Macromedia Flash 5

"Build Unique Interactive Web Sites!"
| Type of Product | User Level | Features |
| Product Analysis | Final Comments | System Requirements |
Type of Product



Macromedia's Flash 5, the newest version of their vector Web application, allows you to fuse vector graphics with bitmaps, audio, animation, and advanced interactivity to create unique and effective Web sites. It's come a long way from its beginning in 1977 as Future Splash Animator, a program for creating and animating vector art. In 1996, Macromedia acquired the program, changed its name to Flash, and has developed it into a sophisticated tool for the Web that incorporates in one program all of the tools you need: tools for creating graphics; tools for animating those graphics; tools for creating interface elements and interactivity; and tools for creating the HTML necessary to display your graphics, animations, and interface elements as a Web page. Each new version of Flash, has provided users with added features and functions that expand the program's capabilities, and this version excels in this regard. It has a little something for everyone. Animators and graphic designers will appreciate the inclusion of new tools such as the Bezier Pen tool, Shared Symbol Libraries, and an Improved interface, beefier import options, and better integration with other Macromedia products. Coders will like the new HTML rendering, built-in XML parser, and advanced scripting engine.

Flash 5 is available for Macintosh and Windows. Price: $399; Upgrade $149, Academic $99. Macromedia has an excellent site to visit, with all sorts of information, freebies, and tutorials:

User Level
spotlight mask
Advanced Beginners, intermediate, and advanced computer users. You should have a good working knowledge of your computer and Web design before you tackle this program. Because of its complexity, it does take a fair amount of dedication to learning the robust features. Help is readily available from books, the Macromedia Web site, and numerous other sites which provide tutorials, tips, and examples. See image to the left for a view of a mask sample from Flash 5. It's easy to create, even for new users of the program.


New and enhanced features includes the following:

  • Updated user interface provides a familiar environment and seamless workflow with other Macromedia Web publishing tools and applications.
  • Enhanced color controls, including the Mixer panel, Fill and
    Stroke panels, Swatches panel, and Fill and Stroke toolbox
    controls, provide expanded capabilities for painting artwork.
  • New selection highlights make it easy to identify selected
    lines, fills, and groups as well as the color of selected
  • Draggable guides aid you in arranging objects on the Stage.
  • The Pen tool and Bezier curve handles enable you to create
    precise paths; they work much like the Pen tool in Macromedia FreeHand or Macromedia Fireworks.
  • New panels for working with color, type, actions, frames,
    instances, and entire movies make it easy to access options
    for modifying elements in Flash movies.
  • Shared libraries let you link to library items as external
    assets. You can create font symbols to include in shared
    libraries, as well as buttons, graphics, movie clips, and
  • The Macromedia Dashboard provides a way for you to easily
    keep up with the latest information on using Flash.
  • Custom shortcut keys allow you to create your own
    shortcuts for Flash commands and functions to customize
    your workflow.
  • Support for importing MP3 sound files lets you import sounds into Flash that are already compressed.
  • Expanded ActionScript provides greatly enhanced capabilities for creating interactivity in Flash using ActionScript.
  • The Movie Explorer lets you easily view the complete
    contents of the current movie and view the Properties panel
    for a selected item to modify it.
  • The Print action lets you assign actions for printing Flash
    movie frames from the Flash Player as vector or bitmap
  • Support for importing Freehand and Fireworks PNG files lets you import these files directly into Flash as editable graphics, preserving layers, text, and other elements.
  • Enhanced integration with Macromedia Generator lets you
    extend the Flash-authoring environment to create
    fast-changing dynamic content.
  • Enhanced integration with Macromedia Fireworks lets you
    easily launch Fireworks to edit bitmap images imported into
Product Analysis

Installation, User Guide, and Help
kite web site
Installation is easy as the installation software walks you through all the necessary steps. There is an excellent 380 page User Guide with a tutorial in Chapter 1 for creating a Web site. If you are not familiar with the program, this is a good place to start. The program also has lessons that introduce you to the main features of Flash, letting you practice on examples. Plus there are a variety of Flash samples from Advanced Buttons to Puzzles. There is also online Help that provides additional information. Click on the image to the left to see the finished project from the tutorial.

Updated User Interface

The Flash 5 interface now conforms to the common Macromedia User Interface so that it now resembles the look and feel of Fireworks and Dreamweaver. Most of the information that was available in the Inspectors and Modifier trays has now been put into individual panels. Panels can be separated or docked, and you can create customized panel sets for specific tasks. Flash 5 even allows you to save or even share layout arrangements with other developers in your team. You can also use the new Launcher bar at the bottom of the application window to quickly open and close some of the frequently used panels. Draggable guides and the new selection highlights make it even easier to arrange objects.

Enhanced Color Controls
The new Color Panels within Flash 5 are an improvement as Flash now lists the hexadecimal codes for colors when you run your cursor over the color swatch. And its easier to change colors by simply selecting an object and then selecting a different color with either the Color Selector or the Swatch Panel.

