

Flash is just a medium through which developers and designers can express themselves, solve business problems, and entertain.

(dramatic music)

I usually just curl up and try to change the conversation. It's like "what do you do?". If it requires 10 minutes to explain, that's fine if the listener really wants to know. Conversely, if you try to summarize you risk not covering the topic fairly.

I can't imagine the regular "man on the street" gives a hoot about the tools necessary to build Flash. Flash is .swf--that's for sure. Other than that I'd just recommend the "progressive disclosure" approach where you first try to shake the riff-raff by saying "it's this web thing" and then if they stick around past mentioning Joe Cartoon then maybe you can explain how the JIT helps AS3.