In 2003, I wrote an article for InformIT titled "Optimizing Your Flash MX 2004 Workspace and Revealing Hidden Features." What you're reading now, in case you didn't notice the similarity in the titles, is an update to that article. If you haven't read the original, cruise on over there and check it out. Everything in the original article is still true with Flash 8, but a few things have changed for the better, and a few new tricks have popped up that will improve your Flash experience even more.
Flash 8 brings us what we all wanted with Flash MX 2004: a truly stable application that performs extremely well, has features galore, and displays user-interface improvements that make you want to stand on a rooftop and yell, "Viva la Flash!"
Some of what is discussed in this article is undocumented, so you're bound to learn something that will help you out.
A Workspace that Makes Sense
In the 2003 version of this article, this section was called "The Workspace that Ate My Car". My, how things have changed. Flash 8 has just as many panels as Flash MX 2004 did, but creating a workspace layout that makes sense for you is now much easier, and the result is a clean layout that doesn't suck up all of your screen space.
How did the Macromedia Flash team engineers do it? Well, they listened to their users, and did everything they could to make those users happy.
First, see Figure 1 for a flashback to the MX 2004 workspace, with every panel open and accessible.
Figure 1 The horror, the horror.
Now, take a look at the same situation in Flash 8 (see Figure 2).
Figure 2 Caption: Um, yeah. That's just... better.
Figure 2 also shows every panel that Flash has to offer, and they are all open and accessible, just like Figure 1. The major difference between the two is the result of the new panel grouping feature in Flash 8. Any panel can be grouped with another by opening the Options menu in the panel (accessible via the button in the top-right corner of the panel) and choosing the Group <panel name> With option. Simply choose another panel from the list and watch as the two are magically grouped into a single panel, each accessible by tabs in the panel. At last, a clean and simple solution has been created that lets you keep your workspace organized and easy to use.
To leverage Flash 8's new approach to panel management, I recommend organizing panels into logical groups. For example, group the Color Mixer with the Color Swatches panel and group the Components panel with the Component Inspector. To get you started, the Align panel is grouped by default with the Info and Transform panels.
Wanna see the icing on the cake? Open the Options menu in any panel group and choose Rename Panel Group. Enter a new name and click OK. Now, even the title bar for the panel is nice and clean. See Figure 3 for an example.
Figure 3 It's probably best to name your panel groups with logical descriptive names, not at all like this one.
There are just a couple of small things to note about panel management in Flash 8. First, a test movie (produced by pressing Ctrl/Cmd+Enter) can now be opened either in its own window or in a document tab. To select the option you prefer, open the Preferences dialog box and either check or uncheck the Open Test Movie In Tabs option in the General section.
Second, document tabs can now be reordered manually by dragging the tabs into the order you want. This is a subtle enhancement, but it means that you no longer have to think about the order in which to open your documents beforehand. Just open everything you need and reorder things at will.
As an added bonus, Macromedia also fixed a few panel annoyances with Flash 8. For example, Mac users should notice that choosing File > Save As now makes panels disappear temporarily so you can clearly see the Save As dialog box. (In Flash MX 2004, you often have to move panels out of the way to see it.) As soon as you finish saving a file, the panels reappear.