While you can use Flash Professional CS5 to create any application or interface that you can design with Flash Catalyst ( ) or program in Flash Builder ( ), its real niche is and always has been animation.
Flash Professional provides a wider range of output than any of its Flash or Flex siblings. It can generate content for multiple versions of Flash Player, AIR, and FlashLite, whereas Flash Builder 4 targets only their latest versions. Moreover, Flash Professional continues to export video (in Quicktime format) and image sequences in standard Web-compatible formats (JPEG, GIF, and PNG). This is a major reason why developers targeting a variety of devices will want to keep Flash Professional in their toolkit.
New text features
One significant change in the design capacity of this version of Flash Professional is the addition of near-print-level typography tools. The new Text Layout Framework (TLF) substantially elevates the program’s text formatting options. Designers can (finally!) underline type as well as apply column formatting—including column threading—so designers can flow type between columns as they would in Illustrator ( ) or InDesign ( ). And vertical text, while not new to CS5, has been enhanced with better support for margins, alignment, and flow.
This level of typographic control opens new vistas for animators and designers, particularly given Flash’s vector-based scalability (viewers can zoom in and out of objects, including text, without the distortion or granulation produced by raster-based artwork like that created in Photoshop). TLF features require that viewers have Flash 10 installed.
There is a nice back-to-the-future addition of a Code Snippets panel; some older versions of Flash had this in a more primitive form, but it had atrophied in more recent versions. The scope and range of ActionScript 3.0 in the new Code Snippets panel puts significantly more animation and interactive capabilities in the hands of non-coders.
Timeline navigation is now accessible without scripting. The Timeline Navigation section of Code Snippets allows designers to stop a move at a set frame, to go to another frame and stop, to play a movie, or to go to a defined scene within a movie and play it. That set of scripts will go a long way toward enabling non-coders to imbue clickable page elements with interactivity.
You can also define links as Code Snippets. The Actions set of Code Snippets (an odd name for a folder, since everything generated in the Code Snippets panel is an action), timers, and a wide range of animation can easily be generated using a panel that looks and feels much like the Behaviors panel in Dreamweaver.
Interactivity, up to and including the ability to generate games, is available from Code Snippets in the Animation list.
What I appreciated about my experiences generating ActionScript from the Code Snippets panel was how seamlessly the generated code integrated with the Actions panel. As soon as I chose a snippet, the coding appeared in the Actions panel with helpful documentation on how to tweak or adjust the animation or interactivity. The code snippets are easily editable: for example, I was able to adjust the movement of an interactive object by replacing the default number of pixels with my own value. The documentation even alerted me to how many times the value appeared in the code, making it harder for me to miss an instance.
At the other end of the expertise scale, Flash Professional CS5 provides a significantly bulked up code editor, with full support for code hints and auto-completion (guessing at the code being entered) and offers completed code in much the same way an iPhone guesses at the word you are typing.
Flash CS5’s FLA files are now XML-based. This opens up Flash development in Flash Professional to new workflow options. For example, source control gives users the ability to track changes and versions so collaborators on large projects can coordinate efforts more easily than in pre-XML Flash.
If Flash developers use the uncompressed XML format option (called XFL), all assets are saved in a folder instead of the library. When compiled, the Flash file will call these files, which has a great benefit: updating a flash project then only requires editing and changing the files in the asset folder, instead of having to go through the process of updating them in the library. This is now a similar workflow to the desktop publishing or Web design worlds, where embedded images (or media) are often linked to external files.
Developers who have Flash Builder 4 can elect to use its significantly more robust editing and debugging tools (including Flex objects that batch frequently used packets of script) by defining Flash Builder as a file’s ActionScript generator. And developers can define their own Custom Class code snippets.
Enhancements—vital and not
Adobe’s Device Central application, which is built into Flash Professional and is essential to testing Flash applications in various mobile environments, now includes FlashPlayer 10.1 and AIR 2.0. You can even pre-test accelerometers (features that are triggered by moving a mobile device) in Device Central.
Designers who missed Flash Professional CS4 will pick up the dynamic Bone tool, introduced in CS4, that applies human skeletal-type motion effects to paths. The functionality of the Bone tool is greatly enhanced with a new Spring tool that, when coupled with the Bone tool, adds spring (as in bounce) to the kinds of loping anthropoidal motions the Bone tool creates.
With the Spring tool, designers can easily generate human-like (or animal-like) motion animation by restricting the rotation of joints to parameters that conform to human (or animal) joint motion. And, the Spring tool can be used to control any kind of animation that involves bounce, rebounding, and swinging (such as for a Slinky to tumble down stairs, or a diving board to bounce after a diver leaps).
Macworld’s buying advice
Just about anyone who wants to produce finished applications and objects using Flash will need Flash Professional CS5. The upgrade is especially useful for projects that include enhanced text formatting, XML-based Flash (FLA) files, and ActionScripting. Designers coming directly from CS3 will benefit from both the Bone tool and the Spring tool.
Some graphic and interactive designers will find that Flash Professional CS5 fulfills their entire spectrum of needs. Others will integrate some unique features in Flash Professional (like Timeline animation) into a larger, more differentiated workflow. However, because Flash developers can no longer develop for the iPhone or iPad, the long term future of Flash on a large swath of mobile devices is significantly circumscribed. Adobe and others point to the growing diversity of mobile devices (like the Droid) that will support Flash AIR, but not being able to use Flash as a development platform for Apple mobile products, may diminish its appeal.
[David Karlins is the author of the upcoming book Adobe Creative Suite 5 Web Premium How-Tos: Essential Techniques [Peachpit, 2010]. He teaches graphic and interactive design at San Francisco State University Multimedia Studies Program, and 3rd Ward in Brooklyn. His free tutorials and videos are found at davidkarlins.com