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Programming IT Technology

Flash and Open Source 597

Anders Schneiderman asks: "I'm involved in a project that's planning to create open source toys for educating people around complicated policy questions (e.g., policy on prescription drugs). We'd really like to use Flash as our main language, but we're concerned about the fact that the major Flash development tools cost $500--more than some of the community group folks we want to involve can afford. I took a look at Sourceforge, and while there are plenty of projects that offer ways to create Flash for free, there didn't seem to be any v.1 general development tools. Did I miss something? If you want to build Flash and you don't want to pay $500, how do you do it (aside from copying somebody else's, which as Bill Gates told us is just bad, bad, bad)? And if there aren't any powerful open source tools for it, any thoughts on why?"
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Flash and Open Source

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  • Don't use flash (Score:2, Informative)

    by pe1rxq ( 141710 )
    And if there aren't any powerful open source tools for it, any thoughts on why?

    Maybe because most open source people (me included) tend not to like flash?????
    Seriously if you are going to use flash you will also need someway to view it right? That means you have to get a system capable of viewing flash.... Which means that your nice community effort is going to rely on commercial software.

    Go with something completly free (the speach kind), it will safe you a lot of money!


    • Re:Don't use flash (Score:3, Interesting)

      by oozer ( 132881 )
      It is regretable that Macromedia haven't either supported alternative OSs or even released an OSS flash player. However, if you wanted to produce multimedia content for the web, what other options are available? The only thing currently available thats even comparable is Shockwave and most Flash users wouldn't consider touching that.

      Even when browser developers start supporting the open SVG standard the questioner will still find himself with the same problem because SVG just specifies a vector format to display static images. Animation can be achieved my means of Javascript (yeh, I know you probably don't like that either) manipulating the DOM. Even so, few multimedia authors want to write Javascript.

      If you look at the huge number of projects listed on SourceForge or Freshmeat you will see very few that involve rich graphical user interfaces like the Flash developer environment. We all agree that free software developers are as smart as commercial developers (many of them are the same people just working in their spare time). The lack of multimedia development tools in the 'free' arena is really down to the fact that they are a bitch to write and people that are developing software for fun would rather write something that is useful to *them*.
    • I agree that sometimes Flash is pretty annoying, but for certain types of applications I can understand why someone might want to use it. Don't flame this guy for investigating what might be appropriate options for his purposes, especially since there are tools such as Ming [] for PHP, which allow you to generate some pretty goddamned cool-looking Flash files without owning the Macromedia authoring program. Did I mention it's open source?
  • Nothing Found (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kerneljacabo ( 320052 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @03:41PM (#3345172)
    This is a problem I've hit before. Unfortunately the open source community hasnt produced any Flash development tools since many users of OSS are anti-flash. This is mainly due to the fact that no matter how glitzy, Flash is still not supported by the W3C as an accepted internet standard. Plus PHP works wonders with graphics. Nevertheless, maybe it's time we asked Macromedia to help us out??
    • Re:Nothing Found (Score:4, Interesting)

      by pe1rxq ( 141710 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @03:46PM (#3345217) Homepage Journal
      I don't think its the W3Cs fault....
      The problem is that 99.999999% of the flash you encounter on the web is waste of bandwith.
      Most OSS users don't like 'glitzy' they like the actual content which is absend on nearly all flash sites.

      • "The problem is that 99.999999% of the flash you encounter on the web is waste of bandwith."

        replace the word flash with everything and you'd be on the mark!
        • Re:Nothing Found (Score:3, Insightful)

          by nzhavok ( 254960 )
          Actually the flash movies in howstuffworks are quite good for ther kids. I especially liked the WWII nuclear bombs.

          Click to explode Little Boy

          Click to explode Fat Man

          Seriously thou, flash has uses, it's just too overused in most places.
    • Re:Nothing Found (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Technician ( 215283 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @04:19PM (#3345523)
      As part of the intentionaly flash disabled, don't forget to put the content in a non flash format. A blank page is useless. I removed flash as it's a real drag on my modem connection and it's almost always for advertisements, not content. The signal to noise ratio is just too bad to justify re-installing flash.
    • Re:Nothing Found (Score:5, Informative)

      by horza ( 87255 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @04:32PM (#3345615) Homepage
      Have you checked out Ming [] which allows PHP to generate custom Flash movies on the fly?

  • SVG (Score:5, Informative)

    by tburke ( 29991 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @03:43PM (#3345185)
    SVG is a W3C approved vector graphic and animation XML language. Development tools for it are coming right along. There is a good series [] about SVG on XML.COM. The author demonstrates many flash features using SVG.
    • More info (Score:5, Informative)

      by MAJ Rantage ( 261356 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @03:50PM (#3345249) Homepage Journal
      The W3C SVG page may be found here []. Probably the most popular browser plug-in is made by Adobe [] and you can get it here [] (RedHat 7.1 and Solaris 8 versions of the plug-in are somewhat hard to find but are still available). []

      You might also wish to check out some of Adobe's demos []. Jasc [] has a Win32 app called WebDraw [] that can come in handy, too.
    • There's been some word that SVG is covered by someone's (Adobe's?) patent. Does anyone know if that is true? That would really suck...
    • As you can see here [].

