Updated Flash Is Easier on Newbies

Announced Monday, Flash 5 will be available in September, and is listed as a pre-order now from the Macromedia web site for US$549 and as an upgrade for US$249. Besides a new Bezier pen tool, Flash 5 features MP3 support, shared symbols libraries, and support for HTML text formatting. Tighter integration with FreeHand, Dreamweaver, Generator, and Fireworks makes working across applications easier. But most improved is the Flash interface, which borrows from Macromedia's lineup to put a familiar face on Web graphics.

Intuitive Look and Feel

The new Flash 5 interface will look familiar to users of other Macromedia tools, says J. Peter Goldie, Macromedia vice president of marketing for Flash and FreeHand. Setting up animations and layers is more straightforward, and it's easier to import Illustrator and FreeHand files, he adds.

A right-hand panel structure makes it easy for new users to find the controls, says Jeremy Clark, a product manager for Flash. But you can still use pulldown menus. You can also customize the keyboard shortcuts to be similar to other programs you use.

An information panel that houses an element's height controls and RGB monitor sits at the top right corner of the screen. Below that is a mixer panel where you can manipulate hue, saturation, and brightness, Clark says. "We'll ship with several preconfigured color sets."

The character panel lets you access font controls, paragraph alignment, and advanced text options.

"We included the preview function from Fireworks," Clark says. Flash 5 supports XML data transfer and HTML text so you can alter the HTML tags of imported text.

Better Sound and Vision

Flash 5's pen tool is similar to that of FreeHand and Illustrator, so you can easily draw shapes, Clark says. "You can either use the existing natural drawing tool or the new vector pen tool to create a Bezier curve."

Flash 4 supports only MP3 compression in the Flash player. Flash 5 adds full MP3 support so you can author using MP3 or .wav files, Clark says.

Flash 5 also includes Web native printing and shared symbols libraries for reusing elements across multiple Flash movies.

A Designer's Tool

Flash and its .swf file format are all over the Web. Flash is widely available and used as a plug-in. Goldie claims that 92 percent of surfers have the Flash Player and are able to view Flash files.

But Flash faces new competition from Adobe's .swf-authoring LiveMotion.

Macromedia hopes Flash 5 can draw new users with its approachable interface, while giving experienced users advanced tools like a full implementation of ActiveScript

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