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date 20.Mar.2016

■ How to distance yourself from security loophole happy Flash video


xplorer² help and documentation relies heavily on tutorials created by Wink. This authoring tool captures a window as you are working with it and allows you to annotate and highlight various actions. The output is a SWF flash video, which is crisp and very small in size (around 500 KB!). But flash is getting a very bad rap nowadays, various bad eggs exploit the indecorous programming skills of adobe folk, so many users disable flash and silverlight (even adobe themselves are losing faith in flash).

Sadly xplorer² SWF tutorials became collateral victims in the anti-flash movement. The obvious solution is to convert them to something else and upload them to YouTube. If you google SWF to MP4 conversion (or FLV or whatever), there are tons of desktop and online tools professing to do the job, only to let you down. I don't know if these tools are genuinely rubbish, created by ex adobe developers <g>, or if the SWF created by this Wink tool is special, but they just choke on it. I must have tried 10 or more of them to no avail. They either couldn't see the original window size or they converted just the green progressbar underneath the real demo video.

The next idea was to convert these SWFs to animated GIF, then convert the GIFs to MP4. There are many free tools that capture the screen into animated GIF, kind of a poor man's video tutorial as you cannot annotate the snapshots. I used licecap. This is a weird program, its window consists of a huge hole, which you frame around the area you want captured. Start playing the SWF in your web browser, and licecap will capture the capture so to speak and create an animated GIF. It immediately hits you when the size of this GIF is 3 times the original SWF — but wait till you see the size of the AVI, shocking amount of lard!

Before revealing the magic bullet that goes from GIF to MP4, I will quickly mention several lost roads I took and got nowhere.

The correct answer to this conversion conundrum is ffmpeg. When I first read about it, and given the complexity of "friendly" tools like virtualDub, I presumed that this old school console tool would be out of the question for my nonexistent video expertise. But as it turns out it is child's play: just open a DOS box, put the animated GIF next to FFMPEG.EXE and type:

ffmpeg -i input.gif output.mp4

The program auto-detects the best settings (or at least you hope it does), and just works! In a few minutes you have the MP4 output weighing in at 5MB. Not bad for a console tool. 5MB upload to youtube quickly and there you have it, the beginning of the end for SWF. If you check the resulting video to the right, the result leaves much to be admired, as the mouse feels jerky (compare to the original SWF)

All in all it looks like with the effort required for the conversion, and the loss of quality, it may be easier to just create new tutorials from scratch, using a tool that creates MP4 video directly like active presenter. Half a megabyte SWF videos are bygone, but who cares if youtube foots the streaming bill? <g>

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