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SatisfActionScript

June 4, 2001
by Darrel Plant

If you like books, you've got to like being a programmer, because nothing generates inches of paper on the shelves (or desk or stacked on the floor next to your chair) faster than programming books. And if they're good programming books rather than ones you bought because there was one technique in it that made you think the rest of the book was going to be useful, all the better.

Flash 5 brought ActionScript into the big leagues as a programming language, with an explosion of new terms and capabilities. The first wave of books covering how to do pretty things with Flash 5 has passed, and the past couple of months have seen seen the appearance of several books that focus on the ActionScript side of Flash programming. Each has its particular areas of coverage in afield that has grown exponentially over just the nine months since the release of Flash 5.

[DISCLAIMER: My own book, Special Edition Using Macromedia Flash 5, shipped last week, and covers some of the same ground as these titles.]

These titles are covered in the order in which they arrived at the DOUG editorial offices.

ActionScripting in Flash

Phillip Kerman
SAMS
ISBN: 0-672-32078-9
Cover Price: US$39.99 / Can$59.95 / UK£28.99
app. 620 pages

[ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: Phillip and I have known each other for several years. My name appears twice in the Acknowledgments of this book, and his name appears in mine. Then again, Colin Moock's name is here, too.]

Phillip Kerman's second Flash book moves beyond the scope of his best-sellingTeach Yourself Flash 5 in 24 Hours, which was an introductory-level title that covered most of the basics of creating Flash movies, with several chapters devoted to ActionScript. ActionScripting in Flash starts off with an introduction to programming concepts.

Part I of the book consists of chapters covering the basis of topics like Programming Structures, Debugging, Objects, Arrays, Smart Clips (Flash's answer to behaviors), and Interfacing with External Data.

Part II consists of a series of workshops (organized into Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Levels), aimed at accomplishing specific tasks in ActionScript. Topics here include Faking Video, Creating a Currency-Exchange Calculator, Creating a Dynamic Slide Presentation, and Writing JavaScript Cookies. In all, there are 21 different workshops, covering about 200 pages of the book.

Phillip has extensive experience with Macromedia's multimedia authoring tools, from Authorware to Director (see his recent two-part article on using the V12 Database Engine) to Flash, and his familiarity with the types of things that arise in interface and application design show through in his books. He also knows how to present a technique in a discrete manner that doesn't get crowded out by chrome from an unrelated part of the Flash movie. If you're looking for a book that has concrete examples of applied ActionScript, derived in many cases from some award-winning movies, this is definitely a book to consider.

Flash 5 Dynamic Content Studio

Phillippe Archontakis, David Beard, et. al.
friends of ED
ISBN: 1-903450-06-3
Cover Price: US$59.99 / Can$74.95 / UK£43.99
app. 1180 pages with CD-ROM

Weighing in at just over 4 pounds, you'd hope that this title would have a lot to offer. If you're a computer book buyer, though, you know that sheer size doesn't necessarily connote lots of useful information. However, Flash 5 Dynamic Content Studio may restore your faith in big books if you've been burned before.

The other two books in this review are relatively focussed. F5DCS is just the opposite. Its 28 chapters bounce from topic to topic every 30 to 50 pages. In this case, though, it's justified.

F5DCS is intended for use by folks who are serious users of Flash, and who need to respond to and generate data in a changing environment. Rather than creating a self-contained movie that remains static (but may change in response to a user's actions), dynamic movies as defined by this book are those which talk to servers, retrieve data, and modify themselves based on that data.

Experienced developers of data-driven applications are going to groan now and say that there are so many possibilities for server connectivity, how likely is it that they're going to find a book that covers their specific middleware? If anything is likely to cover it, it's probably this book. There are chapters here on connecting Flash movies to JavaScript, text files, Active Server Pages, PHP, Perl, ColdFusion, Generator, ASP Flash Turbine (a Generator-like application), and XML. Sections cover using Access and mySQL databases with ASP and PHP. Other chapters cover object-oriented ActionScript, integrating UltraDev with Flash, and how to create a news site using ASP, Access, and a Flash front end. Most of the chapters contain step-by-step tutorials that are easy to follow and don't appear to break. Copies of PHP and mySQL installations are on the CD-ROM (for Windows, not for Mac OS X), with instructions.

Even for someone experienced with one or two methods of dynamic Flash movie development, this book can be useful for its sheer scope. You never know what you're going to have to interface with next year -- it's best to get a jump on things today.

ActionScript: The Definitive Guide

Colin Moock
O'Reilly
ISBN: 1-56592-852-0
Cover Price: US$39.95 / Can$58.95
app. 700 pages

[YET ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: By some peculiar twist of fate, I'm in the Acknowledgments to this book, as well.]

For an exhausting examination of how ActionScript works, get this book written by Colin Moock (edited by Bruce Epstein of Director in a Nutshell and Lingo in a Nutshell fame). Colin is a member of the Macromedia Flash Advisory Board, and appears to have unprecedented access to the Flash engineering and product teams.

ActionScript: The Definitive Guide delves into the logical underpinnings of ActionScript, attempting to provide an understanding of not just what the language does, but also why it works the way it does. It examines the various constructs of ActionScript right down to the semicolons used for statement terminators (pages 328-330). In fact, there's so much material that the Actions panel (where ActionScript is edited) isn't introduced until Chapter 16 (page 355).

This book has the fewest number of step-by-step examples of the three books here, although it's far from lacking in code. The associated Web site, and indeed the entirety of www.moock.org, has more than enough implemented code to keep you busy for quite a while, however.

If you're one of those curious souls who wants to know how far you can push something like ActionScript, I have to recommend this book, because it has tricks in it that I haven't seen in any other Flash book, including some things with function assignments to object properties that may leave you scratching your head thinking "that ain't right". Nevertheless, they work, and they can be useful, as can this book.

 

Darrel Plant is Technical Editor of Director Online. He is the Publisher at Moshofsky/Plant Creative Services in Portland, Oregon, and the author of or contributor to a number of books on Macromedia Director and Flash, including Special Edition Using Flash 5,, Flash 5 Bible, and Director 8.5 Studio..

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