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ADOBE FLASH | Examined

Adobe Flash (Formerly Macromedia Flash) is a multimedia platform used to add animation, video, and interactively to Web pages. Flash is frequently used for advertisements and games. More recently, it has been positioned as a tool for "Rich Internet Applications" ("RIAs").Adobe Flash Icon

Flash manipulates vector and raster graphics to provide animation of text, drawings, and still images. It supports bidirectional streaming of audio and video, and it can capture user input via mouse, keyboard, microphone, and camera. Flash contains an Object-oriented language called ActionScript.

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Flash content may be displayed on various computer systems and devices, using Adobe Flash Player, which is available free of charge for common Web browsers, some mobile phones and a few other electronic devices (using Flash Lite).


Originally developed by Macromedia, Flash was introduced in 1996, and is currently developed and distributed by Adobe Systems. The precursor to the Flash application was SmartSketch, a drawing application for pen computers running the PenPoint OS developed by Jonathan Gay, who began working on it in college and extended the idea for Silicon Beach Software and its successors. When PenPoint failed in the marketplace, SmartSketch was ported to Microsoft Windows and Mac OS. With the Internet becoming more popular, SmartSketch was re-released as FutureSplash, a vector-based Web animation in competition with Macromedia Shockwave. In 1995, SmartSketch was further modified with frame-by-frame animation features and re-released as FutureSplash Animator on multiple platforms. The product was offered to Adobe and used by Microsoft in its early work with the Internet (MSN). In 1996, FutureSplash was acquired by Macromedia and released as Flash, contracting "Future" and "Splash".

Recent Developments

Adobe Labs (previously called Macromedia Labs) is a source for news and pre-release versions of emerging products and technologies from Adobe. Most innovations, such as Flash 10, Flex 3, and ActionScript 3.0 have all been discussed and/or tried on the site.

One area Adobe is focusing on (as of February 2009) is the deployment of Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). To this end, they released Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), a cross-platform runtime environment which can be used to build, using Adobe Flash, rich Internet applications that can be deployed as a desktop application. It surpassed 100 million installations worldwide in February 2009. This is mainly because it is installed silently when Acrobat Reader is installed. Many users are unaware of its residence on their system.

Two additional components designed for large-scale implementation have been proposed by Adobe for future releases of Flash: first, the option to require an ad to be played in full before the main video piece is played; and second, the integration of digital rights management (DRM) capabilities. This way Adobe can give companies the option to link an advertisement with content and make sure that both are played and remain unchanged. The current status of these two projects is unclear.

Flash Player for smart phones is available to handset manufacturers at the end of 2009.

Open Screen Project

On May 1, 2008 Adobe announced Open Screen Project, which hopes to provide a consistent application interface across devices such as personal computers, mobile devices and consumer electronics. When the project was announced, several goals were outlined: the abolition of licensing fees for Adobe Flash Player and Adobe Integrated Runtime, the removal of restrictions on the use of the Shockwave Flash (SWF) and Flash Video (FLV) file format, the publishing of application programming interfaces for porting Flash to new devices and the publishing of The Flash Cast protocol and Action Message Format (AMF), which let Flash applications receive information from remote databases.

As of February 2009, the specifications removing the restrictions on the use of SWF and FLV/F4V specs have been published. The Flash Cast protocol—now known as the Mobile Content Delivery Protocol—and AMF protocols have also been made available, with AMF available as an open source implementation, BlazeDS. Work on the device porting layers is in the early stages. Adobe intends to remove the licensing fees for Flash Player and Adobe AIR for devices at their release for the Open Screen Project.

The list of mobile device providers who have joined the project includes Palm, Motorola and Nokia, who, together with Adobe, have announced a $10 million OpenScreen Project fund.

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Flash files are in the SWF format, traditionally called "ShockWave Flash" movies, "Flash movies," or "Flash games", usually have a .swf file extension, and may be used in the form of a Web-page plug-in, strictly "played" in a standalone Flash Player, or incorporated into a self-executing Projector movie (with the .exe extension in Microsoft Windows). Flash Video files have a .flv file extension and are either used from within .swf files or played through a flv-aware player, such as VLC, or QuickTime and Windows Media Player with external codecs added.

