Macromedia Flash 5
Backwards compatibility may cause some problems initially. For instance, Flash 4 .fla files cannot be opened in Flash 4 once they’ve been opened and saved in Flash 5 – although Flash 5 movies can be exported as Flash, 2, 3 or 4 files. One major irritation in earlier versions of Flash was the not-so-user-friendly working environment. The earlier manifestations of the user interface were so different from any other Macromedia products that users found the learning curve very steep. Now, the revamped user-interface should make life much easier. The updated interface matches the rest of Macromedia’s products – such as Fireworks and Dreamweaver. Macromedia has said that it’s committed to delivering a more approachable working environment right across its suite of products. Macromedia has also made Flash 5 less intimidating for newcomers. A launcher bar at the base of the working window has been added, allowing one-click access to frequently used function panels – such as Show/Hide Library, Object Actions, Character, Mixer and Movie Explorer. However, unlike the completely customizable Dreamweaver functions, there appears to be no option to add your own shortcuts to this bar. Palettes, or “panels”, as they’re called in Flash 5, are available at the click of a button on the launcher bar. You can dock them together, or snap them into place. Tools such as the beziér pen behave consistently across Macromedia’s products. The Colour Selection palettes have also been revamped, as have the menu-bar structures, Launcher bar and Toolbox layout. If you prefer the Flash 4 selection style, it can be switched on in preferences, and the improved Timeline can be undocked from the “stage”. The Timeline now works in a similar way to the Director 8 timeline. You can stretch a span of keyframes by dragging out the end keyframes, or move it by dragging from the centre of the span. Individual keyframes can be selected by command-clicking on them. Colour coding also makes using the timeline more intuitive. The Movie Explorer in Flash 5 has been added, to improve the production process by showing a structured hierarchy of objects and locations over time – this will be especially useful when working on extremely complex projects. For more honed searching, you can filter what’s seen in the window by graphics, fonts, videos, sound, bitmaps, frames or layers – or create your own customized view. You can “edit in place” and collapse and expand branches of elements. As well as the easy-to-use vector-drawing tools, Flash 5 now caters for the traditional illustrator, with the addition of the beziér pen. Point-to-point drawing and a sub-selection tool for manipulation of artwork created in the natural vector-based tools have been added to the Pen Tool. There are also multiple Pen Tools to enhance the Flash experience. On the text-options panel, you can select Dynamic, Static or HTML text, and the alignment of objects can be selected in another panel. Compatibility
Some Flash users on Macromedia’s forums are concerned about the new ActionScript learning curve, and the time it will take for the Flash 5 player to be taken up by the viewing public. There are plenty of small changes in Flash 5, and many useful new features. The beziér drawing-tool and FreeHand import will be the biggest boon for designers already working in Flash, and, for newcomers, the revamped interface will make learning Flash easier. If you want to take advantage of the new features then Flash 5 is recommended.