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The i-Technology Right Stuff

Searching for the Twenty Top Software People in the World

 

Jon Gay

 

Brief Description: The "Father of Flash"

Further Details:

When Jonathan Gay wrote "FutureSplash Animator" in 1995 along with Robert Tatsumi, he could hardly have imagined the impact the program would have on Web design. Rechristened "Flash" by Macromedia, the program leveraged vector graphics to deliver smooth motion in a file small enough to be distributed on the early, bandwidth-challenged Web.

Today Gay still guides Macromedia Flash's development, and is currently focusing on extending Macromedia Flash to support richer communications in a networked world.

Gay is on record as saying that Macromedia Flash began with a few bits of colored plastic, namely the LEGO bricks he grew up laying with as a child (back when there were no LEGO men or whales or complicated accessory packs - just rectangular blocks and a few wheels).

"Those bits of colored plastic," Gay explains, "taught me the basics of engineering design, how to choose a design problem, and the process of iterative refinement. Even better, they helped me express my early passion for building things."

He began his career in computing writing games, then moved to building graphics editors. Here is how he and Robert Tatsumi turned their ideas into reality:

"In the summer of 1995, we were at SIGGRAPH and got lots of feedback from people that we should turn SmartSketch into an animation product. We were starting to hear about the Internet and the Web, and it seemed possible that the Internet would become popular enough that people would want to send graphics and animation over it. So we began to add animation to SmartSketch.

At the time, the only way to extend a Web browser to play back animation was through Java. So we wrote a simple animation player that used Java and was horribly slow. We stubbornly kept at it though, and in the fall, Netscape came out with their plug-in API. Finally, we had a way to extend the Web browser with decent performance (this was the ancestor of Macromedia Flash Player).

As it grew close to shipping time, we changed the name of our software to FutureSplash Animator to focus more on its animation capabilities. We also were growing tired of running a company that didn't have much money to spend, and began trying to sell our technology. After an unsuccessful pitch to Adobe and turning down a bid from Fractal Design, we shipped FutureSplash Animator in the summer (May) of 1996.

Our big success came in August of 1996. Microsoft was working on MSN and wanted to create the most TV-like experience on the Internet. They became big fans of FutureSplash and adopted the technology. I'm still amazed that they made their launch of MSN dependent on a new animation technology from a six-person company!

Our other high-profile client was Disney Online. They were using FutureSplash to build animation and the user interface for the Disney Daily Blast. Disney was also working with Macromedia Shockwave.

In November of 1996, Macromedia had heard enough about us through their relationship with Disney and approached us about working together. We had been running FutureWave for four years with a total investment of $500,000. The idea of having a larger company's resources to help us get FutureSplash established seemed like a good one. So in December 1996, we sold FutureWave Software to Macromedia, and FutureSplash Animator became Macromedia Flash 1.0."

By 2001 there were 50 people building Flash instead of 3 when they started FutureWave and it has evolved from a simple Web drawing and animation package to a complete multimedia development environment. Flash has become synonymous with animation on the Internet. It's even possible that Flash Player is now the most widely distributed piece of software on the Internet-ahead of Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, and Real Player.

Other Recent SYS-CON stories about Flash Macromedia Takes the Next Step: Server-Based Flash

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MX Developer's Journal - Flash section articles

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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