      Even though the W3C has backed away from the proposal to include RAND-licenced patented material in W3C standards, the SVG standard went to 1.0 under the assumption that the public would accept RAND-licensing for web standards, and so SVG incorporates a number of RAND-liceneced patents, specifically from IBM Kodak and Quark. No doubt this situation is going to be resolved, especially if people don't forget it still needs to be resolved. To remind the W3C and the companies involved that this situation is still unresolved, you can comment on this list [], subscribe here [].

      And oh by the way, is IBM's roll in this particular little minidrama hypocritical, given their support for and reliance upon Linux and other open source projects? You bet it is, and that's because IBM has lots of little parts, not all of which are headed in the same direction, e.g., some are run by the legal department or managers who still don't get it.
  • by wrinkledshirt ( 228541 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @03:44PM (#3345192) Homepage
    If you need Flash, students or teachers can usually get a copy for a reduced amount (under $200 US). Just make sure that this isn't commercial development you're doing.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @03:45PM (#3345203) Homepage
    What is the state of non-Macromedia Flash tools?

    Flash is a well-designed format, and the format is known and documented. It could be used for more things. I'd like to see a PowerPoint replacement that used Flash, for example. PowerPoint files are incredibly bulky; Flash is compact. Plus, you could put your presentations on web pages without much hassle.

    Flash is also useful for user interface design. Many video games use Flash for the 2D API. That approach could help the open source community transition from bitmap-based to form-based APIs.

    And just having a good open-source draw program for when you need a diagram on a web page would be a big help. It's annoying that Linux documentation seldom has useful diagrams. And if there are diagrams, they're raster images that can't be usefully edited. A good Flash-based lines-and-boxes program, like early Visio, would be valuable.

    Macromedia's tools have a keyframe animation mindset, but that's not inherent in the Flash format. It's just a Macromedia bias. There are lots of interesting things to do with Flash and its object stream / event stream format.

    • by NulDevice ( 186369 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @03:55PM (#3345310) Homepage
      Flash is not a good user interface design tool.

      There's really no such thing.

      If you need to be redesigning a UI in order to get the job done, then you're probably missing something in your app design. You want your users to presented with something they immediately recognize - you don't want them to have to figure out where they have to click and what each funky abstract blinky thing does. It's a bit different with games - those are supposed to be playful, not necessarily usable. But if you're doing stuff for a non-entertainment purpose - stick to the standard widget sets.

      Let's face it: a scrollbar is a scrollbar for a reason, and a bunch of graphic designers workign independently aren't especially likely to come up with a better replacement.

      Flash: good for some things. Animation? Yep. AV syncing? Yep. Designing widgets for navigating your website? Nope.
    • I actually went to a presentation where they had a fully interactive presentation done in Macromedia Director (Flash's big brother.)

      Director apparently has a feature to import PowerPoint presentations so they may be jazzed up with interactivity (a mock of an application in the presentation I was present at) and all the other neat Director features.

      The only problem I could see is the ability to print out a presentation, something PowerPoint allows with ease, may prove difficult with Flash or Director.
    • hmm, no, flash is not a well-designed format. And although there is some openness to the spec, there is not much (like Java, you never know where ti is going next, like adding the Sorenson video codec to the latest version).

      WHat is wrong with it? Well, it doesnt have decent generic matrix transforms for a start. SVG is better from this point of view. And there is more once you start to look at it
    • Despite all the opposition I see from others, I have to chime in to agree.

      I was asked to do some PowerPoint presentations, and I said "How about Flash instead?"

      Fortunately, my employer was open-minded enough to let me give it a try, and I must say it worked out quite well.

      I am seriously thinking of redoing my main page in Flash, primarily because it would be compatible with Netscape 4.x and the latest spiffy browsers. Flash seems to be more cross-platform than anything. It's not perfect, but sadly neither is Dynamic HTML.

      My only real problem has been a combination of lack of time and lack of Flash for MacOS X. The latter finally came out, so it may be about time for me to exercise my creativity a bit.

      Unless someone can convince me otherwise ...

  • by bravehamster ( 44836 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @03:45PM (#3345208) Homepage Journal
    The most obvious reason is that from what I can tell, most geeks don't _like_ flash. There's several reasons why, but the most obvious to me is the name. Flash, flashing lights and glitter, style over substance. Most Flash sites on the web use it for absolutely no reason at all, other than to look cool. I really don't need to see every link I put my mouse over expand and fade away.

    While there are some practical uses for Flash, these are few and far between, far outnumbered by the idiotic uses. This is why there's no opensource flash tools.

    • While there are some practical uses for Flash, these are few and far between, far outnumbered by the idiotic uses. This is why there's no opensource flash tools.

      Practical use for Flash: Getting the sales and marketing people to buy into your web site.

      "Oooh, Shiney!" == "We'll pay for it!".
    • by realgone ( 147744 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @04:02PM (#3345369)
      There's several reasons why, but the most obvious to me is the name. Flash, flashing lights and glitter, style over substance.

      Might as well say you don't like GNOME because the name implies it's gonna be short on the usability front.

