Flash remains the champ of professional vector software for the Web. However, creating Web pages, interactive games, and videos in Flash CS3 is no one-two punch; the complexity remains a barrier for new learners. That said, you won't find all of what Flash offers elsewhere. The strength of its many features as well as its convenient integration within the rich Creative Suite 3 make Flash an alluring and practical tool.
Most notable in this version of Flash is its improved integration with the other Adobe design tools, made possible by Adobe's merger with Macromedia. Macromedia Flash 8 introduced polished bitmap-handling and green-screen video capabilities that enhance the wow factor for viewers and users of the animation, videos, and games Flash creates, but the CS3 update focuses mostly on improvements for designers and developers.
We installed Adobe Flash CS3 as part of the Web suite on a Windows XP computer in about 40 minutes. (Unfortunately, some testers who had been running Flash CS3 beta software spent many frustrating hours unsuccessfully installing the final code.) Flash CS3 runs on Windows XP SP2 or Vista--and now both Intel-based and PowerPC-based Macs with at least 512MB of RAM and 2.5GB free.
Once you start Flash CS3, the interface is more customizable than in the past; you can choose where to dock the timeline and other panels, letting them float outside the main Flash window, while you can drag features to the toolbar.
As with most of the other CS3 applications, unfortunately, we don't find the interface intuitive at all unless you have prior knowledge of Flash. Some of the functions to achieve the simplest effects are frustratingly complex. For instance, if you're using Flash to create a banner ad with a surface area that will link to a Web site, why can't you quickly add that link, as you can in Dreamweaver's Properties box? Instead, Flash requires that you invoke ActionScript.
Flash CS3 introduces the time-saving capability of importing the layers of both Photoshop and Illustrator files. While importing a PSD file, you also can match the stage size and compression settings and turn layers into either movie clips or key frames. While you could bring in PSD and AI images in the past, now there's no more need to convert and name one layer at a time.
Rather than drawing from scratch, you can drag prebuilt components such as buttons directly onto the stage, and then customize them. If you are drawing from scratch, Flash adds tools that include a Pen like the one in Illustrator as well as Shape Primitives for rounding off the corners of rectangles and making other shape alterations on the stage. New filters and blends add more creative options. Plus, you can set up blend modes and shadows that render at runtime, making for a smaller file. Added integration with Adobe Bridge can help you manage assets shared by other CS3 programs.
In our tests, Flash CS3's compiler worked much faster than version CS2. And asis zippier than version 8 (100 times more so, says Adobe), your Flash videos and animation should load in less time than in the past. Video enhancements include improved import menus. You can embed cue points to a video that would enable, say, closed captioning in multiple languages. Adobe is pushing for its software to create work that can be repurposed in various media, so you don't have to start a project from scratch for video, the Web, or mobile gadgets. As with the other CS3 tools, Device Central previews how your work will appear on skins of the latest handhelds on the market.