Macromedia Flash MX
The newest version of Macromedia Flash brings with it a new naming scheme that will be shared across the full line of forthcoming Macromedia products. It's a bit silly, especially considering that Macromedia representatives admitted to me that the "MX" doesn't really stand for anything. But you can't blame them for jumping on the bandwagon already occupied by Mac OS X, Windows XP, Generation X and the like. Pure marketing, and only slightly better than all of the "2000" and "millennium" references we had to put up with a few years ago. In spite of my chiding, Flash MX does deliver when it comes to important changes and new features. Where version 5 was a step in establishing the complex programming/interactivity aspects of the application, MX adds plenty that will make both visual designers and programmers very happy.
The most radical change here is the new interface. I have always had major gripes about Macromedia's interfaces. To me, previous Macromedia Flash interfaces were clunky and a hassle to manage. But Macromedia Flash MX is a giant stride toward great usability and efficiency. While it will take some adjustment time, it is worth it. Whether it was pressure from Adobe (remember the lawsuits over tabbed panels?) or something else, the old tabbed panels system is gone and replaced with something much better. Panels can still be docked or undocked and compacted, but they work more like the system used in Procreate's Painter. As a result, the new Macromedia Flash workspace is free of the maddening clutter of older versions. Also, several panels have been done away with completely. The Fill, Stroke, Character, Text, Paragraph, Instance, Sound, Effects and Frame panels have been axed in favor of the Property Inspector. The Property Inspector is context-sensitive, meaning no more headaches searching for the right panel to work with. If you are familiar with the Property Inspector in Dreamweaver, this is basically the same kind of tool.
The Timeline/Project window has undergone some work as well. Like the new panels, the timeline area can be compacted to maximize the view of the work area, and embedded controls have been streamlined. Layers can now be grouped into layer folders, which vastly improve efficiency when working with large and complex projects. Even better, layer folders can be nested within other layer folders. Hopefully, Macromedia will continue to explore more possibilities with Layers beyond organizational control, guides and masking. I'd love to see layer transparency and blending mode controls like in Illustrator and Photoshop.
Two new tools grace the tool bar. The Free Transform tool works like Photoshop's tool of the same name, but is actually much more powerful. In default mode, the tool allows the user to quickly rotate or resize the selected object. Four options pop up in the lower part of the toolbar, allowing for more precise control. "Rotate and Skew" is self-explanatory. Using the "Scale" option, dragging on the corner points will scale the object at a fixed proportion, while dragging on midpoints will stretch or shrink the object only in that direction. The "Distort" option enables the user to drag the corner points freely, beyond the simple rectangular shape. Finally, "Envelope" is the best part of the new tool, turning the control points into Bezier handles for more in-depth distortions. The Fill Transform tool is a bit tricky at first, especially if you're prone (like me) to skip the user manual at first. This tool allows you to alter the fill of your selected object. Now, it won't do anything to a solid fill color, but then what would be the point of that? Gradient fills can be distorted and rotated, and the center point can be moved. Bitmaps prove to be much more interesting. Scaling the fill down will tile the image inside the object area, and this can be rotated, shifted and skewed as well. This is great considering the poor fill control of previous versions, and will definitely foster more image creation within Macromedia Flash itself.
Thankfully, Macromedia has changed color management to be much more intuitive and flexible than in past versions. The new color mixer panel adds a new hue/saturation picker and brightness slider, along with an integrated gradient designer. As you choose your colors, a hex indicator corresponds with the value of your choice. Also, an alpha slider on this panel lets you set transparency for a solid or gradient object without having to turn it into a symbol first. Keep in mind, though, that trying to layer several transparent objects in the same layer will not work. Also, coloring or changing the alpha value of a bitmap still requires the object to be a symbol first. If you have ever had the problem of your images slightly shifting or not displaying correctly in your Flash movies, then you'll be very happy about the new Snap to Pixel option. With this option selected, objects and positioning snap to the nearest pixel, so you won't have to deal with unpredictable results of versions past.
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