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Flash MX is the first release in Macromedia’s MX product family. Future MX releases include Dreamweaver MX and ColdFusion MX, both expected in mid-2002. This new range of applications is designed to provide rich content quickly and efficiently to the end user. It does this by delivering services from back-end components, such as ColdFusion server, while the rich-client application running on the users browser gives a common platform for the playback of multiple formats – such as video and audio. Flash MX is designed to be the rich-client application. With Macromedia claiming that 98 per cent of all Web browsers can play Flash content, this is an astute move on Macromedia’s part. Seamless interface design Flash MX looks strikingly different from Flash 5 – and all other Macromedia applications. I assume Dreamweaver MX and ColdFusion MX will be similarly themed. The panels within Flash – such as the Properties Inspector – slot together seamlessly, giving a smart-looking and easily navigable interface. Each panel can be expanded or collapsed using the triangular tab at the left end of the title bar to maximize workspace as desired. Or, you can collapse the timeline when testing your animation. Any panel can be dragged to any position in the workspace and docked. There’s much more to Flash MX than a cool new interface, though. Firstly, it has its own version of the Dreamweaver Property Inspector – probably the most useful panel in Dreamweaver and Flash MX. Its advantage over Flash 5’s panels is that it adapts to what you’re working on and the tools you’re using. It shows relevant information, and you don’t have to hunt through a series of panels to make a change to a Flash movie. Useful panels, such as the Actions panel and the Library panel, can be docked beneath the work area and expanded as required with a single click The Timeline in Flash MX is the core of the application – it’s where all animation and layers in a movie are defined. It’s now possible to modify the look of the timeline by changing the size of the frames – from tiny to huge, you can even display thumbnail previews of the frame content. Copy-&-pasting between frames and layers has been improved, and group layers can be placed in layer folders in a similar fashion to the layer folders in Photoshop. This enables you to group similar, or related, layers and open or collapse them as required. Core definition The drawing tools are now the same as those in FreeHand or Fireworks, and the tool palette follows the same layout too. Content can be edited within Flash MX, instead of using an external graphics-application. Among the improvements are a fully featured free-transform tool – which enables you to distort, skew, scale and rotate shapes and graphic content. Colour control is much improved, and it’s now possible to align graphic elements to specific pixels – ensuring accurate positioning and display on any platform. Flash MX features vastly improved video support. It can import and stream video in any major format from within Flash movies. This means there’s no requirement for any external players for QuickTime, DV, MPEG or AVI video clips. Video-file sizes are kept low because Flash MX uses the Sorensen Spark codec for compression. A video object within a Flash movie can be manipulated in exactly the same way as a bitmap object, so you can animate, tween or free transform any video within a Flash Movie. The addition of ActionScript to Flash is a major reason for its increasing success. Some developers grumbled that creating and editing ActionScript is awkward in Flash 5, the Actions Frame in Flash MX has simplified this immensely. The interface for editing scripts can be customized, and you can drag-&-drop actions from a complete list displayed in a pane on the left of the frame. Also, you can close the pane and use the more traditional + and – symbols to choose actions from a drop-down menu. On script The editing interface itself has been improved, so it’s practically a stand-alone script-editor with colour-coding, code hinting, search-&-replace and other editing functions. A full-featured code debugger is included too, ensuring scripts are perfect. Flash MX movies that feature ActionScript can communicate and integrate with Web-application servers using the new Flash application server gateway (part of ColdFusion MX) and the Action Message Format (AMF). Server-side integration using AMF also enables the creation of interactive content using J2EE and Microsoft’s .NET. This range of server-side options brings Flash MX to the forefront of interactive application development. Using Flash MX after working with Flash 5 should not be a problem. While MX looks different from its predecessor, Flash MX is easier and faster to use, and builds on the solid foundations of the previous release. Flash MX is genuinely new version of the Web’s favourite animation tool. With a new and improved interface, redesigned timeline features, advanced scripting options, improved graphics and animation tools and support for server-side interactivity. It’s the best production and development tool for the Web.