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Macromedia Flash MX is the latest version of the dominant authoring tool for the Flash Player plug-in, which has become the most widely installed browser plug-in, available in one version or another to 98% of Web users.

Flash started, in 1996, as a tool for creating interactive vector-based animation for the Web. The ability to create vector-based animations that load quickly and still provide sophisticated interactivity is still a core strength of Flash.

At the same time, over the years, and especially with Flash MX, Flash has become a broad-ranging tool that offers database access, XML support, integrated video and audio, prebuilt templates, drag-and-drop components, and access to application servers and real-time communication servers—all under the control of Flash’s powerful JavaScript-like scripting language, ActionScript.

Most Flash development teams are now divided into people dedicated to ActionScript and people dedicated to graphical content. Database access/dynamic content is a specialty in itself, as is Flash development for PDAs. Flash has become such a rich environment that it is a rare individual indeed who can even begin to embrace all its possibilities.

At the same time, Macromedia is creating a whole family of MX-branded products under the “Macromedia Studio MX” umbrella. This includes long-standing products that have been rebranded as Dreamweaver MX, Fireworks MX, and ColdFusion MX. It also includes the brand-new streaming video and audio server, Flash Communication Server. Macromedia wants to provide both the tools and platforms to build the next generation of media-rich applications based on Web services.

So, What Else Is New?

In addition to its increased breadth, Flash MX offers increased depth with features that enhance existing capabilities. Important enhancements include the following:

  • Folders for organizing timeline layers

  • New controls above the Stage that make it easier to edit symbols in place

  • Shared Library assets

  • Color Mixer improvements

  • Pixel-level editing

  • A “distribute to layers” command that enables you to automatically distribute any number of selected objects to their own layers

  • Animated masks

  • Enhanced sound controls

  • A Free Transform tool that allows you to perform multiple transformations such as moving, rotating, scaling, skewing, and envelope distortion without changing tools

The GUI for the authoring environment has also been radically redesigned, with collapsible, dockable panels that conserve screen real estate, as well as a new Property Inspector that eliminates the need to access many other windows, panels, and dialog boxes.

ActionScript enhancements include the following:

  • The ability to dynamically load JPEG and MP3 files

  • Anchor points that enable users to use the Forward and Back buttons in their browsers to jump from anchor to anchor

  • Code hints that provide command syntax at appropriate times

  • Reusable drag-and-drop interface components

  • Live preview for components

  • An improved debugger

  • A more complete object model and event model

  • Enhanced support for text boxes and text formatting

  • A drawing API that offers all the functionality of the Flash drawing tools

  • Faster XML functionality

Who Should Read This Book?

Part I, “Flash Environment and Tools,” assumes that you are a total beginner who has never used Flash before. Throughout, this book explains concepts and techniques completely, never assuming that you know something about Flash before it is covered in the book.

At the same time, this book assumes that your goal is to become a highly proficient, professional Flash practitioner. It does not hesitate to cover intermediate and advanced topics in depth.

Starting at the beginning, not skipping anything, and still getting deeply into advanced topics means packing as much useful information into each page as possible. Therefore, this book often does not walk you step-by-step through basic tasks. It assumes you are a motivated learner, willing to jump in and experiment.

How To Use This Book

You can read this book from cover to cover or use it as a random-access reference. Later chapters may assume familiarity with earlier chapters, however. First-time users will probably do well to dive into Flash and play a little bit before starting the book. Realistically, you will probably use this book largely as a reference, to help you solve problems as they arise. On the other hand, Flash MX has so many new features that even experienced Flash users should consider at least skimming the book from beginning to end, looking for the “New in Flash MX” icon.

Where there are sample files on the CD to accompany the text, be sure to look at them, and try playing with them and modifying them. The hands-on experience will prove invaluable, and you may even be able to use a file as a partial basis for your own project.

Also, be sure to check out the many excellent Web resources for Flash developers. If you need a jumping-off place, you can try Michael Hurwicz’s site, http://www.flashoop.com. Also listed there are several Flash mailing lists, where you can get expert help on any Flash-related topic.

This book is divided into six parts:

I. Flash Environment and Tools

II. Animation and Sound

III. Adding Advanced Interactivity with ActionScript


V. External Communication with Flash

VI. Output Options for Flash

Part I (Chapters 15) and Part II (Chapters 610) focus on using the authoring environment’s GUI and on design-oriented functions that require little or no ActionScript.

Part III (Chapters 1118), Part IV (Chapters 1925), and Part V (Chapters 2628) constitute a complete ActionScript user’s guide. Part III, “Adding Advanced Interactivity with ActionScript,” takes you from the elementary concepts of ActionScript into a number of core features including functions, events, and the drawing API. Part IV, “IN THIS PART,” is a guide to working with built-in and custom objects, as well as components, learning interactions, Shared Libraries, and the Flash debugger. Chapter 20, “Using the Built-In Movie Objects,” contains some material relating to the Flash Communication Server, as well as the Video, Microphone, and Camera objects. Part V, “External Communication with Flash,” covers both communication with the client computer and with servers, including XML-based interaction.

Finally, Part VI (Chapters 29 and 30), “Output Options for Flash,” covers output options such as printing, publishing, and exporting Flash files.

Conventions Used In This Book

A monospace font is used to differentiate ActionScript keywords from any other text with special emphasis. For example, you will see the gotoAndPlay() method and the #initclip compiler directive.

In ActionScript code, italicized words are not literal ActionScript but placeholders for actual ActionScript that you will substitute. For example, in Key.isDown(charCode ), charCode is a placeholder for a character code that you will substitute. Key.isDown(Key.UP) is actual ActionScript, in which Key.UP represents the actual character code.

A common ActionScript convention, often used in this book, is to start object names with my when they represent new instances created by the programmer. For instance, TextField represents the built-in class of text fields, not created by the programmer. On the other hand, myTextField is a new text field instance created by the programmer.

At the end of most chapters, you’ll find two sections: “Troubleshooting” and “Flash at Work.” If you run into problems, don’t forget to check out the “Troubleshooting” section, where some of the most common problems are addressed.

Pay particular attention to the examples in the “Flash at Work” sections. These sections include examples, often based on real-world projects, and frequently provide line-by-line explanations of how the program works. There’s nothing like seeing a feature at work in a real-world application to give you a feeling for what the feature is really all about.

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