      There are tons of good uses for Flash. (I say this as both a designer and coder who uses the app every day, mind you.) For those times when the experience is the content, rather than just the conduit for it, Flash provides a tidy, cross-platform (with obvious exceptions) and server-independent way to deliver exactly that. Just because the Geocities EULA mandates that all user must abuse the hell outta it doesn't necessarily make it bad.

      *ZIP* Okay, there. All done pissing in the wind... =)

      • I do not mean to flame but it is exactly the
        sites where "experience is the content" that
        draw the ire of people like myself. You either
        have info on your site or you don't. Many people
        like the web design circa 1994 (grey background,
        black text, blue links). The mere existence of sites
        where "experience is the content" is why people
        like me say that the web is in a state of decay,
        if not already commecialized into oblivion.
      • ...the experience is the content...

        That is so heavy, man. I mean, it's like, the site is about animated menus, naw'mean? I mean, like, my experience of the dancing text is the meaning of the text, naw'mean.

        I thought so.
    • While I agree that Flash has been/can be/is overused, there are some great uses. A good friend of mine really likes Flash because he can create some amazing interfaces with very reasonable download times. His latest project is creating a StarTrek interface for an episode guide. ( Warning: Flash player required) He is fairly artistic and the end product is more important than how he archives it. He also can code and is ecstatic about being able to control the output of Flash via PHP to create dynamic sites. I can't wait to see what he will do next! So there are specific uses that are acceptable, not just people abusing the medium with the HOW overpowering the WHY.
  • Cheap, cheap flash (Score:4, Informative)

    by KFury ( 19522 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @03:46PM (#3345219) Homepage
    Don't use flash for a large-scale project, please. It's only going to make your trainging and maintenance costs skyrocket. HTML is open-source and is highly capable.

    However, if you want cheap flash, the educational price for Flash MX is $99. Enroll in a community college course. Maybe a flash course... You'll need it. :-)
    • by jsimon12 ( 207119 )
      The problem with the educational version of Macromedia's Flash and Shockwave is it pastes a "This is an education product" tag on everything you create. Granted you could hack that out, but I don't think doing so is exactly legal.
  • Flash ain't easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mblase ( 200735 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @03:47PM (#3345226)
    Being a beginning Flash developer myself, I can attest that it's probably next to impossible to produce a full-bore "budget" tool to create Flash files.

    This isn't HTML we're talking about here. Flash files use coordinated timelines, compressed files, and loads of user interaction to do what it does, and it's not cheap. You can't just open the source code and peek inside. It's probably going to be some time before any open source project can produce the complexity Macromedia's put into six versions of their product.

    As others have pointed out, though, you don't really need to use Flash. 99% of the time it's just that: flash, pretty animations which are implemented badly by non-professionals in order to make their site look cooler than it needs to. Most people honestly just want the information. You should consider this.

    However, if you're persistently determined to use Flash, then I'd recommend buying a used copy of an Flash 4 on eBay [] or somewhere. It's certain to be better than any of the open source products currently available.
    • Re:Flash ain't easy (Score:3, Informative)

      by K. ( 10774 )
      Actually, it wouldn't be too hard to read an swf file into a textual format, the format is relatively simple and well-documented. (I think there's a free software utility that does this, as a matter of fact.) The authoring format is closed, however, and more complex.

      As I said elsewhere, I think that part of the reason there isn't a free Flash package is coz the format itself isn't completely free but under the control of Macromedia. But it is relatively well-understood and easy to output.
  • by jbum ( 121617 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @03:49PM (#3345242)
    The reason Flash isn't more "open source" is because it is ultimately a proprietary technology under the tight control of the Macromedia company. Although Macromedia has released a publicly available description of the internal flash file format, this in itself does not an open-source standard make:

    * The description Macromedia released is incomplete in some areas, and has not been kept up to date with more recent versions of Flash.

    * I've used Macromedia's documentation to write a Perl library that outputs and modifies flash movies. I've found format to be highly optimized for playback unfortunately; you can't do much to modify existing movies in interesting ways (aside from moving existing elements around the screen, rearranging letters and so on).

    * Macromedia has not released a description of the Flash *project* file (thus giving them a tight reign over authoring tools). Significant information is lost when a project is published in the (documented) flash format - information that would lend itself to making more dynamic and interesting sites.

    * Macromedia likely does not view the prospect of 3rd party authoring tools as being a good thing, since Macromedia is largly an authoring tools company.

    Finally, I'm a bit perplexed why you would choose Flash as a good tool for educating people about "complicated policy questions" - this strikes me as something that would be served better by a more dynamic text-oriented approach (such as a Slash-code based site).

    One of the problems with Flash is that it doesn't lend itself to sites which have a large amount of interaction between their users and the site authors. You can do it, but it's a huge pain-in-the-ass.

    So I'm assuming you want to create a flashy presentation, and not much else.
    • You said it! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by czardonic ( 526710 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @04:41PM (#3345689) Homepage
      Finally, I'm a bit perplexed why you would choose Flash as a good tool for educating people about "complicated policy questions" - this strikes me as something that would be served better by a more dynamic text-oriented approach (such as a Slash-code based site).

      I couldn't agree more. Perhaps the reason why these policy quesitons remain complicated is that the people put in charge of creating educational tools have no clue about how to deliver simple, succinct answers.