The use of vector graphics combined with program code allows Flash files to be smaller — and thus for streams to use less bandwidth — than the corresponding bitmaps or video clips. For content in a single format (such as just text, video, or audio), other alternatives may provide better performance and consume less CPU power than the corresponding Flash movie, for example when using transparency or making large screen updates such as photographic or text fades.

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Format (Continued)

In addition to a vector-rendering engine, the Flash Player includes a virtual machine called the ActionScript Virtual Machine (AVM) for scripting interactivity at run-time, support for video, MP3-based audio, and bitmap graphics. As of Flash Player 8, it offers two video codecs: On2 Technologies VP6 and Sorenson Spark, and run-time support for JPEG, Progressive JPEG, PNG, and GIF. In the next version, Flash is slated to use a just-in-time compiler for the ActionScript engine.

Flash Player is a browser plugin, and cannot run within a usual e-mail client, such as Outlook. Instead, a link must open a browser window. A Gmail labs feature allows playback of YouTube videos linked in e-mail.

Flash Video

Until the advent of HTML5, displaying video on a web page required browser plugins, which are uniquely implemented by third party vendors. Virtually all browser plugins for video are free and cross-platform, including Adobe's offering of Flash Video, which was first introduced with Flash version 6. Flash Video has been a popular choice for websites due to the large installed user base and programmability of Flash. In 2010, Apple has publicly criticized Adobe's implementation of Flash Video playback for not taking advantage of hardware acceleration, as well as criticizing Flash technology in general which has been cited as reason for not implementing Apple's mobile devices. Soon after Apple's criticism, Adobe demoed and released a beta version of Flash 10.1, which takes advantage of hardware acceleration even on a Mac.

Flash Audio

Flash Audio is most commonly encoded in MP3 or AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) however it does also support ADPCM, Nellymoser (Nellymoser Asao Codec) and Speex audio codecs. Flash allows sample rates of 11, 22 and 44.1 kHz. It does not support 48 kHz audio sample rate which is the standard TV, DVD sample rate.

On August 20, 2007, Adobe announced on its blog that with Update 3 of Flash Player 9, Flash Video will also support some parts of the MPEG-4 international standards. Specifically, Flash Player will have support for video compressed in H.264 (MPEG-4 Part 10), audio compressed using AAC (MPEG-4 Part 3), the F4V, MP4 (MPEG-4 Part 14), M4V, M4A, 3GP and MOV multimedia container formats, 3GPP Timed Text specification (MPEG-4 Part 17) which is a standardized subtitle format and partial parsing support for the 'ilst' atom which is the ID3 equivalent iTunes uses to store metadata. MPEG-4 Part 2 and H.263 will not be supported in F4V file format. Adobe also announced that they will be gradually moving away from the FLV format to the standard ISO base media file format (MPEG-4 Part 12) owing to functional limits with the FLV structure when streaming H.264. The final release of the Flash Player supporting some parts of MPEG-4 standards had become available in Fall 2007.

Adobe Flash Player 10.1 does not support acoustic echo cancellation, unlike the VoIP offerings of Skype and Google Voice. This makes Flash less suitable for group calling or meetings, as use of headphones for all participants is essential, or at least highly advised.

Authoring Tools

Adobe Flash Professional - The Adobe Flash Professional multimedia authoring program is used to create content for the Adobe Engagement Platform, such as web applications, games and movies, and content for mobile phones and other embedded devices.

