Flash Love – Nostalgia Time

I’ve always had a soft spot for Macromedia Flash. As one of the first members of the press to review the original version of the product, then called FutureSplash Animator 1.0, I feel as if I’ve watched it grow up.

Back in its infancy, when it was developed and marketed by a small company called FutureWave Software Inc., I thought it was more than just a cute kid. This wasn’t just another animated GIF maker: It was a cel-based tool that created streaming animations for the Web and multimedia, and it was fairly full-featured for such a young product.

Several months later, at the January 1997 Macworld Expo, I was searching for the FutureWave booth. I found it – finally – hidden away in the budget booth section of San Francisco’s Moscone Center. Twenty-four hours later, it was gone, and so was FutureWave. The company’s executives reappeared in the giant Macromedia Inc. booth, which was heavy with large signs trumpeting its latest product – something called Flash.

You could say the program was moving up in the world, but I feared for its safety.

I’ve seen too many companies snap up young products and then either spoil them with more features than they can handle, give them only limited attention (anyone remember Macromedia’s xRes?) or completely neglect them (Macromedia’s Deck, or Quark’s mTropolis). Would Macromedia be able to give FutureSplash – er, Flash – the attention it needed to develop into a mature product? At the same time, I knew that FutureWave didn’t have the resources to get its promising product in front of the buying public, while Macromedia could, if it wanted to.

In time, I was relieved to discover that my fears were unfounded. Macromedia has made all the right moves with its acquisition of Flash. It didn’t clutter it with lots of useless or unfocused features. Instead, it released a new versionĀ  that made the product better – with sound support, better color features and a clearer focus. But more important, Macromedia put some sorely needed money behind the product – and got it noticed.

Since Flash 2 was introduced, the number of Flash-enhanced Web sites has grown dramatically. Macromedia, which uses Flash prominently on its own Web site, led the way, showing by example what Flash could bring to a static site. Corporate and entertainment sites followed in adopting it. By adding Flash to the Shockwave family of dynamic media plug-ins, Macromedia also gave it some key brand recognition (although Shockwave’s many variations confuse some users who still associate it with just Director). Macromedia’s partnership with RealNetworks Inc. to create RealFlash was yet another wise and successful move.

So when I recently learned of the forthcoming Flash 3.0 and Macromedia’s plans to make the Flash file format an open standard, I felt something close to pride. I had my misgivings at first, but I have to say that Flash’s new parents have raised it well.

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