Flash 5 sports an updated interface that brings Flash closer in look and feel to other Macromedia products. Some of the most exciting additions appear in the interactivity department, with the new ActionScript language. Teaching the full power of ActionScript is beyond the scope of this book. But knowing that it's there may spur you to learn the basics so that you can later soar with the full flexibility of Flash.
The following section lists some new features that beginning and intermediate users of Flash will especially appreciate.
Macromedia Dashboard, accessible from Flash's Help menu, brings updated information about Flash directly to your desktop in a Flash movie (Figure 1). Macromedia plans to post new Dashboard content on a regular basis. The Dashboard also provides links to various Web-based resources for Flash developers.
Figure 1. Macromedia Dashboard (available from the Help menu) provides movies that contain new information about Flash, as well as links to online Flash resources.
Flash 5 offers two styles each for viewing and selecting frames in the Timeline. The default frame-drawing and frame-selection styles clarify the relationship between keyframes and in-between frames that extend the keyframe's content (Figure 2). This makes it easy to identify and manipulate blocks of frames containing the same elements.
Figure 2. In Flash 5, the Timeline creates a strong visual link between keyframes and related frames that continue to display the same content (the keyframe unit). Solid bullets indicate content in a keyframe; hollow squares indicate the end frame of the unit. When there is no content in a given keyframe unit, nothing appears in the Timeline (top). You can opt to see hollow bullets in blank keyframes (bottom) by setting Flash 4 Frame Drawing as a preference.
In Flash 4, many of the tools for setting the attributes and parameters for graphic elements and animations were hidden in the Toolbar (appearing only when the appropriate tool was selected) or within dialog boxes that required you to navigate a series of menus or commands. Flash 5 makes most of these tools available in panels-dockable windows that can stay open on the desktop for quick access during the authoring process (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Flash 5's panels can be grouped in a window (click a tab to bring the panel to the front). You can also dock separate panel windows to minimize the space they take up on your desktop.
One panel, the Movie Explorer, displays a hierarchical, editable overview of an entire Flash file (Figure 4). You can use it to navigate the Timeline of your movie, search for elements within your movie, and even print a list of movie contents. It also serves as a gateway to editing movie content.
Figure 4 The Movie Explorer panel is an interactive road map of your movie. Use it to sort and filter content, search for particular kinds of content, and even edit content. You can print the hierarchical list for a hard-copy overview of your movie.
Customizable Keyboard Shortcuts
You can add shortcuts for operations that lack them, change existing shortcuts to ones that works better for you, and save and load different shortcut sets.
Flash 5's pen tool allows you to define lines and shapes by placing a series of anchor points to create a path. The subselection tool allows you to manipulate the lines and curves of the path by repositioning anchor points and adjusting their Bezier handles. You can also use the subselection and pen tools to modify shapes created with Flash's natural drawing tools.