I thought I’d take a break from criticising BT this week in order to take some time out to answer a question from one of my readers:

Dear Chris,
One of my interests is electronic organs and keyboards and I thought I would have a look at the web page of the manufacturer ‘Wersi’. I attach a text that was displayed to me that reads ‘this site contains a large amount of Flash and Shockwave content. To view these files you will need the Shockwave player plugin.’ I was wondering what makes up Flash and Shockwave content, what is the Shockwave plugin and if I click on the install now icon what will I be letting myself in for and will I be incurring any cost?
Sam Matthews, Paignton.

Both of the items you describe – Flash and Shockwave are both technologies developed by a company called Macromedia that are designed to make web-browsing more enjoyable then just simple text and pictures that make up the majority of websites.
Flash for example is most often used to present interactive high impact webpages so rather than just clicking on a hyperlink to go from page to page you can click on animated icons which will then set of a cascade of events into action to take you to the page you’ve selected. Quite simply it just makes your page more interactive and gives it a more professional look.
Shockwave is used more for making up the actual content of the website rather than just the interface so that it can be used to create multi-user games, training tools and product simulations which can be easily integrated into your website.
To answer your next question, a ‘plugin’ is simply a bit of software that can be added onto an existing product to enhance it somehow. For example, in this case the Flash player would ‘plug into’ Internet Explorer or Netscape to give them the ability to play Flash files as well as all the usual abilities that they had previously. If a website requests either the Flash or Shockwave plugin and you don’t already have it installed on your computer then Internet Explorer or Netscape should automatically ask you if you want to download and install it automatically however if you want to download the plugins manually then just head towards www.macromedia.com. With both methods the only cost you’ll incur is the cost of the call that you use to dial up your Internet Service Provider (ISP), which for many of you will be free anyway.

I checked out the website address you supplied me (www.wersi.uk.com) and although I’d say the text on the front page that states ‘this site contains a large amount of Flash and Shockwave content’ should be reworded to say something along the lines of ‘this site contains next to no Flash and Shockwave content’, you can see where they have come into use. The little animated box on the top right hand side of the screen has been created in Flash as well as the tour of their showroom when you click on the ‘Wersi Showroom’ link.

Finally, I’m sure several of you are wondering how Macromedia actually make any money then if they give away programs for free and the answer to that is only the player is free of charge. If you want to be able to create your own Shockwave or Flash content for your website then you’ll have to pay out for the developers version. The Macromedia site is well worth a look for anyone who is thinking about going into web design as they also sell many other web related products to help you design a professional looking page.

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