It helps to put Flash technology in somewhat of a historical perspective in order to appreciate what it can do. This all needs to be placed in the context of HTML, Hypertext Markup Language, the original method for creating web pages.
In 1989, Tim Berners was working at the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN), or European Organization for Nuclear Research in English, and was bogged down in attempting to cross reference various articles with each other. CERN seems an unlikely place from which to expect the emergence of a markup language, because its focus is on subatomic particle research. In order to link documents together, he drew from his experience in developing a system, “Enquire”, for his own use in 1980, to link documents together, and we now know this as “hypertext”. In short, hypertext is a way of tying documents together and accessing them by clicking the reference. The reference is embedded in text.
There is a very long history of markup languages, the core of which is the Standard Generalized Mark-up Language (SGML), and, again, this a subject for a book. Indeed many books have been written about it. However, to give a quick illustration, formatting of a document on the web is done by creating tags, such as H1, giving an appearance of Header. This is a style that has a bold typeface and is larger.
At the turn of 1989-1990, computer communication was text driven, and there were issues of memory limitation, one megabyte of RAM being a real advance. Commodore released its Amiga computer in 1985, and this featured a slowly bouncing ball as its demonstration animation. While the technology was getting out there, albeit in a primitive way, applications were computer specific. One could not create a document on a TRS-80 and bring it over to an Apple, for example. Word processors, such as EasyScript, TROF (UNIX-based), and Microsoft Word were not interconvertible.
A protocol was needed to enable such transference, and Berners created the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), what we now recognize as the abbreviation placed before web addresses in the browser. In order to transfer text, he designed a basic version of the HyperText Mark-up Language (HTML).
One of Berners’ cohorts, Jean-Francois Groff, wrote a program in the C programming language, libwww, that rendered text, and the first browser was born. Both Berners and Groff are credited with starting the World Wide Web (WWW), again, the familiar designation of websites appearing after the “HTTP”. Soon after this, the Mosaic browser made its debut in 1993. There was a great deal of discussion about whether the average user had the 4 MB memory required to render the browser in a suitable form, with all the graphics. However, technology was advancing quite rapidly, and this was not a real issue by 1994.
Back to CSS we come. A consortium of persons calling themselves “W3C”, named after the three Ws in World Wide Web, plus the letter “C” for consortium, agreed on a CSS format in 1994 to enable consistent rendering of text.
Meanwhile, others, like Microsoft, were racing to get browsers out. Internet Explorer, with all of its security issues, was released in 1996. In this mid-1990s period, though, browsers could render simple animated graphics. One needs only to look of the file size of an animated “gif” (Graphical Interchange Format), for example to see how small the file size really is. However, people had to wait until 2000 before they would see a fuller use of the CSS. These graphics are assembled much in the same manner as old cartoon were in the early part of the 20th century – by a series of still drawings flashed by the viewer so as to create an animated effect. The road ahead was to be long to the technology we have today in Flash, a road which we will travel next time in Part II.