Macromedia Flash MX 2004
August 25 2004
Macromedia has just announced the new version of its flagship product Flash MX 2004. The new program comes a mere 18 months after the last successful upgrade of the program. Macromedia has also announced a new Macromedia MX 2004 package, containing new versions of Macromedia Dreamweaver, Fireworks, and the current release of Macromedia Freehand MX and Coldfusion MX.
There are several changes in the Flash MX family. The first important change, is the segmenting of the Macromedia Flash market into two groups. Macromedia will offer a regular version and a professional version of Flash MX. The Professional version contains all the new features of the regular version.
Macromedia suggests that users who want to create rich contents and interfaces, use the regular version. They suggest that Macromedia Flash MX Professional 2004 to developers who want to create forms, data driven applications and high quality video. Effectively, Macromedia has separated designers from programmers. It's now easier for users to know which program to use and should help several users.
There are several new features in the Flash MX 2004 that should make life easier for users of both versions of the product. Reaching recently used projects is now easier with the Start page. There's a spell checker integrated within the program. Quickly creating motion graphics effects, is easier with the context sensitive and non destructive Timeline Effects. Users can finally import Illustrator 10 files and PDFs.
A major feature requested by several users is a macro system allowing users to replicate common tasks. Macromedia terms this macro feature "History Panel," like Adobe. Cascading style sheets' information can be shared from Dreamweaver. However, there is no detail on whether users who don't use Dreamweaver can integrate cascading style sheets directly in Flash.
Apparently, The new Flash Player 7 streams texts as raster files and transformed back into vector types on the host machine. It's supposed to speed up the transfer of contents. Macromedia also states that the player will optimize the display and more legible for small areas. There's a new polystar Tool, probably similar to similar tools available in Adobe Illustrator. It must have missed the last upgrade!
An important addition to Flash is the support of unicode types. Users developing contents in non Western European languages such as Russian, Greek, Korean and Japanese, can finally export their contents without having to go through several workaround. In the past, publishing contents in some languages was often difficult. Flash badly supported the specific characters.
Related to that Macromedia has introduced a String Panel. You simply paste your localized text in the appropriate language category and specify which version to export at the publishing stage. Pre-configured publish settings are saved and called on demand.
In the professional version of Macromedia Flash MX 2004, developers can author forms using a new modular and nodal approach reducing the amount of hard coding. A new Project Panel makes it easier to organize all elements used in the creation of a Flash project, such as artwork, Fla files and more. Macromedia has integrated Microsoft's Visual SourceSafe controls within the program.
There's a new External ActionScript editing tool allowing developers to integrate ActionScript files with your projects. There is not much information on this new capability. However it seems that ActionScripts are exchanged and used as regular computer files. This is an interesting development.
There already existed programs capable of importing Powerpoint presentations or save them as Flash movies. Macromedia offers developers the next logical step by allowing developers to create this presentations, using a slide-based interface. This tool will be very popular with many users, not just developers. Macromedia should have included it in the regular Flash MX 2004 product.
New components called data connectors will allow developers to connect to Web services and XLM with minimal scripting. Using the new Data Binding feature, one can also connect components' properties to the data received. To make sure that updates are as small as possible, a new Data Shadowing engin will check for changes and update databases using the least information possible.
Another set of features likely to interest several designers, and developers are the new video tools. The Professional version will enable several video editing programs to export to Macromedia Flash video format, FLV. Variable bit rates and other functions will be available. Variable bit rates give developers more control and adjust to the quality of the input video. This will optimize video for Flash movies severely.
With the enhanced video playback and progressive playback available with the netstream Actionscripts, downloads should improve and based on the bandwidth of the final user. Flash now integrates playback controls with the application and not as external additions. Controlling videos should be easier. One can even create customized skins templates and add interactivity.
There are several more additional features available in both new Flash releases. Most of the additions to the new products are a consolidation of existing tools and a simplification of other tedious and repetitive tasks. Hopefully some long standing annoyances will be fixed. For example, let's hope the Library can remain in a customized interface. Hopefully we can turn bitmaps to vectors with the new history feature.
Although the Timeline Effect makes it easier to add effects to motion graphics effects to the projects, will it be sufficient to convince LiveMotion users that Flash has a friendly interface? With the proliferation of new authoring themes, such as the slide and the form-based authoring confuse users even more. Will they eat up more valuable space? Will the polystar tool be the only design improvements in the new products?
Coolstreak Cartoons Inc.
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