      Flash indeed.
  • by mahlen ( 6997 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @03:50PM (#3345254) Homepage

    You could try Swish [], which does text effects (among other things) quite well and is only $50.


    "The carrot is the agent of the coleslaw." -- Berkeley Bob

    • I'd agree, for knocking together a presentation, Swish may be a better authoring tool than Macromedia's.

      Others have pointed out some decent alternatives, SVG, DHTML and Java applets would all let you add some glitz to your presentation.

      Whatever you do, enforce a separation of style from content, it is possible in any of the above mentioned technologies. This might even allow you to provide multiple versions from the same content base (something concerning policy on perscription drugs might be very useful to the blind and the physically handicapped)

  • No flashkit and other have an open source flash movie section, there are slightly cheaper closed source products such as SWiSH and Macromedia has a 30 day trail or Flash FX availible for download. but overall this question is _kind_of_ like asking "we would like to build a Visual C++ project but can't afford Visual C++"
  • Flash is hell from a usability standpoint. It does away with many of the notions that the web was founded out - consistant interfaces, as well as the page-based metaphor. Flash essentially "breaks" the browser controls people have finally learned to use (the back button, URL bar, etc etc).

    I'm sure Flash could be useful in cases where animation is actually necessary - animated diagrams and the such. But the cases where such a thing is actually CALLED FOR are extremely rare.

    All in all, Flash epitomizes style over substance. Just don't do it. There's really no good reason to.
    • I just wanted to add one thing...

      Think about why people will be using this web site. Do they want pretty? Or do they want information? If they wanted pretty, they'd watch a movie or take acid and stare at some vintage 70's wallpaper. :)

      You should try to make the site attractive, of course- but don't forget your #1 priority which is (or should be) usability and information. Any compromise to make the site flashy is a detriment to what your site set out to accomplish.
    • Flash is hell from a usability standpoint. It does away with many of the notions that the web was founded out - consistant interfaces, as well as the page-based metaphor. Flash essentially "breaks" the browser controls people have finally learned to use (the back button, URL bar, etc etc).

      That seems only half-right. Things like the back, forward, and reload buttons, and the page metaphor (when not broken by forms...what's a button doing in a scrolling window?) seem to have been there from the start, but most of the consistent interfaces seem to have evolved slowly. Mostly I'm thinking about the "tab" layout, the locations of "log out" and "help," and that kind of thing. They definitely aren't part of the web's foundation, and only developed as the market's response to user confusion.

      I do agree with you about Flash though. Stupid stupid.

  • Don't listen (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Flash, while nto open source, is perfectly good tool for developing web applications. I've worked in it on some projects and have found it more robust and "slicker" than any "standard" format such as DHTML.

    I especially liked the fact I could dynamically load data in without having to "refresh" the screen. Do-able in HTMl, but buggy (frames anyone?)

    So, while not on topic, I think flash is a viable solution for creating web applications, but as always, do your homework before making any decision. Sometimes DHTML is more the enough.

    In regards to OSS apps.. There are some PHP and python modules that allow for dynamic creation of flash content. I don't know of any robust development app though. I'd love to find one though because flash development is the only reason I haven't switched to a full linx desktop.
  • by nickmain ( 91737 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @03:52PM (#3345279)
    Posting about Flash on /. is like posting about Visual Basic - you will get a lot of knee jerk reactions.

    The problem is that 99% of Flash out there is gratuitous and badly designed.

    Flash can actually be very usable and very accessible when designed properly. /.ers wouldn't know that since they are supposed to hate it - so they never bother to find out what Flash is really capable of.

    There was an open source project but it seems to have died:
  • eBay (Score:2, Interesting)

    by _Neurotic ( 39687 )
    Like most software, you can get older versions of flash (like 4x) for a song on eBay.

    Check it out.

  • Flash is actually very very good at what it does. Allow for a web programmer to design a very interactive webpage. Sometimes webpages need a bit more than just content. Not everyone is looking up manuals and faq's and so just text is not always the way to go. But of course how could anyone on /. understand that, as is very clear from all the posts that I see right now.
    just one of the rating sites you might want to check out..

    NOT to mention the many artists that use Flash for what HTML would not allow them to do. IMHO it is nicer if ppl. use Flash than stick with IE style CSS and DOM which is not supported in Mozilla: think right click, partial fill etc.. at least we have a linux flash player which works just as well (in my experience) as the windows counterpart.

    Now about the real question, OSS suport for flash: I loooked for it myself sometime ago when i became interested in ActionScript and found very little available... but would be interested in find out more about new projects..

  • Swish [] is a Flash tool that only costs $50 for a basic license and has a free demo for you to decide. Macromedia Flash files can be saved in .swf format. It is not fully featured Flash, but may handle your needs.
  • by deviator ( 92787 ) <> on Monday April 15, 2002 @03:56PM (#3345318) Homepage
    Anyone who has ever actually looked at Flash or its development tools will tell you that there's really nothing else like it on the market right now. I think open-source advocates react strongly to it simply because it's so proprietary. You can develop stuff in Flash that looks *identical* on multiple platforms (despite browser differences) and fits in a minimum of space.