FutureSplash Animator
Initial version of Flash with basic editing tools and a timeline
Macromedia Flash 1
a Macromedia re-branded version of the FutureSplash Animator
Macromedia Flash 2
Released with Flash Player 2, new features included: the object library
Macromedia Flash 3
Released with Flash Player 3, new features included: the movieclip element, JavaScript plug-in integration, transparency and an external stand alone player
Macromedia Flash 4
Released with Flash Player 4, new features included: internal variables, an input field, advanced ActionScript, and streaming MP3
Macromedia Flash 5
Released with Flash Player 5, new features included: ActionScript 1.0 (based on ECMAScript, making it very similar to JavaScript in syntax), XML support, Smartclips (the precursor to components in Flash), HTML text formatting added for dynamic text
Macromedia Flash MX (6)
Released with Flash Player 6, new features included: a video codec (Sorenson Spark), Unicode, v1 UI Components, compression, ActionScript vector drawing API
Macromedia Flash MX 2004 (7)
Released with Flash Player 7, new features included: Actionscript 2.0 (which enabled an object-oriented programming model for Flash, although it lacked the Script assist function of other versions, meaning Actionscript could only be typed out manually), behaviors, extensibility layer (JSAPI), alias text support, timeline effects. Macromedia Flash MX Professional 2004 included all Flash MX 2004 features, plus: Screens (forms for non-linear state-based development and slides for organizing content in a linear slide format like PowerPoint), web services integration, video import wizard, Media Playback components (which encapsulate a complete MP3 and/or FLV player in a component that may be placed in an SWF), Data components (DataSet, XMLConnector, WebServicesConnector, XUpdateResolver, etc.) and data binding APIs, the Project Panel, v2 UI components, and Transition class libraries.
Macromedia Flash 8
Macromedia Flash Basic 8, a less feature-rich version of the Flash authoring tool targeted at new users who only want to do basic drawing, animation and interactivity. Released with Flash Player 8, this version of the product has limited support for video and advanced graphical and animation effects. Macromedia Flash Professional 8 added features focused on expressiveness, quality, video, and mobile authoring. New features included Filters and blend modes, easing control for animation, enhanced stroke properties (caps and joins), object-based drawing mode, run-time bitmap caching, FlashType advanced anti-aliasing for text, On2 VP6 advanced video codec, support for alpha transparency in video, a stand-alone encoder and advanced video importer, cue point support in FLV files, an advanced video playback component, and an interactive mobile device emulator.
Adobe Flash CS3 (9) Professional
Flash CS3 is the first version of Flash released under the Adobe name. CS3 features full support for ActionScript 3.0, allows entire applications to be converted into ActionScript, adds better integration with other Adobe products such as Adobe Photoshop, and also provides better Vector drawing behavior, becoming more like Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Fireworks.
Adobe Flash CS4 (10) Professional
Contains inverse kinematics (bones), basic 3D object manipulation, object-based animation, a text engine, and further expansions to ActionScript 3.0. CS4 allows the developer to create animations with many features absent in previous versions.
Adobe Flash Professional CS5 (11)
Flash CS5 was released on April 12, 2010 and launched for trialling and normal buying on April 30, 2010. Flash CS5 Professional includes support for publishing iPhone applications.[13] However, on April 8, 2010 Apple changed the terms of its Developer License to effectively ban the use of the Flash-to-iPhone compiler[14] and on April 20, 2010 Adobe announced that they will be making no additional investments in targeting the iPhone and iPad in Flash CS5. Other features of Flash CS5 are a new text engine (TLF), further improvement to inverse kinematics, and the Code Snippets panel.

Third-Party Tools

Open Source projects like Ajax Animator and the (now defunct) UIRA aim to create a flash development environment, complete with a graphical user environment. Alternatively, programs such as swfmill, SWFTools, and MTASC provide tools to create SWF files, but do so by compiling text, actionscript or XML files into Flash animations. It is also possible to create SWF files programmatically using the Ming library, which has interfaces for C, PHP, C++, Perl, Python, and Ruby. haXe is an open source, high-level object-oriented programming language geared towards web-content creation that can compile Flash files.

Many shareware developers produced Flash creation tools and sold them for under US$50 between 2000 and 2002. In 2003 competition and the emergence of free Flash creation tools had driven many third-party Flash-creation tool-makers out of the market, allowing the remaining developers to raise their prices, although many of the products still cost less than $100 (US) and support ActionScript. As for open source tools, KToon can edit vectors and generate SWF, but its interface is very different from Macromedia's. Another, more recent example of a Flash creation tool is SWiSH Max made by an ex-employee of Macromedia. Toon Boom Technologies also sells a traditional animation tool, based on Flash.

