TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Jan 02 Viewpoint

Volume Number: 18 (2002)
Issue Number: 01
Column Tag: Viewpoint


by Jonathan Gay

A History of Macromedia Flash

Macromedia Flash began with a few bits of colored plastic. As a child, I grew up playing with LEGOs when there were no LEGO men or whales or complicated accessory packs — just rectangular blocks and a few wheels. Those bits of colored plastic taught me the basics of engineering design, how to choose a design problem, and the process of iterative refinement. Even better, they helped me express my early passion for building things.

LEGO-based Design Process

My favorite project was building LEGO ships with lots of ramps that could hold my toy cars. This taught me that it's best to choose a problem that inspires you and challenges you — and one that you can accomplish with your limited capabilities and resources.

The human mind is much too limited to capture the entirety of a complex creation all at once. With LEGO, you can start with the vision and work out the details of the design as you progress. With patience and persistence, I developed the following LEGO-based design process. It's more or less the same process we ultimately used to develop Flash.

  1. Choose a problem: Build a LEGO ship.
  2. Develop a vision: What sort of ship will it be? How big will it be? What will it carry?
  3. Build: Build the framework of the ship.
  4. Fill in the details: Design and build the details of the ship, ramps, doors, etc.
  5. Test: Drive the cars around the ship and sail the ship while exploring the house.
  6. Refine: Take parts of the ship apart and make them better.
  7. Learn: Take what you learned from building this ship and use it to build a better one next time.

From Building to Programming

As I grew older, I developed an interest in architecture. As a young teenager, however, I quickly realized there wasn't much opportunity to build the houses I designed. About that time, I got an Apple II computer. As I began to program, I quickly discovered that with computer software you can design something, build it, and see it work and respond to you. Although bits of Apple II BASIC were not as impressive as building houses, I could take a project to completion and see if it worked. (My first game: a Space Invaders clone in Apple II BASIC.)

Soon, I switched from BASIC to Pascal and wrote my first graphics editor. (If you think Flash is difficult to use, you should try drawing with a joystick on an Apple II before the concept of Undo was invented.) I entered it in my high school science fair.

Breaking into Professional Programming

I did pretty well at the science fair. Shortly afterwards the Macintosh came out, I got one, and my dad took me to an early Macintosh Users Group — where he bragged about my programming skills to the group organizer, Charlie Jackson. Jackson wanted to start a Macintosh software company, owned the necessary $10,000 Lisa computer, and didn't have much money to spend paying programmers. I wanted access to a Lisa computer and, as a high school student, didn't need a paycheck until after the software started selling. It was a perfect fit, and part of the beginning of Silicon Beach Software. (I still think Jackson was a bit crazy to believe a high school student could write Macintosh software.)

I began writing games. First came Airborne!, then Dark Castle and Beyond Dark Castle. The second game was such a hit it paid my way through college. Writing games was an important part of my computer education (and the beginning of my inspiration for Flash) because I learned about animation, digitized sound, and how to synchronize the two. Most importantly, I learned that fast and responsive software is fun to use.

After the games, I returned to building graphics editors. I added PostScript-style drawing to a Macintosh product called SuperPaint II while still in college. After graduation, I designed a next generation drawing program, called Intellidraw for Aldus. When I realized Intellidraw was destined to be a modest success, I figured it was time to start my own company.

Pen Computing, FutureWave Software and SmartSketch

At the time, the hot new concept in the personal computing world was pen computing (you could write on the screen with an electronic pen rather than using a keyboard). A company called Go was building an operating system. So in January of 1993, I convinced Charlie Jackson to invest some money and we started FutureWave Software to dominate the market for graphics software on pen computers.

After working on Intellidraw, I knew it was hard for users to learn complex features and that drawing on a computer was in many ways slower and more awkward than drawing with pencil and paper. I imagined drawing with a pen on a computer screen would be a fantastic improvement. So we set out to build SmartSketch, software that would make drawing on the computer easier than drawing on paper. Robert Tatsumi and I wrote code at our homes, and Michelle Welsh handled marketing after her day job.

In the meantime, AT&T bought Go. In January 1994, just as we were about to ship our product, AT&T pulled the plug on Go and left us without a market. We did actually make a few sales of SmartSketch, though. The most noteworthy sale was to an architect working on Bill Gates' house.

