The Tell-Tale SWF

SWF. It seems simple enough to assume that it stands for “Shockwave Flash”, doesn’t it? Every now and then someone asks if it’s true, then someone else responds that it’s either “Small Web Format” or that it stands for nothing at all (what is the sound of s-w-f clapping?).

Recently, a discussion on the topic led to a question about whether other forms of Shockwave existed, like for xRes, Macromedia’s attempt at a Photoshop killer back in the mid-90s (you used to get a copy with every box of Director!) The answer, as I’ve said before, is “yes”.

There was an xRes server. It used the pyramidal storage scheme for the xRes image files to deliver cropped online multi-resolution images. You could specify the display image size, level of magnification, center of focus, etc., sort of like what Mapquest and Google Maps do with their aerial views.

Here’s Macrobe’s tech note:

Shockwave –

New Shockwave support enables users to dynamically publish and view streamed hi-res images on the Web without having to download the entire file. Web surfers can pan and zoom into embedded hi-resolution images for greater detail and interactivity.

As for whether SWF actually stands for “Shockwave Flash”, again I turn to the source, in the instructions for installing the Flash 9 plugin on Solaris (my emphasis):

4. Verify the installation by typing about:plugins in the location bar or by choosing Help > About Plugins. You should see Adobe Flash Player listed as “Shockwave Flash 9.0 “

Then take a look at a function from the AC_RunActiveContent.js file generated by Adobe Flash CS3, aka Flash 9, used to embed SWF files in pages and get around the EOLAS patent (and released just a couple of months ago):

function AC_FL_RunContent(){
    var ret = AC_GetArgs ( arguments, “.swf”, “movie”, “clsid:d27cdb6e-ae6d-11cf-96b8-444553540000”, “application/x-shockwave-flash”);
    AC_Generateobj(ret.objAttrs, ret.params, ret.embedAttrs);

This kind of thing can’t be dismissed as the persistent fallout of a decade-old marketing goof. Macromedia couldn’t (and now Adobe can’t) get rid of these types of references because they’re associated in operating systems with the SWF file extension (Mac OS X identifies the “Kind” of a SWF as “Shockwave Flash Movie”). Take it from the author of the Macromedia Press book on Flash 2 (that was me), it was in the technical specs of things as basic as the MIME type. It’s still in the technical specs because they can’t be modified without causing more trouble than it’s worth. The marketing people might have done their best to kill “Shockwave Flash”, but you can still hear its heart beating, beating under the floorboards.