Flash MX 2004's competitive advantage is this: Time is money, and Flash seriously reduces development and maintenance time. Rather than get into the technical details around that statement, we are going to use a story to illustrate our point.
When asked by one of his clients to include Flash as a major part of the site, one of the authors denigrated it by telling them a really scary story that was based on the following:
The images and wording would have to be constantly updated.
The source file would have to be constantly updated.
The server file would have to be constantly downloaded and uploaded.
Then he finished the scary story with a conclusion even more terrifying than the classic "hook on the door knob" told around campfires. "You know," he said, "You will have to pay me to do this on your behalf."
This isn't the case today. As you saw in Chapter 10, "Assembling the Tour," data can be stored in a database and "called" by Flash using Flash Remoting to populate a Flash movie in a web page. This greatly reduces the maintenance required for a Flash movie, thus increasing its viability as a major part of a web site.
Let's get clear on this last statement. We regard Flash as a tool, and we are consistent in advocating, when it comes to dynamic site development, that you should use the tool best suited for the job at hand. A good example is the combination of HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) that is being used in some of the best-designed sites on the web. For a bad example, consider the increasing use of the Minimal font in Flash, which focuses on the developer's needs to manage bandwidth and download times. The words set in this font are usually unreadable, but the site loads in record time. The HTML/CSS combination indicates the designer's recognition that web pages are read and that it is the words on the page that are the primary communication vehicle in the site.
The addition of the Flash Communications Server MX has pushed Flash MX 2004 beyond anything previously done with Flash. What used to require numerous plugins can now be accomplished with only one. Most important of all, a new dimension of interactivity can be added to our work.
When we speak of "interactivity," we are not using the word in terms of "push-a-button-and-something-happens." Interactivity is how humans interact with a computer-based interface. This whole process is still a bit sterile because we are still interacting with a machine, not another human. Yet, as you saw in the previous chapter, that barrier can quickly be removed with streaming video. Suddenly, we are offered the opportunity to interact with other humans in real time, and the interface becomes a communications medium. When that happens, we focus on the other people, resulting in what we call "the transparency of the underlying technology." Users are being given the chance to interact with each other, not a machine or a web page, in a more personal manner.
A number of years ago, when eCommerce was just starting to take hold on the Internet, one of the authors was approached by a major retail clothing store that wanted not only to sell their clothing online, but also to talk to their customers using some sort of voice technology. At the time, two-way voice communication over the Internet was not available. The alternative?text chat?would have been an expensive venture for the client at that time. Had the same client approached the author today, a live one-on-one session between the sales rep and a client could have been easily established using Flash and the Flash Communications Server MX at a cost that would have been far less than what was originally quoted for just a text chat.
Five years ago, if you had told a web developer you could build a real-time, two-way audio and video streaming application in less than an hour and have it on the Internet 30 minutes later, you would have been regarded as certifiably insane. In the previous chapter, you did just that.