The failure of Go and pen computing was a big setback for us. The only opportunity we saw was to take our software and make it run on Windows and the Macintosh. We did it, but now we were competing against Illustrator and FreeHand. It was a struggle.

How FutureSplash Animator was Born

In the summer of 1995, we were at SIGGRAPH and got lots of feedback from people that we should turn SmartSketch into an animation product. We were starting to hear about the Internet and the Web, and it seemed possible that the Internet would become popular enough that people would want to send graphics and animation over it. So we began to add animation to SmartSketch.

At the time, the only way to extend a web browser to play back animation was through Java. So we wrote a simple animation player that used Java and was horribly slow. We stubbornly kept at it though, and in the fall, Netscape came out with their plug-in API. Finally, we had a way to extend the web browser with decent performance; this was the ancestor of Macromedia Flash Player.

As it grew close to shipping time, we changed the name of our software to FutureSplash Animator to focus more on its animation capabilities. We also were growing tired of running a company that didn't have much money to spend, and we began trying to sell our technology. After an unsuccessful pitch to Adobe and turning down a bid from Fractal Design, we shipped FutureSplash Animator in the summer (May) of 1996.

Microsoft, Disney, and Macromedia Flash 1.0

Our big success came in August of 1996. Microsoft was working on MSN and wanted to create the most TV-like experience on the Internet. They became big fans of FutureSplash and adopted the technology. I'm still amazed that they made their launch of MSN dependent on a new animation technology from a six-person company!

Our other high-profile client was Disney Online. They were using FutureSplash to build animation and the user interface for the Disney Daily Blast. Disney was also working with Macromedia Shockwave.

In November of 1996, Macromedia had heard enough about us through their relationship with Disney and approached us about working together. We had been running FutureWave for four years with a total investment of $500,000. The idea of having a larger company's resources to help us get FutureSplash established seemed like a good one. So in December 1996, we sold FutureWave Software to Macromedia, and FutureSplash Animator became Macromedia Flash 1.0.

Macromedia Flash Today

In early 2002, Flash has been through five versions at Macromedia — and it still has much of the code that was written for pen computers. There are now 50 people building Flash instead of 3 when we started FutureWave. It's evolved from a simple web drawing and animation package to a complete multimedia development environment with over 1,000,000 developers and over 386 million web users who can view Flash content. Flash has become synonymous with animation on the Internet. It's even possible that the Flash plug-in is now the most widely distributed piece of software on the Internet — ahead of Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, and Real Player.

And one final note about LEGO: I'm delighted to say they now use Flash to help sell their creativity-inspiring bits of colored plastic.

Jonathan Gay is the creator and chief developer for early versions of Macromedia Flash. He is currently Technology Vice President for Macromedia Flash at Macromedia, Inc.


Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

World of Tanks Generals guide - Tips and...
World of Tanks Generals is a brand new card game by the developer behind the World of Tanks shooter franchise. It plays like a cross between chess and your typical card game. You have to keep in consideration where you place your tanks on the board... | Read more »
TruckSimulation 16 guide: How to succeed...
Remember those strangely enjoyable truck missions in Grand Theft Auto V whereit was a disturbing amount of fun to deliver cargo? TruckSimulation 16 is reminiscent of that, and has you play the role of a truck driver who has to deliver various... | Read more »
The best GIF making apps
Animated GIFs have exploded in popularity recently which is likely thanks to a combination of Tumblr, our shorter attention spans, and the simple fact they’re a lot of fun. [Read more] | Read more »
The best remote desktop apps for iOS
We've been sifting through the App Store to find the best ways to do computer tasks on a tablet. That gave us a thought - what if we could just do computer tasks from our tablets? Here's a list of the best remote desktop apps to help you use your... | Read more »
Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade guide - How...
Warhammer 40,000: Freebladejust launched in the App Store and it lets you live your childhood dream of blowing up and slashing a bunch of enemies as a massive, hulking Space Marine. It's not easy being a Space Marine though - and particularly if... | Read more »
Gopogo guide - How to bounce like the be...
Nitrome just launched a new game and, as to be expected, it's a lot of addictive fun. It's called Gopogo, and it challenges you to hoparound a bunch of platforms, avoiding enemies and picking up shiny stuff. It's not easy though - just like the... | Read more »
Sago Mini Superhero (Education)
Sago Mini Superhero 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Education Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: KAPOW! Jack the rabbit bursts into the sky as the Sago Mini Superhero! Fly with Jack as he lifts impossible weights,... | Read more »
Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes guide - How...
Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes is all about collecting heroes, powering them up, and using them together to defeat your foes. It's pretty straightforward stuff for the most part, but increasing your characters' stats can be a bit confusing because it... | Read more »
The best cooking apps (just in time for...
It’s that time of year again, where you’ll be gathering around the dinner table with your family and a huge feast in front of you. [Read more] | Read more »
Square Rave guide - How to grab those te...
Square Rave is an awesome little music-oriented puzzle game that smacks of games like Lumines, but with its own unique sense of gameplay. To help wrap your head around the game, keep the following tips and tricks in mind. [Read more] | Read more »

