Common sense dictates there's a reason country-western crooners gravitate to the sparkle of rhinestones but business presenters don't. Eye-blinding apparel creates a dazzling display for concert fans, but it would be a disastrous choice for a monthly sales meeting. Presenters, however, now seem to have a rhinestone of their own — Macromedia Flash. Although not the perfect choice for every situation, this product is slowly gaining ground among professionals whose ambitions extend beyond PowerPoint's limits, but who don't want to climb the learning curve of a high-end multimedia-authoring program, such as Macromedia's other brainchild, Director.
Director's little sister
Flash was originally designed to create easy Web animations and vector-based graphics. Now, however, the product can create and repurpose motion, sound, interactivity and Web graphics, almost becoming Director's younger sibling. Flash is more Web-oriented, though, able to compress files to an Internet-friendly size, for instance, reformatting and compressing a 5MB PowerPoint show into an 800KB file.
In 1999, only five percent of Flash users created presentations with the product, according to The NPD Group Inc., a Port Washington, N.Y., research firm. With the demand for multimedia growing exponentially, however, some production houses are finding Flash can comfortably cover the middle ground between PowerPoint presentations and full-blown interactive CD-ROM projects.
Epic Software Group's multi- media designers have put Flash to use when repurposing projects that began life in different formats. According to Vic Cherubini, president of the Woodlands, Texas-based firm, clients bring in a variety of PowerPoint slides, Web pages and even print brochures, looking for effective alternatives to spread their messages. "In many cases, we use Flash because it allows rapid development and deployment in a variety of formats," Cherubini says.
Creating a Compaq campaign
One of Epic's recent jobs involved preparing a multiuse trade show presentation for Compaq Computer Corp. To launch its Insight LC software, Compaq wanted to create an interactive product demo to run on kiosks throughout its trade show booth. The demo would appear on a CD-ROM handout with a light version of the software and a screensaver. The business unit manager needed to use the same demo for a white-paper presentation during the show. Finally, the demo would appear on Compaq's Web site after the show, so it needed to be available in five different languages.
Epic designers began by gleaning key features from the PowerPoint slides Compaq provided. They used Flash's multi-media capabilities to add movement and animation. The finished presentation was compiled into a free-standing executable (EXE) file that could be viewed from the CD without need of special players. The designers used a third-party development tool, Screen Time from Mac Sourcery, to convert the custom application into a screensaver for the CD.
A Web version was prepared and, according to Cherubini, language translation was easily handled. "Since Flash uses vector graphics to display text elements, it handled the foreign-language conversions, even Mandarin Chinese, with no problems," he says. When completed, the source code of the piece was sent to Compaq to be uploaded to its Web site (www.compaq.com/ im/lc/clc062.html). The overall result was a consistent presentation of the product in several formats that satisfied Compaq's needs.
Flash isn't necessarily for everyone. Although the program is not as difficult to understand as Director, it does involve a modest learning curve. And for users who wish to keep things simple, the animation features in PowerPoint and other programs may be sufficient. But if the sparkle of multimedia continues to draw you in, and if your company is beginning to toy with Web presentations, using a little Flash wouldn't hurt.
• Julie Hill