Flash is streaming animation for web pages. Sometimes Flash is a portion of an html web page, and sometimes a web page is made entirely of Flash. Either way, Flash files are called "Flash movies". These are special .swf format files that beam to your web browser screen as you watch them.
Flash requires a special free plugin (modification) to your browser before you can view Flash movies.
Flash movies offer two very special web browsing experiences: very fast loading, and vector animation with interactivity:
- Flash benefit #1: very fast loading to your screen
Unlike file attachments in email, which you must wait to fully download before viewing, Flash movies start playing as the content is transmitted to you. While the Flash movie may be 6 megabytes large, you can start to watch the animation within moments, while the rest "streams" to your screen in the background. This makes Flash very desirable for web publishers, as it opens creative doors for them to make very powerful animations for their readers.
- Flash benefit #2: vector graphic animation
"Vector graphics" are different from "raster graphics" (jpg, gif, png, bmp graphics). Vector graphics use math formulas to draw animation shapes, while raster graphics save millions of tiny colored dots to draw photos. This difference allows vector graphics to be very small file size, and very crisp at any resized format. For these two benefits, Flash designers use vector graphics to make powerful web page visuals that load to your screen very quickly and crisply.
Some examples of powerful Flash animation sites:
- The XDude Flash Site Gallery
- The Design Chapel, Sweden
- Flashkit.com: Flash toolkit for Amateur Flash Developers
There are three downsides to Flash animation:
- Downside #1: Some organizations block Flash movies from being received through the Internet. While this is partly motivated by fears of Flash viruses and Flash hackers, the greater motivation is disciplining staff. Many managers of private companies do not want their employees playing Flash games at their office computers, so they will ban Flash movies at work through technical blockers on the network. Do not be surprised if your employer chooses to implement a ban of Flash at your office.
- Downside #2: Not everyone has the required Flash Player plugin. Because they do not like "blinking things" on their screens, some users choose to disable or not install Flash Player.
- Downside #3: Flash .swf movies can be very time consuming to edit. It is very laborious work to change a Flash web page quickly. For this reason, you will almost never see a dynamic content page like a news site utilizing Flash for its rapidly-changing content. Instead, Flash is used more for decorative purposes, and for advertising and online gaming purposes.