Flash MX 2004 and MX Professional

It is important to note that this review refers to Flash MX 2004 unless the word "Professional " is added and until the near end when I speak solely about Flash MX 2004 Professional. While the program I am using is the Professional version, I have tried to describe the contents that can be found in both versions unless otherwise noted. The descriptions of features pertinent to Flash MX 2004 are also pertinent to Flash MX 2004 Professional.

Way back when Flash first hit the computer scene, most people thought of it as a way to create small fast downloading movies. Then web developers started creating websites using Flash. Flash has now evolved into so much more that I found myself hard pressed to break it down and describe it as if I was describing it to a complete neophyte. It is even harder now because there are two versions of Flash - Flash MX 2004 and Flash MX 2004 Professional. Flash Professional adds more dimensions and capabilities to the Basic Flash unit. I guess one could call Flash a multifaceted multi-media authoring program. It can be used to create small home movies, multi-media logos, buttons, and similar like projects for the home user or it can be used for dynamic loading of content using XML. It has its own scripting language called ActionScript 2. Flash MX 2004 Professional as well as Flash 2004 MX has so much content that basically any level of user can find reasons for purchasing it. I am not a programmer, so my reviewing is more from the graphic designer's point of reference rather than that of a programmer or one who knows ActionScript2. There was a lot in Flash MX 2004 that I could not do without learning more about using this language; but there was also so much I could do, that it can meet the need of every level.

While Flash is integrated with the other Macromedia products that come with Studio MX 2004, it can also be used as a stand-alone product. Flash's interface is similar to the other products that comprise Macromedia Studio MX 2004. The working surface in the center is called the stage. Within Flash, one can create all the vector images necessary for an animation. Flash even has tools to handle bitmap or raster based graphics although there are drawbacks to using raster graphics in animations which need to download as quickly as possible, and bitmap images, due to their nature, lose details when compressed and/or made smaller.

The following chart was taken from the Macromedia website. Even though it is available, I thought it useful to place in the review.

Feature Flash MX 2004 XXXFlash MX Professional 2004
Timeline Effects X X
Behaviors X X
PDF and EPS (Adobe Illustrator 10) support X X
Compiler and Macromedia Flash Player Performance Gains X X
New Components X X
V2 Component Architecture X X
Templates X X
Start Page X X
Help Panel X X
Polystar Tool X X
ActionScript 2.0 X X
CSS Style Sheets X X
Unicode Support X X
Strings Panel X X
Alias Text X X
Video Import Wizard X X
Spell Checking & Search/Replace X X
Extensibility Architecture X X
History Panel & Commands X X
Accessibility X X
Deployment Kit X X
Publish Settings X X
Robust Development
Forms   X
Advanced Components   X
Connecting to Data Sources   X
Data Bound Components   X
Updating Data Sources with Delta Packets   X
ActionScript Support for Data   X
Project Panel   X
Source Code Control   X
Slides   X
Professional Video
3rd Party Application Integration   X
High-Quality Video   X
Improved Video Encoder   X
External FLV with Progressive Playback   X
Media Components   X
Device Development
External Players   X
MIDI Ring Tone support   X
Templates   X

Flash can be used by beginners as well as highly skilled developers since its range of offerings is immense. In a very short time, a novice can create a simple animation using either motion or shape tweening. There are many books on the market that teach one how to use Flash MX 2004 from simple to complex as well as tutorials put out by Macromedia and templates within Flash MX 2004 Professional for:

  • Advertising
  • Form Applications
  • Mobile Devices
  • PhotoSlideshows
  • Presentations and Slide presentations
  • Quizzes
  • Video

As mentioned earlier, Flash can be used as a stand-alone program. It offers a wealth of tools, especially drawing tools, some of which are new or enhanced such as the the Anti-alias tool for text, the polygon tool for drawing n-sided figures, etc. Even SpellChecker and Search/ Replace add to this self containment.

For people already familiar with Flash and for those who have used prior versions, the following are some of the new or enhanced features. The Flash player is now version 7. While Flash file (SWF) speed has increased, if published to the latest Flash version player, the speed will be the fastest.

Flash MX 2004 like all of the products that comprise the Studio is very customizable. One of my favorite items is the ability to set up the panels as I like them and then invoke a Save Panel Layout command.

The ease of use of Flash for beginners has been addressed. For instance, instead of having to write ActionScript to control behavior, there is a new and easy to use Behavior Panel.

Not every effect has to be created from scratch. there is a new feature called Timeline Effects that is already automated to perform a function such as exploding; this function can also be modified. To access the feature, go to Insert> Timeline Effects.

Flash MX 2004 will import a number of different file formats. Among these are Illustrator 10 (however I tired an Illustrator CS file and it imported correctly), EPS, and PDF files as well as bitmap files and sound files, etc.

Flash MX 2004 is big on automation. Some of these features involve the use of the History panel. This panel allows for the tracking of steps and, thus, the ability to turn the information into a command. 3rd party developers can extend the tools by creating extensions with the built-in JavaScript API. Accessibility authoring is possible in this version of Flash as well as a host of other types of authoring creations.

