The Authoring Environment: Macromedia Flash MX

Now that you have a good working knowledge of how the Communication Server is set up, let's review your authoring environment, Flash MX.

Flash MX is a fantastic authoring environment for both the design- and programming-oriented developer. Traditionally regarded as a "design" or "animation" tool, it is quickly being adopted by developers responsible for enterprise-level client/server applications. These applications are commonly referred to as rich media applications.

Flash MX is the authoring tool for the Flash Communication Server. As previously discussed, when you install the Communication Server on a computer with Flash MX already installed, add-ons are installed to Flash MX. Flash MX is outfitted with a special set of Flash Communication UI Components, a new Debugging tool, and an App Inspector tool. These three tools will help you build dynamic Flash Communication solutions. There will be an in-depth exploration of each new component in the next series of steps.

Flash MX uses two file formats. The authoring format is FLA and the compiled (published) format is SWF. The FLA stores authoring information about the application and allows you to edit that information in the Flash MX authoring environment.

The SWF file format is a format developed by a company called FutureWave and was acquired by Macromedia in 1997. The Macromedia Flash File Format (SWF) SDK is available freely from the Macromedia web site. The format is viewable in Flash Player 6 and can be compiled as an executable file independent of any additional resources. The process of "compile" is called publishing and is done within Flash MX.

Flash MX Authoring Environment

To build Communication applications, you need to have a basic understanding of the Flash MX authoring environment. Because Communication Server applications leverage new ActionScript objects, previous versions of Flash cannot be used to develop Communication applications. This book will assume you have a basic knowledge of the Flash MX environment and ActionScript. A great resource for Flash MX is the book Inside Flash MX by Jody Keating or Object-Oriented Programming with ActionScript by Branden Hall and Samuel Wan, both published by New Riders.

Flash MX is available for both the Mac and the PC. Communication applications can be developed and tested on both platforms. Mac developers must have access to a Windows-based server as there is no Communication Server available for Mac OS. To edit server-side scripts, access to the flashcom/applications folder is required. Because Flash movies (SWF) and HTML files are not required to be on the server, they can stay on the Mac OS file system. To install the Communication Server components in Flash MX, please review the sections in Chapter 1, "STEP 1: Installation and Setup."

    Part I: 10 Quick Steps for Getting Started