Macromedia Flash MX Professional 2004

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Seriously improved data and video handling and a new forms-based environment will attract the top-end web application developer.

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Flash has moved so far away from its vector animation origins that, these days, it is challenging Java as the most powerful and pervasive web application development platform. However the transformation hasn't been simple, and traditional developers turning to Flash have been bewildered when faced by such a different environment. It's to help and empower these developers that Macromedia has produced Flash MX Professional 2004 (Flash Pro).

The biggest hurdle that developers have had to face is Flash's totally alien linear timeline-based metaphor. Not any more, as Flash Pro grafts on a familiar forms-based environment with which to build up your application interface. When you create a new file, you now also have the option of creating either a Flash Form Application or a Flash Slide Presentation in which case a new hierarchical, tree-based Screen Outline pane appears down the left of the stage. From here you can add new screens/forms/slides, nesting them where desired. The difference this makes compared to trying to set up and manage named frames is immense.

To add the interface elements to your forms you simply drag on components from the Components panel. Flash Pro adds a number of extra general building blocks over those in the standard version including Alert, DateField, Menu and Tree options. It also offers two sets of dedicated components that open up two major new areas of power. The first is the range of data-handling components DataGrid, DataHolder, DataSet and so on, which help you set up data-driven applications. In fact every component in Flash Pro is databound so that you can wire its properties to data received from a web service, XML or record set using the Binding tab of the Component Inspector. Just as importantly you can efficiently send data back to the server with new Shadowing technology working through the new Connector and Resolver components that use Delta Packets to keep updates and so web traffic as small as possible.

Flash MX Professional 2004 offers more components and the option of a form-based environment.

The second new range of components, including MediaController, MediaDisplay and MediaPlayback, is designed to create customizable, design-rich playback interfaces for your streaming media including features such as cue points to trigger actions. Flash Pro also offers a whole host of other advantages for video handling. To begin with, it comes with plug-ins to enable export to Flash Video (FLV) format directly from the most popular video editing packages complete with advanced features such as variable bit rate encoding. You can then load these FLV files dynamically at run-time rather than having to import them into your SWF. This offers a number of advantages including the ability to load longer files thanks to cache-based memory management and to run the containing movie and the video at different frame rates. The new Flash Player 7 also provides a 200% increase in video handling and support for progressive download, even from HTTP servers, which means that the streaming video can start playing before it's fully downloaded.

The other changes in Flash Professional MX 2004 are more directly targeted at the application developer. The new XML-based Flash Project format and Project panel brings together all elements involved in the production of the final Flash movie and enables versioning and team working. There's also support for emulator previews that let you see how your movie will look on supporting PDAs and mobile phones along with support for their native device sounds such as MIDI ringtones. Throw in the new restructured and more object-oriented ECMAScript 3.0-compliant ActionScript 2 with its more efficient, maintainable and robust class-based approach to programming and there's no question that advanced developers will be far happier in Flash Professional MX 2004. And able to produce even better end results.

Features
6
Ease of use
4
Value for Money
5
Overall
5

ratings out of 6

Flash
Software / Upgrade
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Trial downloads/special offers from Macromedia

Trial downloads/special offers from Macromedia

System requirements Pentium III 600MHz, 128/256Mb of RAM, 190Mb of hard disk space, Windows 98SE, 2000 or XP, CD-ROM.

Tom Arah

October 2003


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