Today I'd like to head in a slightly different direction than my other "10 Minutes with Flash" articles, to show off some third-party tools that have made working with Flash a more productive and enjoyable experience.
Although Flash is still the greatest thing since sliced bread, it can't offer a solution for every possible situation. Fortunately, Macromedia gave us the ability to extend Flash and solve our own problems using a little skill and creativity. As a result, Flash extensions are everywhere, and almost no problem has gone unhandled.
But there's no easy way to know which ones really work or can really help you. So from this sea of extensions, I've put together a short list of my personal favorites with the hope that you, too, can soon discover Flash zen by using them. These extensions, quite simply, rock my world. They often seem like such obvious solutions, but since I didn't think of them myself, it's a stroke of brilliance that someone else did. I work with Flash every day, and without the tools discussed in this article, it wouldn't be nearly as fun.
So here's the list. And, yes, I'm saving the best for last.
The Document Notes Panel
Created by Flash guru Ron Haberle at GiantProblems.tv, the Document Notes panel is a custom panel that does exactly what its title implies: allows you to save notes in your Flash documents, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1 Document Notes, anyone?
On a development team, several people may work with the same Flash document. One person could be handling the ActionScript while another works on graphics. A third person might be in charge of making sure the interface is as user-friendly as possible. Throughout this process, the ability to write and share notes can be crucial. After all, you don't want to have to keep all your notes on a guide layer and fill up the work area of the document, right? And you don't want to keep a separate text file all the time, do you? I know I don't. Document Notes to the rescue!
Simply enter a note in the Enter a Note pane, like an instant messenger, and click Save Note. The note immediately appears in the Notes For pane with a date stamp and is saved as persistent data in your Flash document; every time you open the document in the future, your notes will be there. This is a clean solution to a common problem and works great even when you're the only person working on the file.
But waitthere's more! Beneath each and every note displayed in the panel, there is also a built-in Delete This Note option so you can clean up after yourself. And if that's not enough, installing the extension drops a CSS file into the WindowSWF folder in your Flash install directory, which you can alter to change the fonts and font styles used in the panel. It's not just an extensionit's a customizable extension.
This panel currently has a couple of glitches when running on a Macintosh, such as the fact that previously saved notes do not display automatically when you open a document until you create a new note. All in all, though, the Document Notes panel is a very handy tool that every developer should own.
By the way, this extension is free. You can get it at GiantProblems.tv, in the Panels section.