Review: Macromedia Flash Professional 8
Naysayers take note: A better video codec and improvements to the workflow make the latest version the biggest Flash upgrade to date.
by Stefan Richter
Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Macromedia’s Flash is one of the most advanced authoring environments for multimedia content including Web sites, mobile content, and what the company calls Rich Internet Applications, such as Flash-based online reservation and quote applications.
Flash Professional 8 is a historic release for a variety of reasons. Many developers were disappointed by what they thought was a rushed development cycle for Flash MX 2004—version 7 of the product—which experienced some growing pains after it was released. This time Macromedia made sure it didn’t make the same mistake again and took just over two years to come up with a new version, compared to an 18-month development and deployment cycle for Flash MX 2004. The result is a product that is more stable, performs better, and is less bug-prone than its predecessor.
When people refer to Flash, they usually mean the Flash Player browser plug-in, the release of which normally goes hand in hand with the release of the Flash authoring tool (referred to by developers as the Flash IDE). The release of a new Flash Player along with the IDE is no coincidence, and the reason is simple: an updated IDE introduces new features which the previous versions of the Flash plug-in don’t support.
So what’s new in Flash Professional 8? Flash Professional 8 is a major upgrade, probably the biggest release of the program to date. Available along with new versions of Dreamweaver, Fireworks, and other tools as part of Studio 8 ($999; $399 upgrade) or on its own ($699; $299 upgrade), Flash Professional 8 adds new features and capabilities in four core areas:
-- User experience
-- Mobile authoring
Note that many of these features are only available in Flash Professional 8, not in Flash Basic 8. I will quickly go over the first three areas and then cover video a bit more in-depth.
The new expressiveness features include filters and blend modes that some users may be familiar with from programs such as Photoshop or Fireworks. These effects can be applied at runtime, which means that such effects are not rendered into a scene but are instead applied by the Flash Player itself, resulting in both a smaller file size as well as better performance. This performance is further enhanced by the bitmap caching feature, which stops vector objects from re-rendering unnecessarily.
In addition, users can now rely on improved text tools and FlashType, a high-quality font rendering engine that greatly improves readability of small fonts using custom anti-aliasing features.
Developers new to Flash will be happy to see an improved Script Assist Mode that provides a visual user interface for editing scripts. Further benefits include different levels of undo/redo as well as a new object drawing mode to represent shapes as objects, along the lines of vector drawing tools such as Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia FreeHand.
Flash Professional 8 includes full support for development targeted at handsets and other mobile devices. With the upcoming release of version 2 of Flash Lite, Macromedia’s Flash Player profile for mobile phones, this will be a valuable feature for mobile content developers. Flash Lite 2.0 presents a big step forward for Flash on mobile devices. Up until now, Flash Lite developers had to struggle with an old-style subset of Flash 4 syntax, meaning that the modern dot-syntax and object-oriented development model was not supported. Flash Lite 2.0 adds Actionscript 2 support, essentially bringing Flash up to Player 7 level on mobile devices.
Flash Lite 2.0 also finally adds video capabilities and now supports video playback of local and remote video files using the video rendering application on the device, meaning that .3gp and .mp4 files will soon play inside Flash on most handsets.