    Flash (the development tool) enables people to create relatively complex animations and interactive sites with amazing ease. Flash itself is not to blame for usability problems on websites - check out [] and tell me that site isn't easy to navigate. :)

    Until there are real, viable alternatives to Flash that have 96% browser penetration (this statistic is from Macromedia, of course, so it may or may not be 100% true) then it'll be the best tool for the job.

    (Someone suggested PHP as an alternative? You really think doing this stuff in PHP will be as easy without any GUI-based tools??)

  • Hmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SlashChick ( 544252 ) <erica AT erica DOT biz> on Monday April 15, 2002 @03:58PM (#3345333) Homepage Journal
    Please read the whole comment before moderating...

    As I understand it, the question can be translated as:

    "We're developing a new education product in Flash. Instead of hiring developers to help us design the interface, we would like to call it 'open-source' so we can get people to work on our product for free. We're really too cheap to even supply a basic development tool to our workers, so can we mooch off someone else's work by using a free product?"

    Please forgive me if I'm assuming too much, but it really sounds like you want someone to have duplicated Flash and put it on the market for free. Now, having stated something that could be considered "flamebait", I will give you some advice.

    -- Don't use Flash. I know that a lot of the tech-heads here on Slashdot will say this as enitre comment and get moderated up for it. I happen to not use Flash, but I do also happen to realize that there are very valid reasons for using it, and that education is one of Flash's core markets.

    If you are not willing to pay your developers or at least buy them a tool for their work, use HTML. Most likely, the people on this project will already have a preferred HTML editor, which will enable you to just use CVS or another versioning system to check in the documents.

    What bothers me about this whole post, though, is that it epitomizes the "bottom-feeder" attitude of companies that really want to profit from people's hard work without paying those people for that work. To avoid this, I would recommend gathring a core development team and paying for the tools that you believe that team needs. Then, you can release your product so that the masses can update it, with the caveat that the people updating it will need a development tool that they will have to pay for on their own. Everyone goes home happy: you sell a product, your development team gets paid a small amount plus experience, and your customers can update the product on their own accord and with their own tools.

    Open-source software usually fulfills a need of the developer(s). I would say that the reason that there aren't free Flash development tools is that either a) Flash is such a good product that the people who use it are willing to pay for it or b) not that many people feel a need to use Flash. It's probably some of both.

    Another thing: how do you release a Flash product as "open-source"? Do you distribute your product's SWF files to the target audience? I'm not sure how that would work. Is this something you have considered?

    I apologize if I read too much into your statement. I hope that you really did have good intentions and weren't just riding on the "free [as in beer] is cool" bandwagon. I'd appreciate a good response from the original poster or someone who is involved in a similar project. At face value, it seems that there are a lot of "holes" in this project plan that haven't quite been addressed.
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by anderss ( 573911 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @06:55PM (#3346645)
      I wrote the original post, and I'm glad you asked the questions you did; I'm sure other people are wondering the same thing. Here are my answers:

      1) Profit? Not exactly.... I work for the Service Employees International Union, not a company. I have lots of reasons to use an open source strategy, but making money isn't one of them.

      2) I'm definitely not trying to scam work/money off of anyone. In the first phase of our plan, we're going to work with a vendor to build the first round of tools, and obviously all the developers involved will have Flash MX.

      3) One of the reasons almost all Flash you see is advertising or a waste of bandwidth is that most of the people who'd like to use it for educational work are scared off by the amount of work & skill it would take to do it well. We'd like to see how far we can reduce this barrier. Our plan is to build several interactive educational toys, and then we're hoping to use what we learn to figure out what code, etc. we can write that would make it easier for us as well as other nonprofits to use Flash/Java/SVG/etc for interactive education.

      4) After we've got a core of paid work done, I'd like to make the project as enticing as possible to volunteers (although we'll still pay for some development). Many of the nonprofits who would do a kick-ass job of building educational policy toys can't afford programmers, so most of their work will have to be done by volunteers, and most of these nonprofits can't afford to spend the money to buy a bunch of copies of Flash--these are shops where they get new PCs every 5-8 years. There are also lots of volunteers who may want to help us out because they like the politics of the project. Although I can convince the Top Brass to give me some money to buy Flash for some of them, it won't be enough to cover all of them, and I don't want to have volunteers not be able to work on this project because the cost of the tools is so high.

      5) Whether we use Java, Flash, SVG, or a mix of these for different projects, I want to do this as an open source project with, eventually, lots of volunteers involved, because I hope to use this as one of several campaigns to convince the union movement to embrace open source. Most large unions--and for that matter, most large nonprofits--spend a lot of money buying proprietary systems from vendors, often getting ripped off in the process. If we could start to get that money flowing into open source projects, we could easily build many of the tools smaller nonprofits need but can't afford.

      This injection of cash would also help solve some of the major problems open source faces, particularly on the desktop, in obtaining wider acceptance. Although things are _much_ better than they were a few years ago, a lot of open source software is still too hard to use, has user interfaces that aren't designed for people who don't get computers, and the user manuals are often crap. If we could harness only a tiny amount of the money unions and large nonprofits spend on software, we could radically change this, because it's something we could convince them to pay for--"if you pay $20,000 for a UI facelift, you get the other $100,000 worth of software for free."

