In: Reviews > Product Reviews
Published on May 11, 2005
SlideShowPro is a component for Flash MX 2004 that creates XML-based customizable image galleries. It has lots of features, and it’s a steal at $20—especially considering the amount of time it saves compared to rolling your own.
SlideShowPro provides a great deal of customization. You can change the interface colors, width and height, plus change the thumbnail and and full-size image sizes. There are quite a few options available, so take a few hours to experiment with the various configurations.
External XML Data
The data for the individual images is stored in an external XML file, so you will need a basic understanding of XML. Fortunately, the structure of the example is easy to follow for beginners. The file itself can contain the data for multiple photo albums. You can set a caption, which appears on mouseover, for each image. There is also a “link” attribute, ideal for a portfolio gallery where images open another page or external Web site.
The only drawback the external data file is that it can be tedious to insert the tags if you have a lot of images. To avoid this, I created a server-side script that spits out an XML file with the image filenames in a specified directory on my server. This can easily be modified to use data in a database or other repository.
Taking advantage of XML, the application can load the RSS feed from your Flickr account (it’s free -- set one up already!). It would be great if iStockphoto provided a similar feed so portfolios could be displayed externally.
Macromedia Flash MX 2004 Only
The end product has a fairly usable interface, with mouseover previews and the ability to switch to different galleries. It might not be instantly usable for more novice users. The output SWF is only compatible with Flash Player 7, which may be an issue if your site’s technical specifications require Flash Player 6 or older. On a similar note, many of the examples do not provide any Flash detection and simply do not work if you have an older version. Although Flash detection is usually something handled by the developer, it would be nice if the software maker provided some basic detection in the examples.
The component itself requires that you have Flash MX 2004 (or Pro edition) and will not work with any older version of the Flash application. It would be better if they provided a SWF-only version, where the entire configuration was available in the external XML file. This would allow users who are less familiar with Flash (or who have not yet upgraded) to use the product.
Audio and Undocumented Features
You can also add streaming audio (music or narration, for example) to your slideshows. Each album can have its own clip, but you can’t add audio to individual images. Since Flash treats both images and external SWFs the same, you can just load an image into a separate Flash file with the audio either embedded or streamed from that clip. Then, export it as a SWF and load it into your gallery via the XML file. With this in mind, I found you can load movies that you have exported as SWF files into a gallery—just be sure to keep an eye on your bandwidth!
The SlideShowPro component is a good product and reasonably priced at $20 US. There are similar gallery applications that are much more expensive, but you are essentially paying for access to the source code. Since SlideShowPro is a Flash component, you won’t be able to dissect how the application was built.
Given the amount of configuration flexibility, you probably won’t want to dig into the source code—unless you’re a super Flash geek, but then you would probably be building your own!