Flash MX review:

Flash MX

  • 1
MSRP: $499.00
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CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Configurable interface; gives advanced designers access to versatile and powerful scripting; organizational tools make it easy to develop Flash movies.

The Bad Advanced movie actions require programming skills; offers limited drawing and bitmap tools.

The Bottom Line If you're a sophisticated developer who needs the powerful options Flash offers, turn to Macromedia Flash MX. But for a program that's just as hefty, much easier to use, and significantly less expensive, try Adobe LiveMotion.

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8.0 Overall

When it first appeared in 1996, Macromedia Flash was an uncomplicated animation app. Since then, the Flash file format has become the standard for interactive Web-based multimedia. Flash MX, the graphics app of the same name, lets you fashion stunning, highly interactive Flash animation. But this program won't win any ease-of-use awards; only experienced Web designers can take advantage of its most sophisticated features. If you don't have programming expertise and don't need to prepare your animation for e-commerce sites, consider the equally powerful but cheaper and easier LiveMotion instead. When it first appeared in 1996, Macromedia Flash was an uncomplicated animation app. Since then, the Flash file format has become the standard for interactive Web-based multimedia. Flash MX, the graphics app of the same name, lets you fashion stunning, highly interactive Flash animation. But this program won't win any ease-of-use awards; only experienced Web designers can take advantage of its most sophisticated features. If you don't have programming expertise and don't need to prepare your animation for e-commerce sites, consider the equally powerful but cheaper and easier LiveMotion instead.

Interface saves time and space
Flash MX's updated look resembles a typical Macromedia MX interface, which should appeal to Macromedia devotees. But everyone will appreciate Flash MX's excellent tutorials, sample animation sequences, and templates. Flash's 20 dockable and collapsible palettes, including the Movie Explorer, save screenspace, and the convenient Properties Inspector lets you alter the properties, such as color and size, of any selected object.

To start building a movie, you create a separate layer for each object you add to your work space. To generate objects from scratch, delve into Flash MX's vector toolbox. You'll find the standard pencil and Bezier pen as well as tools that produce circles and squares. Version MX's new Free Transform tool lets you distort object outlines. Better still, Flash integrates closely with Fireworks and FreeHand, a vector drawing package, so you can edit an image in FreeHand and export it back to Flash.

Making the movie
In Flash, you use the rulerlike Timeline panel to animate your movie. The Timeline window displays layers vertically, with a horizontal set of frames for each layer--much like a cartoon flipbook. Animate your movie in one of two ways: frame by frame or through tweening. In the first option, you must manually alter the content of each successive frame to, for example, move an object or change its appearance. In the latter, speedier method, you define the first and last frames of your movie, and Flash MX interpolates, or tweens, the intermediate frames.

Lights, camera, action
Unlike QuickTime movies, Flash movies don't just play, pause, and stop, they also respond to user input and control cursor movement. To make your Flash movies interactive, assign actions, commands written in the JavaScript-like ActionScript language, to parts of the movie. For example, a GetURL action sends your browser to a new Web address when you click a button in the movie. Flash MX's easy drag-and-drop Novice Mode, like LiveMotion's drag-and-drop interface, masks the complexity of the ActionScript programming.

Programmers: 1; newbies: 0
For heavy-duty commercial Web sites, Flash MX pulls out the big guns. You can, for instance, make movies that gather data from online forms and send it to a database. But you must program these complex actions using the ActionScript scripting language, which will flummox both new and intermediate designers.

All is not lost for newbies, however. Macromedia offers extensive Flash MX support, including guided training movies and extensive, easy-to-read tutorials, such as one that helps beginners use ActionScript. For human interaction, you can call a toll number or e-mail Macromedia tech support as many times as you like during your 90-day complimentary support period. After that, you must pay $25 per incident or purchase a Support Package for $95 to $650, depending on the amount and type of support you need.

There's no question: Flash MX is an enormously powerful animation toolkit. However, though the product offers much to beginners, even intermediate Web designers will struggle to harness Flash MX's true potential. For a less complicated but equally powerful animation program, get our current favorite: LiveMotion.

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Flash animation is easy to create via the Timeline window. This image shows the first frame on the left and a partially finished animation sequence on the right.

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