      So relax, dude; this isn't bottom feeding. I'm just trying to get this dinosaur turned around in the right direction.

      In Unity, Anders Schneiderman Information Manager SEIU International
  • More Info on Flash (Score:3, Informative)

    by PineHall ( 206441 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @04:00PM (#3345351)
    found at []
  • Well (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MisterBlister ( 539957 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @04:00PM (#3345353) Homepage
    There are actually various ways you can create Flash presentations for free. Macromedia themselves even have an SDK (free as in cost, not Free Software) you can use to generate Flash files without having to buy the full Flash application.

    The real question is where are the *easy to use, end-user* Flash-making apps...And that question sort of answers itself. Most OSS developers aren't interested in end-user, easy-to-use, GUI-heavy tools. I mean, OSS is just now getting to the point where there are halfway decent Office-style applications...And Flash, while somewhat widely used, is much more niche than Office apps.

    To pose a question back at the original author -- why are you looking to Flash for this functionality? I'm not anti-Flash as like 95% of Slashdot seems to be, but for what you're doing it seems like you could do it in browser-neutral DHTML and still have a really slick interactive tool. What is Flash bringing to the table for you?

  • You whiners shaddap. The question was asked, and instead of whining about how bad Flash is, just answer the friggin question.

    So, here's my answer:

    Get Apache, PHP, and the Ming libraries, located at [].

    Ming lets you create Flash animations from within PHP that can be either saved (to reduce CPU load of regenerating the flash each time) or dynamically written so you can do things on-the-fly with it.

    I used it to write up some crappy animations on my home page for my relatives to see.

    Part of the problem with flash is it's overused, and the audio makes the apps take forever to load.

    For some really nice examples of what you can do with flash, take a look at
  • by dstone ( 191334 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @04:04PM (#3345392) Homepage
    I see some people posting here saying "oh, don't develop for Flash; nobody bothers to install those plugins". Well, I was curious myself, so a quick Google search turned up this: (from a Whitepaper on Macromedia's website(!), but the NPD Research numbers should be easily confirmable)

    "In December 2001, NPD Research, the parent company of MediaMetrix, conducted a study to determine what percentage of Web browsers have Macromedia Flash preinstalled. The results show that 98.3% of Web users can experience Macromedia Flash content without having to download and install a player."

    Take it for what it's worth. Seems amazingly high to me though.
  • by Cally ( 10873 )
    Slashdot ran a story on an early Perl/Flash module... mustabeen... at least two years ago. As usual, the answer's Perl []: now what's the question? ;)
  • by Gumber ( 17306 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @04:05PM (#3345405) Homepage
    It sounds like you are involved in a worthy cause. Approach Macromedia about giving you the dev tools for free. They have to love the fact that you are creating more flash authors in the process.
  • by rubberpaw ( 202337 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @04:09PM (#3345437) Homepage Journal
    There are a few tools for Flash and Open Source, but they are pretty much code oriented. The first is Ming [], which can be found at:

    The second is libswf, created by SGI. I'm not sure of the status of the license, but the source _is_ available.

    Both libraries are accessible from PHP.

    As far as vector tools, Sodipodi [] is an incredibly cool vector editor. Unfortunately, at this time it is only svg, but you may find it useful.People have for quite a while wanted flash for sodipodi, and all one has to do is tie the Open Source flash libs to the UI. But nobody has done it. Read a post about it on the Sodipodi web site [].

    I hope you find this helpful.
  • SVG (Score:3, Informative)

    by FIT_Entry1 ( 468985 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @04:10PM (#3345447)

    How about a nice alternative [] to Flash.

  • This is somewhat off topic, but my question is what does your site [] actually stand behind? Is there a page that clearly states your objectives? I see "current events", "get involved", "working family issues", but nothing that really states what your guys want and where you guys are going. This is only one /.'s opinion, but it seems a little more time spent on your message and content might be worth more time then prettying/messing it up with Flash.
  • by K. ( 10774 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @04:11PM (#3345463) Homepage Journal
    A comparable flash tool to Macromedia's would be about as much work as an Illustrator clone before you added all the animation stuff. And all the while Macromedia could just change the swf format and/or introduce subtle incompatibilities in the player. (Though control of the standard may have changed recently, I stopped keeping track.)

    There are various free software packages that do interesting things with vector graphics. I forgot what Killustrator changed its name to, but I think it could output static swfs. Autotrace (free, does about the same thing as Adobe Streamline) definitely can (I wrote the first version of the swf output). Then there's Ming, which can be used with several languages to output swf. But you've probably already come across most of these.

    But if you're looking for a fully-featured swf authoring packages, just give up and nick Macromedia's, or hassle them for charity copies or something, coz otherwise you're SOL.
  • by Crash Culligan ( 227354 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @04:14PM (#3345487) Journal
    Important factoid to remember when looking at sources for Flash-compatible software: Macromedia [] makes the Flash plug-in for your users' browsers.

    Now that I drove that home, on with my story:

    Macromedia did try to open up the Flash 4 format so that other people could create software compatible with it. And in fact, LiveMotion [] was Adobe's [] entry into that market.

