Macromedia sparks overhaul with Flash update

The software maker begins a redesign of its entire product line with the latest version of its Flash animation authoring software.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
2 min read
Macromedia began a redesign of its entire product line today with the latest version of its Flash animation authoring software.

Flash authors are the first to get Macromedia's new user interface, which the company is in the process of revamping with both new users and professionals used to traditional authoring software in mind.

"Flash 5 is the flagship product for the new Macromedia UI," said Eric Wittman, director of product management for Flash. "We have an internal group that has representatives from each product team that has been working on an interface that is familiar to those who have been using our software and more approachable to those who are more familiar with other products in the industry."

Dreamweaver and Fireworks are next in line for the overhaul. Wittman would not say when their next versions are due.

With the new Flash version, authors will use what's known as a paneled UI, in which changes are made to a selected object through a constantly active, open window rather than a pop-up dialogue box. Authors will be able to customize their keyboard shortcuts. For example, someone familiar with keyboard shortcuts in Director can now import them to Flash.

Tools for the interface have been rearranged, and the menu structure is being standardized across all products.

Apart from the user interface, Flash 5 comes with a variety of other new features. These include a new scripting language, ActionScript, which is modeled on JavaScript, the ubiquitous scripting language developed by Netscape Communications.

Flash 5 also includes support for Extensible Markup Language (XML), a standard for tagging documents with industry- or task-specific markup tags. XML support will mean that Flash documents can exchange XML-formatted data with back-end database and server applications.

For authors accustomed to print authoring software, such as Macromedia's Freehand and Adobe Systems' Illustrator, Macromedia has added a Bezier drawing tool for creating vector graphics. A Bezier tool displays a set of points that describes an object and lets the author manipulate those points.

For animation authors used to Macromedia Director or Adobe After Effects, Macromedia has given Flash an object-oriented animation timeline. Rather than filling in, or "tweening," between key frames, the object-oriented timeline deals with the entire animation as a unit. Flash still supports its traditional key-frame method.

Movie Explorer is a tool new with Flash 5, analogous to the Windows Explorer or Macintosh Finder, for organizing and searching through files within a movie.

Flash 5 also offers Smart Clips, programming shortcuts or animation fragments converted into reusable components.

Available for download, Flash 5 costs $399 or can be bought with Flash 5 FreeHand 9 Studio, which costs $599. Upgrades cost $149 for Flash 5 and $249 for the Studio. The Flash 5 Generator 2 Pro Developer Upgrade sells for $649 through December 29.