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Flash MX

Flash remains the animation engine of choice for many Web designers. Adobe's competition LiveMotion is the first alternative to Macromedia's product, but Flash still seems to be dominating the market. The need for interactivity and animation on the Web is rapidly increasing as faster computers and Internet connections are becoming more common. Music and entertainments sites as well as big corporate Web sites have started using Flash over the years to add sound, animation, navigation elements, and even interactive games to their pages. Perhaps the most famous example is Nike.com, which uses Flash almost exclusively. The programs are useful for small and big design companies alike, however.

So What's New?

Let's have a look at Flash MX's new features:

  • The interface, again!: As in Fireworks and Dreamweaver, the interface has been changed to add to the overall productivity of the program and make the most important features more easily accessible. The property inspector has been improved, now showing exactly what options can be used on a selected object, unlike in previous versions. Collapsible and dockable (woohoo!) panels and windows make it easy to shape the workspace to your needs. As in Dreamweaver, there is also a new panel that acts as a sort of in-program help section, encouraging news user to find an answer to their problems and guide them through the interface and features. In general, the learning curve of the MX series of programs has becoming considerably smaller, which should help attract a bigger audience to these products.

    The new dedicated graphic design panel makes it easier to create simple graphics, now giving you more options to work with. Color and shape (thanks to the new free-transform tool) can now be edited much more easily. If you have ever used Flash, you will know that these graphic design tools are usually not used for real graphics design, but rather to make interfaces, buttons, and navigation elements for your page.

  • Video: Before this version of Flash came out, several third-party program were published that allowed you to incorporate video files (MPG, MOV, and so on) into your SWF (Flash player) files. This option is now included in Flash MX, allowing you to internally add movie files to your projects. That saves time and money.

  • Back and forward again? Yes!: This seems like a really nice new feature. Sometimes when looking at Flash on the Internet and loading the whole site as one file, users would click the Back button on their browsers to go to the previous screen they saw, not realizing that the SWF file that loaded was embedded into the HTML page. Now it is possible to create anchors in your FLA files with which SWF files can be bookmarked, allowing the use of Forward and Back buttons in compliant browser types.

  • Action!: Use of ActionScript in Flash movies is better and easier. There is now an expanded window dedicated just to coding, satisfying the need of many Flash users to add ActionScript to their projects in an easy and organized way. Flash used to be simply a drawing tool, but SWF files have now become much more interactive and often must display "real-time" or "on-demand" information, therefore requiring the need of coding. Also included with the program are several form templates.

External affairs: Flash can load external files such as music (MP3) and images dynamically, which can reduce file size. This also makes it easier to change these files without having to change the whole FLA file.

Fireworks, Flash, and XML

Another useful new feature in both Fireworks MX and Flash MX is the ability to work with XML data. In other words, you can combine both programs to set up pages such as shopping carts, surveys, and other types of forms very easily.

Using these two programs, you can create a "static" background for a form, graph, or similar item, and then just load XML into it with a couple of clicks. Very useful!

Worth It?

Yes, I think this upgrade is very much worth your money. The program is more efficient, incorporates new useful features, and makes the viewing experience of Web users much more pleasant. I also found that, in my projects, file size decreased when I exported to SWF, in comparison to the previous version of Flash. Although this is not listed as an improvement or "new feature" by Macromedia, it seems to me that better compression methods are being used when exporting to SWF. Flash MX just seems like a more complete program than the previous version, maybe just because of the good layout and yet familiar looks of the user interface.

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