Flash vs. Animated GIF

I recently bought a flash template which looked really cool. However after realizing I was in over my head and reading numerous posts on Flash sites I am thinking that I should scrap the Flash altogether. It is an awesome utility but for what I need I am thinking an animated gif would do better. One concern is that I don’t want a prompt asking people that go to my website to download an ActiveX control. I know that annoys me so I want to circumvent it.

What is the general consensus on when to use Flash and when to use an animated GIF?

Is an animated GIF the best alternative?

On my homepage I would like a GIF to loop continuously in the background and perhaps have another animated GIF on top of it that runs once then stops. Is this easily do-able? Is there a way to get the anim GIF to download fully before it runs and perhaps show a still of the GIF as a placeholder until the anim GIF is ready?

Any responses would be greatly appreciated.