Flashforward Brings Pros To Seattle

Nearly 1,400 designers, developers and artists have descended on Seattle for Flashforward 2006 an annual conference, according to P-I REPORTER. During the gathering at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, Adobe and show producer Lynda.com are stressing that much has changed since Flash's debut 10 years ago.

As of only five years ago, Flash was often used to create unwelcome "welcome" pages on websites. Now, the nation's 10 most popular sites all have some Flash content. Site for big companies such as Ford, Dodge, Saab, Polo's Ralph Lauren and Pfizer all use Flash. And Flash-based "shopping carts" have been shown to improve sales compared with conventional, HTML-based carts.

"Ford was worried people would find (Flash) hard to use or be turned off by it, and they're pretty risk-averse, but it has delivered some good business metrics for them," said Forrester Research analyst Harley Manning. "For most companies, it is really a mainstream, viable approach."

Even delays in downloading video, which can irritate visitors to Flash-based sites, can be minimized with proper coding and compression techniques, said Mike Downey, Flash's senior product manager.

"When Flash just started, it was 'Ooh, cool, I can make things move around the screen,' and you saw a lot of this gratuitous animation," Downey said in an interview. "Then they realized they can load data into Flash applications in the background, avoiding page refreshes, doing things that just aren't possible" with other Internet tools, such as HTML and JavaScript.

Among the conference's highlights was the appearance of Matt and Mike Chapman, creators HomestarRunner.com. Addressing a standing-room-only crowd for more than an hour, the brothers showed how they produce their cartoons, explaining how they began using Flash in the fall of 1999. The Chapmans still use Flash 5 several versions out of date because "we can't find a way to do what we want" in newer versions.

Flash's streaming-video capabilities compete with those in players from RealNetworks and Microsoft Corp. Adobe's purchase of Macromedia is widely thought to have put the San Francisco company in direct competition with Microsoft'.

Microsoft enjoys a competitive advantage because it includes its media player with every copy of Windows. But few realize that Flash has also shipped with every Windows PC since Windows 95, and with every Mac since OS 8, said Adobe's Downing.

Cell-phone makers, including Nokia, are starting to include the Flash player in handsets, and basic Flash games are being created for cell phones in Japan and elsewhere in Asia.

"Players from Microsoft and QuickTime (Apple) cannot stream video in a little window in real time on your home page," said Lenin Aviles, an infographics animator for the Orange County Register. "RealPlayer was the big thing but got stuck in the '90s. Flash is it. This is the future."

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