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Macromedia aims to lighten burden for Flash developers

New extensions to the animation tool are designed to help developers add interactive features to their Flash movies.

Macromedia is readying extensions to its Dreamweaver Web authoring software that will make it easier for developers to add interactive features to Flash movies.

Flash was originally designed to create simple, lightweight vector graphics and animations. Vector graphics, defined by their geometric contours, can be resized without loss of clarity and come in much smaller files than traditional bitmap images, which are transported and drawn pixel by pixel.

The extensions to Dreamweaver, expected to be released this week, are designed for authors who use Flash to create interactive, online content and who want to avoid Web scripting languages in which they may not be fluent. Some of the extensions will bring Flash authors capabilities that until now have required extensive hand-coding, but have been available in more automated ways to Dreamweaver authors.

"People are using Flash not just for animation but for interfaces," said Eric Ott, product manager for Dreamweaver. "We're introducing visual techniques to help Flash developers build interactive interfaces without having to use JavaScript."

JavaScript is a scripting language, originally developed by Netscape Communications, that lets Web sites execute actions on a visitor's computer. Those actions include creating pop-up windows, scrolling text and letting Flash content interact with traditional HTML pages. JavaScript is unrelated, except by name, to Java , Sun Microsystems' cross-platform programming language.

Macromedia outlined four extensions to Dreamweaver for Flash authors. Authors will be able to automatically add plug-in detection that finds the version of Flash a Web site visitor has installed, directs visitors without the latest version to Macromedia's Flash download page, and offers an alternative Web address for non-Flash users who opt to skip the Macromedia download.

Dreamweaver also will let authors automatically set cookies--files that a Web site can read on future visits by the same computer--to tell the site when someone has already seen a Flash intro movie, an introductory page that most people want to see only once.

A third extension will let Flash movies validate forms, an action that involves double-checking information that visitors have entered such as credit card numbers, phone numbers and other integers. The final extension focuses on the integration of Flash movies and HTML pages. The ability of Flash and HTML pages to interact will depend on the use of JavaScript.

Macromedia updated Flash 5 three weeks ago. Dreamweaver, last updated in December, typically is revised every 12 to 14 months.

Along with the Dreamweaver extensions for Flash, the company will post a Dreamweaver extension for its Fireworks image-editing software, which will facilitate the conversion of HTML text to graphical images.

All of the extensions will be posted to Macromedia's Exchange warehouse for free software extensions.