TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Jan 02 Viewpoint

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

Flash

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

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Can PokeMatch help you find love with Po...
The unofficial Pokemon GO companion app space has exploded almost as fast as the game itself over the last few weeks. Aspiring app developers, many of them working solo, have given us apps that locate Pokemon, keep track of the server status, and... | Read more »
How to get started with Prisma
If there's one thing people like to do more than taking pictures with their smartphones, it's tinkering with those photos in some way. Numerous apps have sprung up over the last several years that allow you to use filters and special effects to... | Read more »
6 Pokemon GO updates you can expect, acc...
Pokemon GO had a scheduled appearance at this year's San Diego Comic-Con for a while, but it was only relatively close to the show that it was upgraded to a spot in Hall H. That's the biggest venue at SDCC, one usually reserved for the largest... | Read more »
How to evolve Eevee in Pokemon GO
By now, almost everyone should be hip to how to evolve Pokemon in Pokemon GO (and if not, there's a guide for that). Just gather enough candy of the appropriate type, feed them all to the Pokemon, and evolution happens. It's a miracle that would... | Read more »
CSR Racing 2: Guide to all game modes
It might not seem like there are all that many ways to go fast in a straight line, but CSR Racing 2 begs to differ. [Read more] | Read more »
Bulb Boy (Games)
Bulb Boy 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Multi-award winning 2D point & click horror adventure about a boy with a glowing head. | Read more »
5 top free emoji keyboard apps
If we're not at peak emoji yet as a society, it feels like we definitely should be. The emoji concept has gone far beyond what anyone in Japan could have envisioned when the people there unleashed it on an unsuspecting world, but the West has... | Read more »
How to unlock more characters in Disney...
One of the big charms of Disney Emoji Blitz is seeing a wide variety of beloved Disney and Pixar characters transformed into smiling emojis. Even someone like the sneaky Randall from Monsters Inc., who probably never cracked a smile on film, is... | Read more »
Cubway (Games)
Cubway 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Cubway is a journey with an abstract story of lifecycle of rebirth, called Samsara. Guide the cube through the long way full of dangers... | Read more »
Colorcube (Games)
Colorcube 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Turn pieces and blend colours in this minimal yet visually stunning puzzler.Over 200 handcrafted and challenging levels. Features... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

External Keyboard Innovations For iPad Pro (1...
I’m an input device aficionado. With non-touchscreen computers, which includes all Macs, the keyboard and mouse or trackpad are the tactile points of interface between user and machine, and the... Read more
GSK Rheumatoid Arthritis Study Leverages iPho...
Global healthcare products company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) says that since 2014 they have begun transforming the way they conduct research, by leveraging state-of-the-art digital technologies — a... Read more
Clearance 12-inch Retina MacBooks, Apple refu...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 12″ Retina MacBooks available starting at $929. Apple will include a standard one-year warranty with each MacBook, and shipping is free. The following... Read more
13-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to...
B&H Photo has 13″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro: $1199 $100 off MSRP - 13″ 2.7GHz/... Read more
13-inch 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for...
Amazon has the 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for $200 off MSRP for a limited time. Shipping is free: - 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air (sku MMGF2LL/A): $799.99 $200 off MSRP Their price is the... Read more
13-inch 1.6GHz/256GB MacBook Air on sale for...
Amazon has the 13″ 1.6GHz/256GB MacBook Air on sale for $200 off MSRP for a limited time. Shipping is free: - 13″ 1.6GHz/256GB MacBook Air (sku MMGG2LL/A): $999.99 $200 off MSRP Their price is the... Read more
Free iOS Business App notably* Helps Service...
PayStudio Inc. has introduced their new business app notably* 1.0, developed for iPhone and iPod touch. notably* was specifically developed to help service and trade professionals go digital and... Read more
27-inch iMacs on sale for $200 off MSRP
Amazon has 27″ iMacs on sale for $200 off MSRP including free shipping: - 27″ 3.3GHz iMac 5K: $2099 $200 off MSRP - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB Fusion iMac 5K: $1799.99 $200 off MSRP - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB HD iMac 5K... Read more
Mac Pros on sale for $200 off MSRP
B&H Photo has Mac Pros on sale for $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 3.7GHz 4-core Mac Pro: $2799, $200 off MSRP - 3.5GHz 6-core Mac Pro: $3799, $200... Read more
Save up to $600 with Apple refurbished Mac Pr...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Mac Pros available for up to $600 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each Mac Pro, and shipping is free. The following... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions, Willow...
Job Description:SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Evangelist - JAMF Software (United S...
The Apple Evangelist is responsible for building and cultivating strategic relationships with Apple 's small and mid-market business development field teams. This Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - APPLE (United...
Job Summary As an Apple Solutions Consultant, you'll be the link between our future customers and our products. You'll showcase your entrepreneurial spirit as you Read more
*Apple* Professional Learning Specialist - A...
Job Summary The Apple Professional Learning Specialist is a full-time position for one year with Apple in the Phoenix, AZ area. This position requires a high Read more
*Apple* Picker - Apple Hill Orchard (United...
Apple Hill Orchard, Co. Rte. 21,Whitehall, NY 9/7/16-10/228/16. Pick fresh market or processing apples Productivity of 60 boxes and 80 boxes processing fruit per Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.