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Miscellaneous Features

As a sixth-generation product, Flash MX has a number of finishing touches worth mentioning. Better access to online documentation and product extensions, built-in accessibility, and more flexible file loading rules all help to round out the Flash authoring experience.

Answers

Flash 5 included the Dashboard, a community and support add-on. Dashboard has been retired and replaced with the Answers panel. Answers is a self-updating, SWF-based window that you can use to search Macromedia's TechNotes database and Flash Exchange. I did use Dashboard once or twice, but I've found myself using Answers much more, mostly to check for TechNotes. Answers is also capable of updating itself from Macromedia's servers, using a little bit of behind-the-scenes magic.

Accessibility

Macromedia Flash has copped a lot of flack in the past for not meeting standards of accessibility, and making it difficult for site builders to support sensory impaired users. Flash MX includes Accessibility features, but it's questionable how much this really buys you. First, you have to assume that the users are running Windows and have a Flash Player 6-compatible screen reader. Second, you have to make sure that your movie is fairly static, and has a text-dominant interface. But why use Flash to make an HTML-like interface if you can just use HTML? Good question.

The Accessibility features themselves are straightforward to use. Just click the little blue Accessibility icon (on the right edge of the Properties inspector) to set the options for any object. You can choose whether or not to expose certain objects to screen reader software, as well as global settings for the entire movie.

New Sandbox Security

In previous versions of Flash Player, security was very tight when it came to connecting to external data sources. The hard and fast rule was (and is, by default) that only files and data from the same domain as the Flash Movie itself can be loaded.

Flash Player 6 has been engineered to be more permissive, since cross-domain access is often required when building web applications. For instance, you might publish your movie on brandA.com, but need to load a shared menu SWF from brandB.com. Flash Player allows you to mix and match loaded movies from anywhere; they're just blocked initially from accessing each other's variables and script objects. If you add a System.security.allowDomain("http://www.theotherdomain.com"); action to the first frame of each movie, they will be permitted to interact fully.

Macromedia publishes a comprehensive whitepaper on Flash MX security, available in PDF format from: www.macromedia.com/desdev/mx/flash/whitepapers/security.pdf. The whitepaper covers multiple domain access as well as browser interaction and md5 encryption in Flash.

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