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Review: Flash CS3 Professional

In Flash CS3 Adobe incorporates a redesigned interface with features such as alignment between objects, color, swatches and scaling, all of them using the same types of panels that we can also find in Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign. Flash’s Tools panel shares icons and even keyboard shortcuts (such as P for the Pencil tool, or V for the Selection tool) with the other CS3 components, such as Photoshop and Illustrator. Other useful interface enhancements include the ability to use the mouse scroll wheel to move through layer groups on the timeline, as well as the ability to create tabbed panels (back to the style of Photoshop and Illustrator in CS3).

Perhaps the most radical new feature in Flash CS3 is its vastly improved integration with Illustrator CS3. When Macromedia and Adobe were still competitors and released Illustrator and Flash, they both allowed you to create vector-based content, but they certainly didn’t offer the ability to communicate with each other with noteworthy efficiency. Importing Illustrator vector drawings into Flash was an unfortunate operation, with many of the Illustrator elements lost along the way. Now Illustrator and Flash are well understood. Flash CS3 incorporates the powerful Illustrator pencil tool for drawing and editing curves. And, most remarkably, you can also copy and paste directly from Illustrator in Flash or open Illustrator files in Flash, which provide features that open the door to a more efficient animation workflow.

The new Flash interface includes overlapping panels, a main tool palette, and an inspector, to create a more comfortable environment for designers.

Now when Flash imports Illustrator drawings, it recognizes and preserves a rich set of attributes including layers, groups, symbols, anchor point positions, color gradients, and even some of the effects (such as drop shadows). The Illustrator CS3 clipping masks are also preserved in the Flash CS3 import, along with the opacity (transparency) settings. Symbols are vector graphic objects that can be instantiated, that is, copies based on the original graphic and that retain all its characteristics. An advantage of this type of element is that the symbols can be customized to quickly populate a screen using various graphic objects. Additionally, Illustrator text can be imported into Flash while maintaining editability, as outline vectors, bitmap graphics, or as a Flash movie clip.

The integration between Illustrator and Flash is, for now, a one-way street; However, it is also true that a typical animation workflow involves drawing illustrations in Illustrator and programming and animation in Flash. In CS3, Adobe has focused more on making it easier to integrate Illustrator documents into Flash. Sending Flash documents into Illustrator is less reliable, and we have actually seen some problems when copying Flash drawings into Illustrator. The most advanced implementation in the Illustrator to Flash workflow is its ability to create a symbol in Illustrator (such as a button) and save it as a movie clip in Flash.

With CS3, Adobe has introduced the ability to preview a 9-cell scaling grid for Flash graphic vectors, as well as the ability to define this type of scaling grid in Illustrator CS3 and Fireworks CS3. The 9 cells make up a grid that can be superimposed on an object (such as a button) to regulate the way in which the object is scaled: vertically, horizontally, on both axes or neither. The scaling grid defined in Illustrator or Fireworks is preserved when the symbol is copied and pasted in Flash.

Enhanced flash

The new Flash and its ability to take full advantage of the processor power in Intel-based Macs will impress developers and designers. Adobe indicates that Flash CS3 can be run on a 1 GHz PowerPC G4 or Mac G5, as well as on a multi-core Intel. I have run various tests with Flash CS3 on both a PowerBook G4 with 1GB of RAM and a MacBook Pro with a 2.16GHz Intel Core Duo processor and 1GB of RAM (Adobe recommends a minimum of 512MB of RAM). Flash CS3 ran faster on the PowerBook compared to the previous Flash 8 version, which means that designers with PowerPC computers will be able to run Flash CS3 with good performance. But the real performance difference is seen when running Flash CS3 on the Intel processor PC. In the test, it took Flash CS3 22 seconds to import a 200MB Illustrator file onto the PowerBook, while the same operation took only 8 seconds for the MacBook Pro.

Device Central

For several years, designers have assumed that virtually any browser supports both Flash movies and scripts. What is new is the rapid growth of Flash Lite, the version of the Flash player for mobile devices. Adobe indicates that the number of Flash-compatible devices sold worldwide, including hundreds of mobile phones and media players, has tripled since January 2006, reaching a figure of 200 million this past February.

Device Central allows you to preview the interfaces you create for mobile phones using Flash Lite.

Flash CS3 includes the new Device Central testing and preview environment, which facilitates development for Flash Lite devices. Device Central ships with other CS3 applications as well (and actually found it useful when previewing HTML and CSS-based websites in Dreamweaver CS3). But what is surprising is the ability to test interfaces for mobile devices. Device Central provides an interactive test environment that enables designers to identify flaws, bugs, and cosmetic issues early in the design process.

Flash CS3’s basket of surprises also includes better ones for programmers. Enhancements for developers include those concerning the ActionScript editor where portions of code can be selected and folded. Programmers will also be able to copy properties that define motion into Flash animation as ActionScript 3.0 code. This allows developers to save and apply motion properties (such as position, size, rotation, color, and blending) to other symbols. Flash also now offers greater flexibility in exporting QuickTime-format movies, including the ability to preserve filters such as drop shadows, as well as effects previously required by the Flash player. Additionally, Flash also supports more programmatic effects created with ActionScript code.

Code Flash Video

The Flash Video Encoder, supplied with