Web-animation package Flash is to be upgraded to version 5, with Macromedia pledging to make it more approachable for designers and banish its steep-learning curve. A new Common User Interface debuts – complete with extensive palette and layout management control – which Macromedia says is based on features in its other Web-design tools. New features slated for the September launch include more than an interface face-lift. Closer ties with Macromedia FreeHand and Generator, revamped tools, Web-native printing, ActionScript development tools, XML, and HTML support also debut. Other features include Smart Clips – a new way to create reusable interactive components to enable rapid development – and the ability to import and deliver streaming MP3 audio. The user interface has seen the biggest overhaul since Macromedia first debuted Flash in 1996. Key features include customizable keyboard shortcuts – letting designers alter the layout to suit their design-workflow set-up – and a Launcher Bar, which gives quick access to common application features within the active document window. Consistency is the goal, according to Macromedia, with the new interface providing identical tool layout and groupings across applications. The user interface features a new palette management scheme, with users able to set up and save layout states. Common tools, such as the bézier pen in Flash, Fireworks and FreeHand will behave identically, says the company. Closer application links between Macromedia tools don’t stop at the interface, with the company promising close links to FreeHand – it’s vector-based illustration tool. Flash 5 will support FreeHand 7, 8 and 9, with drag-&-drop placement from FreeHand into Flash. Flash will be able to map multi-page FreeHand documents to Flash scenes or individual keyframes, and map FreeHand layers to Flash layers or keyframes. Macromedia says Symbols in the FreeHand Library are also imported. Flash 5 will also feature Generator 2 authoring extensions for creating dynamically updating Flash sites. New bézier tools slated for the release include a native Pen and sub-selection tools, letting users create point-to-point drawing of artwork, bézier-point manipulation and a Multiple Pen mode that – according to Macromedia – accomodate different Pen techniques used in other packages. The release, slated for a September launch for Windows and Mac OS, will cost £259 plus VAT. Upgrades will cost from £99. The full story - plus EXCLUSIVE images and a more extensive look at Flash 5 - is in the next issue of Digit magazine, on sale August 3, 2000.