In addition, several programs create .swf-compliant files as output from their programs. Among the most famous of these are Screencast tools, which leverage the ability to do lossless compression and playback of captured screen content in order to produce demos, tutorials, or software simulations of programs. These programs are typically designed for use by non-programmers, and create Flash content quickly and easily, but cannot actually edit the underlying Flash code (i.e. the tweening and transforms, etc.) Screencam is perhaps the oldest screencasting authoring tool to adopt Flash as the preferred output format, having been developed since the mid-90s. The fact that screencasting programs have adopted Flash as the preferred output is testament to Flash's presence as a ubiquitous cross-platform animation file format.

Other tools are focused on creating specific types of Flash content. Anime Studio is a 2D animation software package specialized for character animation which creates SWF files. Express Animator is similarly aimed specifically at animators. Question Writer publishes its quizzes to Flash file format.

Users who are not programmers or web designers will also find on-line tools that allow them to build full Flash-based web sites. One of the oldest services available (1998) is FlashToGo. Such companies provide a wide variety of pre-built models (templates) associated to a Content Management System that empowers users to easily build, edit and publish their web sites. Other sites, that allows for greater customization and design flexibility are and CirclePad.

Adobe wrote a software package called Adobe LiveMotion, designed to create interactive animation content and export it to a variety of formats, including SWF. LiveMotion went through two major releases, but failed to gain any notable user base.

In February 2003, Macromedia purchased Presedia, which had developed a Flash authoring tool that automatically converted PowerPoint files into Flash. Macromedia subsequently released the new product as Breeze, which included many new enhancements. In addition, (as of version 2) Apple's Keynote presentation software also allows users to create interactive presentations and export to SWF.

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Installed User Base

Flash as a format has become widespread on the desktop market; one estimate is that 95% of PCs have it, while Adobe claims that 98 percent of U.S. Web users and 99.3 percent of all Internet desktop users have installed the Flash Player, with 92 to 95% (depending on region) having the latest version. Numbers vary depending on the detection scheme and research demographics.

The Adobe Flash Player exists for a variety of systems and devices: Windows, Mac OS 9/X, Linux, Solaris, HP-UX, Pocket PC/Windows CE, OS/2, QNX, Android, Symbian, Palm OS, BeOS, and IRIX, although the performance is typically best on Windows (see Performance). For compatibility with devices (embedded systems), see Macromedia Flash Lite.

Among mobile devices, Flash has less penetration because Apple does not bundle or allow third-party runtimes on its iPhone, which accounts for more than 60% of global smartphone web traffic, or the iPod touch, which makes up more than 95% of "mobile Internet device" traffic. This hurts Adobe's ability to market Flash as a ubiquitous mobile platform. However, Flash support has been announced for competing mobile platforms, including the next version of Android.

64-bit Support

On September 27, 2010, Adobe Labs released the Adobe Flash "Square" preview2 which continues Adobe's efforts in building a 64-bit flash plugin for 64-bit web browsers. The "Square" preview is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. This new version can be downloaded at the Adobe lab site.

The key new capabilities in the Flash Player "Square" preview are:

  • 64-bit support — Native support for 64-bit operating systems and 64-bit web browsers on Linux, Mac OS, and Windows. (Hulu and Amazon which depends onRTMPE aren't currently functioning because there are some 64-bit libs that need to be integrated into the branch "Adobe Forums: Flash Player "Square": 64-bit").
  • Internet Explorer 9 hardware accelerated rendering support — Enhanced support for Internet Explorer 9 Beta. It takes advantage of hardware accelerated graphics in Internet Explorer 9 Beta, utilizing hardware rendering surfaces to improve graphics performance and enable seamless composition.

The first experimental release of 64-bit builds of Adobe Flash Player was for the Linux platform, on November 11, 2008.

The project was closed temporarily on June 15, 2010,[26] while Adobe was preparing for the preview release on September 15, 2010.

