Archive for February 2010

5 days of Flash 5

Flash 5 User manuals As we look forward to the release of CS5 before long, I had an unusual 5 days producing a new SWF based on a publish-to Flash Player 5 predecessor. So time to put on my Macromedia cap and dig out the old Flash 5 manuals.

This version pre-dates my working with Flash and dates back to when I quite frankly hated Flash. Ironically a number of designer types look on these as the good old days when Flash was very much a designer tool. I have to admit when I first saw Flash V1 further back in 1996 I didn’t rate it. I’d been using programming Director since 1993 and Flash didn’t have Lingo so it had seemed a step backwards to me.

Back to the current project, since most of flash 5 was easily described in two skinny manuals, there wasn’t really that much to have to read up on. The main issues encountered:

  • The original designer seemed to have no discernible logic to the placement of graphics and their anchor points.
  • Static text didn’t render particularly well — over-anti-aliased.
  • Initially had problems with artwork imported from Illustrator

As regards the Illustrator problem, I had imported an .ai document to library and used on stage. Then while publishing I received an error alert :

This movie uses features that are not supported in Flash Player 5. View the Output Panel for details.

In the Output Panel, the message:

Enhanced stroke is not supported in this player

Simply solved by opening the .ai document in Illustrator then exporting a SWF. At which point it is possible to specify the Flash Player version. So saving off a Flash Player 5 SWF and importing that the Flash library rather than the .ai document avoids the problem.

As regards the text problem, this proved to be the motivation enough for the client to agree to updating the target player version from version 5 to version 8 in order to take advantage of ‘anti-alias for readability’.

Sometimes I wish Adobe would obsolete old versions — much like the current pressure to remove support for explorer 6 from the web. On the other hand I have to admire the facilities across Adobe tools that continue support output to legacy flash player versions for when it is impossible to persuade clients to be more current.

flash in the pan

So, Flash player 10.1 is available in beta and includes mobile device oriented new features such as multi-touch gestures. Smart! Makes sense with Adobe strategy of delivering to emerging mobile devices. However there are a few million of us already using desktops and laptops with track pads, mouse wheels and mouse trac-balls who are feeling a bit ‘inhibited’. Flash is being used more and more to deliver applications either via browser or the AIR runtime. Such applications immediately feel somewhat inferior when a user cannot scroll or pan a view as they normally would native applications. Arguably ‘Rubbish’ rather than ‘Rich’ RIA in such cases.

For a long time the MOUSE_WHEEL event has been part of the Flash API but only officially supported on the Windows platform (in browser). Original reasoning for not implementing support for the Mac platform can no-longer be argued as all Macs for a number of years have been shipped with the Mighty Mouse (2005) and now Magic Mouse or Trackpads. All of which facilitate mousewheel style interactions. All of which go further and support horizontal as well as vertical scrolling interactions or ‘panning‘. There are JavaScript workarounds for in-browser Flash on a Mac such as this solution on hasseg.org or this SWFObject based pixelbreaker solution. Fortunately Flash applications delivered via the AIR runtime can respond to MOUSE_WHEEL events without any such workarounds. However MOUSE_WHEEL currently only facilitates vertical scrolling in any case.

We need to facilitate horizontal as well as vertical scrolling (panning) of content in response to events from ubiquitous input devices.

A few prominent applications I use often, which suffer:

  • TweetDeck : AIR based. High discoverability of lack of horizontal scrolling support
  • Adobe online store UK : In browser Flex application – Flash being used in an attempt to emulate HTML – no vertical scroll wheel support for Mac users
  • Adobe Flash builder : Design view (Java application with Flash based view)
  • Adobe Catalyst : Art-board view (Java application with Flash based view)

Adobe actively invite comment and suggestions on their products. More widely/easily through the Feature request/bug report form. They have opened up the bug tracking system for a number of products. Flash player being one of them. There is an active bug report with regard to this issue and I would encourage anyone with an opinion to contribute to the discussion and/or add weight by voting. Just sign up and access FP-1262. There is an active drive from within Adobe to help from the community to improve the quality of Flash Player and AIR.

As for the solution I think I’d like to see something along the lines of… Extending the flash.display.InteractiveObject with a ‘panEnabled‘ boolean property defaulted to false which, when true, allows the object’s Panning behaviour/event broadcasting (akin to doubleClickEnabled mechanism). So, when panEnabled is true, if the mouse pointer is over the InteractiveObject, and the user makes a ‘pan’ gesture, the frontmost panEnabled InteractiveObject broadcasts flash.events.MouseEvent.MOUSE_PAN events containing with the additional properties : offsetX and offsetY. Text based InteractiveObjects should default to panEnabled = true. Further, I’d quite like to see mechanisms to facilitate behaviours of nested pan-able objects. E.g. on a Mac, the front-most display object gets scrolled until it can scroll no further, then if the user continues the scroll input, the containing display object then scrolls.

In rounding up, the best place to contribute your opinions on this subject and have them heard by Adobe is here : FP-1262.