I have shown in the Dreamweaver MX 2004 Review how Flash integrates with Dreamweaver to:

  • Preview Flash Files in Dreamweaver
  • Launch Flash from Dreamweaver for editing Flash files
  • Write Action Script 2 within Dreamweaver
  • Delineate Flash parameters within Dreamweaver
  • Achieve consistent CSS support
  • Use the file Check-In/Check-Out capabilities

As also stated in previous reviews, Flash integrates with Fireworks MX 2004 and Freehand MX:

  • Import files from Fireworks and Freehand
  • Export SWF files from both Freehand and Fireworks
  • Use the file Check-In/Check-Out capabilities of Fireworks
  • Launch Fireworks to edit original Fireworks files and have them update in Flash
  • Import PNG from Fireworks files and keep layers intact and vector shapes, etc. editable
  • Import or copy files from Freehand and maintain symbols in the Flash library since the libraries are similar
  • Launch Flash from Freehand
  • Assign complex Flash ActionScript navigation commands with the Freehand Action tool in Freehand

The History panel is a not too obvious part of Flash MX 2004. It is accessed through Windows>Other Panels>History. It keeps a record of all the steps used to create anything on the stage. One can easily undo and redo as well as replay actions. The contents can be read in different formats including JavaScript. Also, certain actions can be saved for creating commands. However, those with an X cannot be used for a command so if they are involved, the command will not always function properly.

All actions are created using ActionScript 2. However, one need not be a programmer to be able to create actions, even complicated ones. Through the use of two panels Behaviors and Action, one can find a plethora of commands to use. In version MX 2004 and MX 2004 Professional, there is no longer a Normal and Expert mode for Actions. The Behavior panel has been substituted. Notice how these two panels are related.

Behavior Panel Action Panel

The following is a list of some of the "Actions" available from the Action panel. Each group is comprised of sets of actions and subsets of actions. The Behavior panel is set up in a similar manner.

Another feature that makes life easier for non-programmers is the Component feature located in the Component panel. A component is a version of a movie clip with commands, directions, etc. programmed right into it. However, one still needs to become familiar with writing commands and the syntax of ActionScript. It is the same with CSS. It cannot write itself. Interactive websites can be built with these components.

The components available in Flash MX 2004 Professional are:

Data Media UI

Not all the categories above are available in Flash MX 2004. There are many more components available in Flash MX 2004 Professional than in Flash MX 2004. The components are built on an object oriented framework that makes it easy to create one's own components. Component can be used to create data-driven applications with a minimum of scripting. All components are data-bound.

Flash used wisely can create a very exciting website. Through Dreamweaver MX 2004, it can be dropped right onto a page, video can be played inside of a Flash movie, sound can enhance a movie as well as signal events, and even whole websites can be activated by Flash.

If you remember from the chart in the beginning of this review, it showed the functions specific to the Professional version of Flash MX. Flash MX 2004 Professional is geared toward the professional users who are building, often in a team, more complex projects. In this version of Flash, there is a Project panel to help coordinate work.

Just because Flash MX 2004 Professional uses a timeline, does not mean that it is the only way to organize data and to create projects. Flash MX 2004 Professional can be used to developer forms based authoring. This is especially useful for programmers skilled in VisualBasic®. Forms in Macromedia are called Screens. There are many types of templates available in the professional version for forms. Screens and nested screens can be inserted and components dragged into them.

In the above templates, there are a few general types for presentations, Photo Slideshows, Presentations, and Slide Presentations. These can be created without the need to write ActionScript. The Insert menu will insert Screens and Nested Screens.

Video ia another avenue that Flash MX 2004 Professional is robust. Video can be exported directly into Flash from within leading professional video-editng and encoding tools. Some of these are Avid Express®/Media Composer, Apple®®, Final Cut Pro®, Discreet Cleaner™, and Anystream™ Agility™. There are many more video enhancements in the professional version such as improved video encoding. Video can be incorporated into projects without the need to learn advanced scripting by using the Streaming Media Components.

Flash MX 2004 Professional integrates closely with ColdFusion MX 2004. One can build rich internet applications using the two together. Developers can create applications that support both standard HTML clients and rich Macromedia Flash clients without rewriting application logic. ColdFusion also can send and receive information from the Macromedia client from within Standard CFML pages.

Flash has certainly come a long way since its inception. While it still can create movies and make buttons, those functions have become almost minor in its capabilities to deal with so many different types of data and in many different ways.

The requirements for Macromedia Flash MX 2004 and for Flash MX 2004 Professional for authoring are:

  • 600 MHz Intel Pentium III processor or equivalent
  • Windows 98 SE (4.10.2222 A), Windows 2000, or Windows XP
  • 128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended)
  • 347 MB available disk space
  • 500 MHz PowerPC G3 processor
  • Mac OS X 10.2.8 and later, 10.3.4
  • 128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended)
  • 280 MB available disk space

The cost for Flash MX 2004 is US $499.00 and for Flash MX 2004 Professional is $699.00. There are many upgrade avenues available. See Macromedia Flash 2004 MX and Professional.

© Paula Sanders 2005