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Introduction > Flash 5: What's New?

Flash 5: What's New?

Flash 5 sports an updated interface that brings Flash closer in look and feel to other Macromedia products. Some of the most exciting additions appear in the interactivity department, with the new ActionScript language. Teaching the full power of ActionScript is beyond the scope of this book. But knowing that it's there may spur you to learn the basics so that you can later soar with the full flexibility of Flash.

The following section lists some new features that beginning and intermediate users of Flash will especially appreciate.

Macromedia Dashboard

Macromedia Dashboard, accessible from Flash's Help menu, brings updated information about Flash directly to your desktop in a Flash movie (Figure i.2). Macromedia plans to post new Dashboard content on a regular basis. The Dashboard also provides links to various Web-based resources for Flash developers.

Figure i.2. Macromedia Dashboard (available from the Help menu) provides movies that contain new information about Flash, as well as links to online Flash resources.

Enhanced Timeline

Flash 5 offers two styles each for viewing and selecting frames in the Timeline. The default frame-drawing and frame-selection styles clarify the relationship between keyframes and in-between frames that extend the keyframe's content (Figure i.3). This makes it easy to identify and manipulate blocks of frames containing the same elements.

Figure i.3. In Flash 5, the Timeline creates a strong visual link between keyframes and related frames that continue to display the same content (the keyframe unit). Solid bullets indicate content in a keyframe; hollow squares indicate the end frame of the unit. When there is no content in a given keyframe unit, nothing appears in the Timeline (top). You can opt to see hollow bullets in blank keyframes (bottom) by setting Flash 4 Frame Drawing as a preference.

Panel Interface

In Flash 4, many of the tools for setting the attributes and parameters for graphic elements and animations were hidden in the Toolbar (appearing only when the appropriate tool was selected) or within dialog boxes that required you to navigate a series of menus or commands. Flash 5 makes most of these tools available in panels—dockable windows that can stay open on the desktop for quick access during the authoring process (Figure i.4).

Figure i.4. Flash 5's panels can be grouped in a window (click a tab to bring the panel to the front). You can also dock separate panel windows to minimize the space they take up on your desktop.

Movie Explorer

One panel, the Movie Explorer, displays a hierarchical, editable overview of an entire Flash file (Figure i.5). You can use it to navigate the Timeline of your movie, search for elements within your movie, and even print a list of movie contents. It also serves as a gateway to editing movie content.

Figure i.5. The Movie Explorer panel is an interactive road map of your movie. Use it to sort and filter content, search for particular kinds of content, and even edit content. You can print the hierarchical list for a hard-copy overview of your movie.

Customizable Keyboard Shortcuts

You can add shortcuts for operations that lack them, change existing shortcuts to ones that works better for you, and save and load different shortcut sets.

Bézier Tools

Flash 5's pen tool allows you to define lines and shapes by placing a series of anchor points to create a path. The subselection tool allows you to manipulate the lines and curves of the path by repositioning anchor points and adjusting their Bézier handles. You can also use the subselection and pen tools to modify shapes created with Flash's natural drawing tools.

Shared Libraries

In previous versions of Flash, you could create a library of graphic elements, bitmaps, and sounds. That content was available for reuse within a single movie file; reused library elements add little to a published movie's file size. Flash 5 extends that idea, allowing multiple movies to share library elements and adding fonts to the list of sharable items.

MP3 Audio Import

Flash 4 allowed you to compress and export audio in MP3 format. Now Flash 5 also lets you import MP3 files to keep your Flash files small during the development phase.

Enhanced ActionScript

Macromedia has expanded ActionScript, producing a full-fledged scripting language based on JavaScript. Using ActionScript to manipulate variables, expressions, and editable text fields, you can create highly interactive Web sites that can actually communicate with and capture information from your viewers.

Two of the more advanced ActionScript functions (just to tempt you to learn all this book has to offer and then move on) are XML objects and the Debugger. The XML and XMLSocket objects allow you to convert ActionScript to XML and to bring XML data into your Flash movie for manipulation. The Debugger allows you to troubleshoot ActionScripts interactively from inside Flash Player even as it runs in a browser over the Web.

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