The official 32-bit player is still distributed in 64-bit Linux distributions e.g. Ubuntu, openSUSE, of which some users have reported problems with the 32-bit player on some websites. Affected users can install the 64-bit player manually or through a special repository.

Adobe expects to provide 64-bit versions of its Flash Player for Windows, Macintosh and Linux with an upcoming major release of Adobe Flash Player.

Flash Blocking in Web Browsers

Some web browsers default to not play Flash content before the user clicks on it, e.g. Konqueror, K-Meleon. Equivalent "Flash blocker" extensions also exist for many popular browsers: Firefox has NoScript and Flashblock, and Opera has an extension also called Flashblock. Using Opera Turbo requires user clicks to play Flash content. Internet Explorer has Foxie, which contains a number of features, one of them also named Flashblock. WebKit-based browsers under Mac OS X, such as Apple's Safari, have ClickToFlash.

Related File Formats & Extensions

.swf files are completed, compiled and published files that cannot be edited with Adobe Flash. However, many '.swf decompilers' do exist. Attempting to import .swf files using Flash allows it to retrieve some assets from the .swf, but not all.
FXG is an unified xml file format being developed by Adobe for Flex, Flash, Photoshop and other applications.
.fla files contain source material for the Flash application. Flash authoring software can edit FLA files and compile them into .swf files. The Flash source file format is currently a binary file format based on the Microsoft Compound File Format. In Flash Pro CS5, the fla file format is a zip container of an XML-based project structure.
.xfl files are XML-based project files that are equivalent to the binary .fla format. Flash authoring software uses XFL as an exchange format in Flash CS4. It imports XFL files that are exported from InDesign and AfterEffects. In Flash Pro CS5, the xfl file is a key file which opens the "uncompressed FLA" file, which is a hierarchy of folders containing XML and binary files.
.as files contain ActionScript source code in simple source files. FLA files can also contain Actionscript code directly, but separate external .as files often emerge for structural reasons, or to expose the code to versioning applications.
.mxml files are used in conjunction with ActionScript files (and .css files), and offer a markup-language-style syntax (like HTML) for designing the GUI in Flex. Each MXML file creates a new class that extends the class of the root tag, and adds the nested tags as children (if they are descendants of UIComponent) or members of the class.
.swd files are temporary debugging files used during Flash development. Once finished developing a Flash project these files are not needed and can be removed.
.asc files contain Server-Side ActionScript, which is used to develop efficient and flexible client-server Macromedia Flash Communication Server MX applications.
.abc files contain actionscript bytecode used by the Actionscript Virtual Machine AVM (Flash 8 and prior), and AVM2 (Flash 9 or later).
.flv files are Flash video files, as created by Adobe Flash, ffmpeg, Sorenson Squeeze, or On2 Flix. The audio and video data within FLV files are encoded in the same way as they are within SWF files.
.f4v files are similar to MP4 files and can be played back by Flash Player 9 Update 3 and above. F4V file format is second container format for Flash video and it differs from FLV file format. It is based on the ISO base media file format.[
.f4p files are F4V files with digital rights management.
.f4a files are F4V files that contain only audio streams.
.f4b files are F4V audio book files.
.swc files are used for distributing components; they contain a compiled clip, the component's ActionScript class file, and other files that describe the component.
.jsfl files are used to add functionality in the Flash Authoring environment; they contain JavaScript code and access the Flash JavaScript API.
.swt files are 'templatized' forms of .swf files, used by Macromedia Generator
.flp files are XML files used to reference all the document files contained in a Flash Project. Flash Projects allow the user to group multiple, related files together to assist in Flash project organization, compilation and build.
.spl files are FutureSplash documents.
.aso files are cache files used during Flash development, containing compiled ActionScript byte code. An ASO file is recreated when a change in its corresponding class files is detected. Occasionally the Flash IDE does not recognize that a recompile is necessary, and these cache files must be deleted manually. They are located in %USERPROFILE%\Local Settings\Application Data\Macromedia\Flash8\en\Configuration\Classes\aso on Win32 / Flash8.
.sol files are created by Adobe Flash Player to hold Local Shared Objects (data stored on the system running the Flash player).
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