By:Mark Angeletti, Published:2003-9-14

In this article we will look at the strengths and weaknesses of one of the most controversial products in the web development world, Macromedia Flash. We will take a close look at what Flash can do and what Flash can’t or shouldn’t do. And while in the process we will be comparing Flash to its counterparts HTML and CSS.

This article is sure to create debate and a lot of additional email for myself. At the least, this article should allow you to communicate with prospective clients reasons why a project should or shouldn’t be done in Flash.

A Bold Statement

HTML / CSS will never be able to do what Flash does – NEVER. With that statement alone some people have already launched their mail client, but before you compose that email let me explain this statement.

Let’s take a look at the strengths of Macromedia’s multimedia vector product Flash. Then we will examine its weaknesses and finish with a comparison of the HTML / CSS tandem.

What does Flash do that HTML and CSS can’t do?

Flash’s Strengths

Freedom of Development

Flash allows for freedom of development not found anywhere else. Flash allows the designer to place objects anywhere they want without having to worry about absolute / relative placement, box model problems, inconsistencies across browsers, z-indexes, tables-in-tables-in-tables, sliced up graphics and screen resolutions. In Flash you simply place the object on your canvas where you want it and move on. Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last!

Seriously, this advantage is not to be taken lightly. As designers, this is what we’ve been wanting since the beginning of the Web: the ability to design without limitations being placed on us by browsers or programming languages. With Flash, you no longer need to worry about which browsers your page will render correctly in and which will choke on it. Your page renders the same way – correctly — in all browsers.

Greater Interactivity

Flash provides an interactive environment for a more involved multimedia experience. We’re not just talking about rollovers that swap colors or images, which, by the way, are a piece of cake in Flash, and can even include sound. We’re talking about the bigger deal here.

Flash allows you to incorporate sound into your pages via mp3 and wav files, allowing you to use, for example, speech or background music. You can also directly import digital video into Flash, which allows you to easily demo products or just show off the family. It’s true that Flash is not the only way to include video into a Web page. There are other tools, such as Windows Media Player, Real-Player, and QuickTime. However, the Flash player plug-in penetration is now at around 97%. Compared to Windows Media Player plug-in at 59%, Real-Player plug-in at 56% and QuickTime player plug-in at 41%, Flash is streets ahead.

Ok, so maybe you’re annoyed by music and video in Websites. No problem! Just don’t add it. But at least you have the option to incorporate these elements on, for instance, client sites if you use Flash. HTML/CSS simply don’t offer the option.

More Adaptable

Because of Flash’s vector rendering it has the ability to adjust the entire screen size based on the browser size and while doing so keep your images and text clean and unpixelated. This will become more of an advantage as people surf the web from alternative sources other than a desktop computer, such as a PDA, mobile phone, car display or wrist-watch.

Improved Integration

Flash allows you to integrate any multimedia file format into your site. For example, bitmap image formats (such as, GIF, JPEG, PNG, PCT, TIF), vector image formats (including FreeHand files, EPS, Illustrator files), and as previously mentioned, sound formats (WAV, AIF, MP3) can all be imported into a Flash movie.

Easier Font Handling

With Flash you have the ability to embed any font you wish and have it display in the client browser regardless of whether they have the font installed on their machine. You no longer have to convert fonts to images in order to maintain the font for display on varying user systems.

Replicate Frames

Flash can replicate the behavior of frames on an HTML Website in that it can maintain in a fixed position certain parts of the Web page, such as the navigation buttons, as other parts of the screen scroll.

Stand-Alone Movies

Flash allows you to play movies as stand-alone presentations called projectors. Projectors are Flash movies that come complete with an embedded player — you don’t even need a Web browser to play these Flash movies! You can burn Flash projectors to CD-ROMs or DVDs.

No Reload – Or Browser Flicker

Flash gives you the ability to display data as part of an ever-changing process without having to reload or refresh the page! That’s right — the data can change without even so much as a flicker from the browser.

Ok, so we’ve covered the advantages of this technology. Now, let’s look at the weaknesses of Flash.

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