Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why lock things up? More ruminations on tool choice

I was in a meeting with a vendor recently, and the vendor referred to a product from another party. I went to the other party's website, found the product in question, and got ready to download the data sheet so that I could share it with other meeting attendees from my company. Only one problem - the data sheet was an .swf file. Not a .pdf file, not a .doc file, but an .swf file. I tried saving it anyway and clicking on the resulting file outside of my browser, but nothing happened. I could go to my browser, choose "Open File..." from the File menu, navigate to the file, and open it, but what's the point?

Of course, the advantage of sharing your sales material in a difficult-to-distribute format is that if anyone wants to see your sales material, they have to come to your website. If that's an advantage.

Now I'm someone who advocates the use of any tool in any way you want - if you want to floss your teeth with a screwdriver, be my guest. (Just don't tell your dentist.) But perhaps it's appropriate to review what Macromedia Flash File Format (SWF) was INTENDED to do:

The Macromedia Flash (SWF) (pronounced 'swiff' ) file format was designed to deliver vector graphics and animation over the Internet. The Macromedia Flash File Format (SWF) was designed as a very efficient delivery format and not as a format for exchanging graphics between graphics editors. It was designed to meet the following goals:

* On-screen Display—The format is primarily intended for on-screen display and so it supports anti-aliasing, fast rendering to a bitmap of any color format, animation and interactive buttons.
* Extensibility—The format is a tagged format, so the format can be evolved with new features while maintaining backward compatibility with older players.
* Network Delivery—The files can be delivered over a network with limited and unpredictable bandwidth. The files are compressed to be small and support incremental rendering through streaming. SWF is a binary format and is not human readable like HTML. Macromedia Flash (SWF) uses techniques such as bit-packing and structures with optional fields, to minimize file size.
* Simplicity—The format is simple so that the player is small and easily ported. Also, the player depends upon only a very limited set of operating system functionality.
* File Independence—Files can be displayed without any dependence on external resources such as fonts.
* Scalability—Different computers have different monitor resolutions and bit depths. Files work well on limited hardware, while taking advantage of more expensive hardware when it is available.
* Speed—The files are designed to be rendered at a high quality very quickly.

So .swf format is not really intended for storage and viewing on my own computer. And presumably it meets the company's needs to present company information to website visitors quickly.

But choosing that format has created its own difficulties, such as the fact that I'm much less inclined to share information on this product.
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