    This was Flash 4, though. They're now essentially up to Flash MX [] (read: 6), and the spec has grown significantly since then. The first big change was scripting from 4 => 5, and while I have no idea what they added from 5 => MX, but I'm sure it's sizeable. (Memo to myself: look into it, consider upgrading just because it might be fun to try some animation.)

    Remember, once again, that Macromedia makes the player plug-in, and if you base a site on Flash, you're still going to be at their mercy no matter whose development tools you use. And if you use someone else's tools, they may not keep up with Macromedia's changes.

    Now, it's doubtful that they'll do anything to break an animation when viewed through an older plug-in or browser, but there may be side-effects, and they will affect both usability and user perceptions of your site.

    Yes, I'll admit, this argument smacks of FUD, but sometimes the unthinkable happens.

    Barring my qualms against it, I'll side with everyone else who answered so far and recommend not using Flash to build a website because it can prevent normal navigation, SWFs can take a long time to play over slow connections (I'm still stuck on a 56K dialup--I know from whence I speak), and as of Flash 5, Macromedia's authoring environment had some seriously "avant-garde" (read: bad) user interface design philosophies. There are those who believe [] [really C|net news] the Flash-based web is not necessarily a good idea.

    The load speeds and display times could be the biggest issue, since web surfers have notoriously short attention spans.

    But that's just my opinion, as always. The salt shaker is to the left; take as many grains as you need.

  • OpenOffice? (Score:2, Informative)

    by no parity ( 448151 )
    Apparently, a Flash export for OpenOffice is planned [].
  • All I can recommend right now is FreeMovie or Ming or libswf. But if you want a GUI Flash design tool, you will have to wait. I do have plans for writing a Flash authoring application, but have to get FreeMovie 2 out of the door first. It also requires quite a lot of time and money to write such application, so you should not expect it to appear before X-mas 2002.

  • carries a discounted copy of Flash MX for Windows here []. The original price is $499.99, but the edu discount brings it down to $96.95, but this is a Windows solution only. Not sure if this is the way you want to go.
  • aside from copying somebody else's, which as Bill Gates told us is just bad, bad, bad

    No Bill Gates didn't invent the notion that theft is bad. This line is getting so lame and cliched. Come on folks, get a grip.

  • Section 508 (Score:2, Informative)

    by zmokhtar ( 539671 )
    More reasons NOT to use flash: 1) It doesn't print well. 2) It's not section 508 compliant, meaning it's not accessible so government websites won't link to you. 3) Not cross platform (I'm thinking PDA's and webpads)
  • my right arm to get back to the good old days of plain old fasioned text and hyperlinks -- or better yet a touch of content every now and then.

    Anymore with flash and banner ads everywhere the content begins to slip away. Plus I don't know how friendly flash sites are with search engines. You can't put a price on someone being able to fire up google and search for "policy on prescription drugs" and find your site. (I would trade that for flashy, bandwidth hogging eye candy any day!)
  • by brianvan ( 42539 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @04:26PM (#3345576)
    Apparently, the person who submitted the story was appalled at the costs of developing in Macromedia Flash tools, and wanted to find something that was free.

    It seems that person, however, did not wish to look at the source of whatever program he was going to use... he just wanted to have something that was free for use.

    This is the problem with Open Source AND Free Software. While Open Source software is a nice idea in some respects, it seems that everyone thinks Open Source is another word for free. It's not. Plus, you can derive a lot of benefits from selling commercial software that is Open Source... unless you have low-lifes out there that will compile the source and use the resulting commercial software at no charge. Judging from what computer geeks do with commercial MUSIC, it's not hard to imagine.

    And let's not forget the most sickening part of this all: this guy wants to use free software as a development tool in a commercial/business environment. Or, basically, profit off of someone else's hard work without having to put in any effort or support into the author's cause in a meaningful way. (come on, did you even think that this guy's company would send the author a thank-you card?) And there's absolutely no way in hell that there's any logical consistency in writing free software for business use.

    And you want us to PAY for this crap?
  • Try SVG (Score:3, Informative)

    by schepers ( 462428 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @04:43PM (#3345708)
    Scalable Vector Graphics is a great open-standard, W3C Recommended technologies that can look just as nice as Flash. And the editing environment? Any text editor. There are also a couple of projects out there for making freeware GUI SVG editors (I'm making a Web-based one in SVG/JavaScript, myself), to make the process easier.

    One advantage to SVG is that you can separate out the content from the presentation using CSS and XSL. If you needed to translate your presentation into Spanish, say, you could simply change the source text (in XML), and the animations, fonts, etc. would stay the same. Since text in SVG keeps its textual meaning, and isn't converted into a meaningless vector image, the text is also searchable and can be copied and pasted.

    While this may be outside the scope of your project, you can also translate to SVG
    from MathML (I'm working on a project doing that right now, to make math tutorials), or represent ChemML graphically (see the SVG demos at Adobe ( ).

    There's a great SVG-Wiki/FAQ at .
  • Stoning (Score:3, Funny)

    by guttentag ( 313541 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @04:47PM (#3345731) Journal
    "Anders Schneiderman, it is the judgment of the community that you be stoned into oblivion for uttering the word... Flash. Ow! Oof! Wait! Stop! We haven't started yet. Who threw that rock?"