Price Scanner via

Sunday roundup of Holiday weekend Mac sales:...
Take up to $500 off MSRP on the price of a new Mac at B&H Photo today as part of their Black Friday/Holiday weekend sale. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only. These prices are... Read more
Holiday weekend: Apple Watch on sale for $50-...
B&H Photo has the Apple Watch on sale today for $50-$100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - Apple Watch Sport: $50 off - Apple Watch: $50-$100 off Read more
Holiday weekend: iPad Air 2s on sale for up t...
B&H Photo has iPad Air 2s on sale for up to $80 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 16GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $459 $40 off - 64GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $569 $30 off - 128GB iPad Air... Read more
Holiday weekend Mac sales roundup: B&H Ph...
B&H Photo continues to have all new Macs on sale for up to $500 off MSRP as part of their Black Friday/Holiday weekend sale. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina... Read more
iMobie Releases its Ace iOS Cleaner PhoneClea...
iMobie Inc. has announced the new update of PhoneClean 4, its iOS cleaner designed to reclaim wasted space on iPhone/iPad for use and keep the device fast. Alongside, iMobie hosts a 3-day giveaway of... Read more
U.S. Cellular Offering iPad Pro
U.S. Cellular today announced that it is offering the new iPad Pro with Wi-Fi + Cellular, featuring a 12.9-inch Retina display with 5.6 million pixels — the most ever in an iOS device. U.S. Cellular... Read more
Newegg Canada Unveils Black Friday Deals for...
Newegg Canada is offering more than 1,000 deep discounts to Canadian customers this Black Friday, available now through Cyber Monday, with new deals posted throughout the week. “Black Friday is... Read more
Black Friday: Macs on sale for up to $500 off...
BLACK FRIDAY B&H Photo has all new Macs on sale for up to $500 off MSRP as part of their early Black Friday sale including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $... Read more
Black Friday: Up to $125 off iPad Air 2s at B...
BLACK FRIDAY Walmart has the 16GB iPad Air 2 WiFi on sale for $100 off MSRP on their online store. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available): - 16GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $399, save $... Read more
Black Friday: iPad mini 4s on sale for $100 o...
BLACK FRIDAY Best Buy has iPad mini 4s on sale for $100 off MSRP on their online store for Black Friday. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available): - 16GB iPad mini 4 WiFi: $299.... Read more

Jobs Board

Technical Program Manager, Strategic Merchant...
# Technical Program Manager, Strategic Merchants - Apple Pay Job Number: 44001177 Santa Clara Valley, Califo ia, United States Posted: Oct. 30, 2015 Weekly Hours: 40.00 Read more
Frameworks Engineer, *Apple* Watch - Apple...
# Frameworks Engineer, Apple Watch Job Number: 41403122 Santa Clara Valley, Califo ia, United States Posted: Jul. 1, 2015 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** Join the Read more
Software Engineer - *Apple* Pay - Apple (Un...
# Software Engineer - Apple Pay Job Number: 44003246 Santa Clara Valley, Califo ia, United States Posted: Nov. 16, 2015 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** Apple Pay Read more
Merchant Operations Manager: *Apple* Pay -...
# Merchant Operations Manager: Apple Pay Job Number: 43593822 Santa Clara Valley, Califo ia, United States Posted: Nov. 10, 2015 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** The Read more
Product Design Engineer - *Apple* Watch - A...
# Product Design Engineer - Apple Watch Job Number: 41727161 Santa Clara Valley, Califo ia, United States Posted: Jul. 22, 2015 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.