Flash Scripting Book References

Motivation: Here are The Missing Manuals for Flash MX ActionScript
Credit: Imagenation


Macromedia (and a few other software vendors) have inspired "the Missing Manual" line from book publisher O'Reilly. And this is only done partially with tongue in cheek. Now sometimes on upgrades a manual doesn't matter; but Flash Mx is such a major rewrite developers have gone for 6-8 months without proper documentation in one place for the new program. Oh, in defense of Macromedia, its just like the early Visual Basic documentation. Macromedia likes to compare its product to VB for the excitement Flash MX has inspired in the developer community; but that's a dual edge sword - there is a lot of sarcasm about VB documentation. The real productivity problem is you have to go on a safari to find all of the documentation.

But no more - the book vendors have gone out and produced some outstanding tomes to cover Flash Mx. We look at 3 such books which tackle the burgeoning development side of Flash Mx - the ActionScript development side. In a second tutorial we look at two books that emphasize the design and animation possibilities of Flash Mx.

Many designer use Flash primarily for its great quick animation tools coupled with some of the best media compression tools for producing ultra-compact presentations suitable for delivery over the web. But they feel the design capabilities in the new Flash Mx are playing second fiddle to ActionScript and the new development features . And to extent they are right. There are new design and drawing features in Adobe Live Motion and Corel's Rave that are not to be found in Flash. But having said that, the development features in Flash Mx are leagues ahead of what is available in Live Motion and Rave. Also, Flash's own macro commands coupled with smart clips and components add easily deployed customized clips and animations to the designers toolbox. Yes, many components are UI and business interface oriented - but not all by any means. So look for more designer components like Colin Moock's Star Burst or Sham Bhangall's Faux 3D (from their respective books)as the tip of Flash design enhanced directly by ActionScript. But the bottom line is that if you want to do extraordinary animations and artistic effects - ActionScript provides some spectacular capabilities - see Flash Math Creativity for some outstanding examples.
The Top 3 Flash Mx ActionScript References

ActionScript for Flash Mx:The Definitive Guide 2nd Edition by Colin Moock

It used to be for a Web reference text, one looked at Wrox, O'Reilly or New Riders and game over. No longer. Here are three excellent references to the design side of Flash Mx and ActionScript but only one book is from the master reference publishers. Colin Moock's Guide set the standard high in his Flash 5 version Definitive Guide to ActionScript by O'Reilly. The new 2nd edition adds more to an already great base.

First, Colin adds over 250 new Flash Mx objects, methods and functions including examining the new components and video capabilities in detail. Second, Colin has adopted a consistent set of coding conventions, similar to Macromedia's Cold Fusion FuseBox process, for all the examples in the book both old and new. And talk about new examples, there are hundreds of new coding examples both small and large that help to illustrate ActionScripting in a very learning friendly manner. I always worry about a good text on the second edition - will it measure up, and this one really does keep the winning combination of theory, practical examples, and comprehensive reference well intact - bravo, Colin and O'Reilly.

Flash Mx ActionScript Bible by Robert Reinhardt

But Moock's Guide has to play up against Reinhardt's excellent Bible from Wiley Computer books, the first of the best new ActionScript references available since late summer. And Reinhardt's book is more exposition than reference guide - but it is so comprehensive and unfailingly clear in its exposition of ActionScript, that it will probably become the favored text for courses on Flash and ActionScripting.

Unlike Moock's Guide, the Bible spends a little more time on the design side and the use of sound, vector, text, and masks to achieve animation effects - so developers understand some of the draw versus code trade-offs. But perhaps the best thing about the Bible is its early and careful coverage of such foundation topics as arrays, functions, and objects - both predefined like movie clips, arrays, Sounds - and user defined classes. As a programmer who has worked with Delphi, C++, and Java, it was fascinating to see the inner workings of OO design and methods through ActionScript's many faceted ways of defining and customizing objects and object templates (another way of saying classes). One quickly appreciates the many ways that objects can be useful simply by working with them in the many examples. My one complaint, the examples are a bit uneven - either very simple or quite complex.

But the Bible does cover all the bases including solid chapters on remoting and shared components, interfacing to Director's Lingo, JavaScript, Java and Cold Fusion (missing only the important PHP connection) and working with mobile and Pocket PC apps. The other omission is coverage of the new Flash Communication Server with its messaging and shared chat capabilities. However, in general this is a very approachable book - the proverbial missing manual.

ActionScript Reference by Bhangall et al

Bhangall and company have put together one of the best balanced references for theory, examples, and copious yet comprehensive function dictionary with relevant code samples. This is one of the best examples I have seen in all technical writing for computing. The current VB.NET and SAS manual documentation staff - take notes, this style deserves emulation.

The first 40% of the book is a concise yet very helpful discussion of the structure and functioning of Flash Mx and ActionScript. This is the Theory. The first 6 of 17 chapter headings give a good indication:
   1)Introducing Scripted Motion
   2)Building User Interfaces with ActionScript
   3)The Drawing API
   4)Motion Control
   5)The Sound Object
   6)The Color Object
This is an example laden (available on the enclosed CD) series of discussions on how to utilize ActionScript syntax plus its predefined objects and functions/methods. Not too terse and very well illustrated.

The last 60% of the book is devoted to a dictionary ordered alphabetically by major properties, objects and statements of the ActionScript language. Each entry has a brief summary description, a compatibility statement and then code examples. And what examples! The sections on MovieClip.hitArea and MovieClip.hitTest are typical - clarifying a subject one can go astray on easily.Even better the whole dictionary is available on CD in HTML format - so if you want to add to the dictionary you can. And there is one addition I would make - the one thing missing from this otherwise superb reference - there should be a section for "see related items". Other than that, this is an example of what Macromedia's Missing Reference Manual on ActionScript should look like.

With such high praise for Moock's Guide and Reinhardt's Bible one would think that there is not room for another top notch Flash reference; but au contraire - the Flash writing team of Sham Bhanghall and company at FriendsofEd have done exactly that - come up with the definitive reference for Flash Mx ActionScripting

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