    It was him! Him!

    "All right. Why did you throw that rock before I gave the signal?"

    Well you did say 'Flash...' Ow! Ouch!

  • by jbum ( 121617 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @06:03PM (#3346336)
    Apologies to Jeff Foxworthy.

    Is your website promoting a movie or selling vacuum cleaners?
    It could be a Flash site.

    Does your website live in a tiny little pop-up window all it's own?
    I betcha it's also a Flash site.

    Does your website display the message "Loading" when you visit it?
    Yep. Smells like a Flash site.

    Does your website impress all your graphic designer buds?
    Flash site.

    Is your website incredibly fun to visit, but exactly one time only?
    Might be a flash site.

    Does your website have an animation of a bunch of semi-transparent oblong
    objects moving in a spiral pattern?
    Flash site.

    Does your website have a "skip intro" button?
    I'd say there's a 99% probabililty that it's a Flash site.

    Is your website invisible to users who are using ad-blocking tools like Proximitron,
    or slightly non-standard web browsing technology or computers that don't use one
    of three well known operating systems?
    Well then maybe you're abusing javascript.
    OR maybe it's a flash site.

    Is your website immune to being bookmarked?
    Hmmm. Maybe there's an outside chance it might be a flash site.

    Is the content on your website 2 years out of date, because it's
    such a pain-in-the-ass to update?
    Well then, there exists the possilibity it might be a flash site.

  • JGenerator (Score:3, Informative)

    by chris_sawtell ( 10326 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @06:21PM (#3346445) Journal
    This JGenerator [] is exactly what you want.
  • In defense of Flash (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chente ( 9402 ) on Monday April 15, 2002 @10:43PM (#3347705)
    You might check with Macromedia, I'm a teacher, and as a teacher I bought Flash MX (It's the new version, the successor to Flash 5. The user interface is much more refined) for $99 USD. They may be willing to swing such a deal for non-profit groups.

    On the Plus side:
    Flash MX allows Flash files to be indexed on search engines, has accessibility features for vision impaired and handicapped users.

    If used well, I don't think there is anything that can beat it for what it does. It's the most commonly used special feature plug-in around and most browsers can view Flash files (According to Macromedia's figures, 98% of all Internet users have the Flash plug-in installed).

    File sizes need not be large at all, Flash uses vector graphics rather than raster graphics to save time on downloads (at the expense of CPU cycles on the user machine...the processing power needed to display vector graphics is somewhat higher than displaying raster graphics such as jpeg, gif and png images).

    Despite what is being said in reply to your question, not everyone on the internet is an open-source fanatic that avoids Flash for ethical reasons. I would say a very miniscule percentage, and not likely within the scope of your target audience (to the upcoming firestormers, flame me, bake me, scorch me, but it's ture).

    Using Flash on a website is not, be definition, bad design. Commerical designers the world over use it extensively, and for a reason.

    On the Downside:

    Flash has a steep learning cure. It isn't quite vertical, but it's pretty close to it at first. If you're used to vector graphics programs, that will help somewhat. Once you've learned how to draw and animate shapes, text and objects in Flash, you will discover that you have not even begun to scratch the surface, Actionscript is next, and it's enormously powerful. You will need to read several books on both Flash and Actionscript to come to grips with the full potential of the medium, also a good deal of time and practice to master it.

    If someone in your group is passionately interested in learning the tool, and creating a great website with it, go for it...but he or she will be outlaying a fair amount of money and time on books and practice. I'll wager they'll get a kick out of it, and in time produce splended results, but Flash can be quite intimidating at first...if not to say opaque and inscrutable. This isn't Powerpoint! I think any tool you use will ultimately require a lot of study however.

    Personally, I use it to give presentations to my students on many topics. I have one of my classroom computers hooked up to a very large presentation monitor, but I don't do very much webdesign with it at the moment, although I am making three or four sites using it, they are secondary to my current purpose. For the future, I'm looking toward web-based exercises and testing applications. I use it in place of many other programs, and I use it almost constantly. I've read a couple of books on it, and am reading three more (now mostly dealing with actionscript). I swear by it, but for what I'm doing, it so much more than adaquately fills my needs. It's overkill for me, but overkill is the American way, isn't it?

    HTML itself takes quite a bit of education in good webdesign, even if you're using a WYSIWYG HTML editor, so some education is going to be necessary whatever you do.

    Are there alternatives to Flash? Adobe's LiveMotion 2 looks interesting...and it will handle Flash SWF format files...but I don't think its userbase is nearly as large, and I feel you're probably better off just using Flash to make Flash files in the end. It does cost USD $199 however (introductiory price).

    Adobe and many others are developing SVG, which are scalable vector graphics in XML, and they will do many of the things Flash can do...but I doubt if the SVG plugin is very commonly used at all at the moment. Check it out at

    This site contains links to many other articles on the subject, and I think it bears a lot of promise for the future of the web.

    I'd vote for Flash, myself, but you're not going to get immediate results from it. I do have high praise for the product, but whatever medium you choose, you're going to have to do the hard work of mastering it. Flash is a means to this end, and then some.

    Vince Frost

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.