The Pen Tool

pen tools

Flash 5 includes the Pen tool which enables you to create more complex illustrations within the program. The 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. See image to the left for view of using Pen tool.
  Shared Libraries
In previous versions of Flash, you could create library elements, but with Flash 5, you can share library elements. You can also save fonts to the library in this version. With shared libraries, you can link to library items in other Flash Player movies. This is useful when you are working as part of a collaborative team and everyone needs to share the same graphic assets. Plus, this feature is a time saving device, as you can make changes to the assets within the shared library across the range of team project files. Download time is reduced as well. All shared symbols need only be downloaded once and are subsequently reused by any other files or movies, which refer to those symbols. See image to the left for a view of the Library.
  The Macromedia Dashboard
Macromedia has provided you with a simple way to keep up to date with new developments in Flash with the Macromedia Dashboard. It's your link to the Macromedia Flash developer community. Links to innovative sites, tutorials, help files, and more keep you up to date. See image to the left for a view of the Macromedia Dashboard.
  Custom Shortcut Keys
keyboard shortcuts
The program now includes shortcut sets that mimic Fireworks 3, Freehand 9, Illustrator 9 and Photoshop 5 as well as the native Flash 5 set. You also can create your own custom set of keyboard shortcuts using the Keyboard Shortcuts dialog box. See image to the left for a view of the Keyboard Shortcuts dialog box where you can change the shortcuts to suit your needs.
  Support for Importing MP3 Sound Files
  Flash 5 lets you import MP3 files. This reduces the time required for publishing and exporting a movie with sound, since you don't have to compress the sounds during export. Using compressed sounds reduces the file size of completed movies and reduces memory requirements during authoring.
  Expanded ActionScript
A major improvement in Flash 5 is the Action Script enhancement. ActionScript is a robust object-oriented programming language similar to JavaScript and is used to add interactivity to Flash movies. With the new predefined classes, you have a much finer level of control over the behavior of objects on the Stage. You now can attach ActionScript directly to movie clip instances, which means you now have three places to add Actions--buttons, frames in both the main timeline and movie clips, and movie clips themselves. Another improvement is in the editing environment. You now have the option of working in Normal mode, which is much like the old drag and drop/fill in the blanks interface of Flash 3 and 4. Yet, if you're a more experienced programmer, you can use Expert mode to type the code directly. Additionally, you have the ability to export and import ActionScript (.as) files, which makes sharing ActionScript between files a simple task. The development of Smart Clips, modular scripts that are parameterized into movie clips, which can be shared and reused between individuals, is an excellent time saving feature. Two useful advanced ActionScript functions are XML objects and the Debugger. The XML and XMLSocket objects allow you to convert ActionScript to XML and to bring XML data into your Flash movie for manipulation. The Debugger allows you to troubleshoot ActionScripts interactively from inside Flash Player even as it runs in a browser over the Web.
  The Movie Explorer
movie explorer
You can use the Movie Explorer to navigate the Timeline of a movie, search for elements within a movie, perform site-wide editing, and even print a list of movie contents. It's extremely handy to have the capability to display the complete contents of a movie. For instance, if you have a Flash project from someone else, it can be difficult to decipher the structure or find elements. The Movie Explorer comes to the rescue by letting you search your Flash file for any symbol, font, or string of text. You can also display a hierarchical tree of all your file assets and edit some portions of your file directly from the Movie Explorer. Being able to edit a whole site from one window is a real time-saver. For instance, if you need to change the name of a company or person, you could use the Movie Explorer to filter out everything but the text elements in the movie and then search for the name. Once you have all the name instances, you can just retype the new name from within the Movie Explorer window. Other Movie Explorer features include: edit in place, find in Library, go to location, copy, and rename.
  The Print Action
  With Flash 5, you now have the ability to print high-resolution graphics directly from a Flash movie. Printable content can be downloaded on demand and does not need to be initially downloaded providing a fast site viewing experience. You can set up your site so that users can view content and applications suitable for the screen and output a separate design suitable for print. You just set up your Flash movie to print hidden frames, which is useful for a banner ad with a print button that prints out product information that is not visible on the screen.
  Support for Importing Freehand and Fireworks PNG Files

freehand import

fireworks import

Often Web designers start their projects in programs such as Macromedia Freehand and then need to bring their files into Flash. With Flash 5, it is easier than ever to import graphic elements, such as logos, illustrations, and storyboards, from Freehand and/or Fireworks by using drag and drop or cut and paste. There are also new import dialogs to import entire documents from either program, while preserving layers and scenes. For instance, you can use the dialog box to map multi-page Freehand documents across a series of keyframes, or to its own scene; map Freehand layers to Flash layers or keyframes; or specify that a file be flattened to one layer. Flash 5 respects Freehand Library symbols and will import them into the existing Flash Library. And the import tool converts Freehand lens fills such as magnify and transparency to Flash equivalents. See images to the left for a view of the import options for Freehand and Fireworks.
  Enhanced Integration with Macromedia Generator
The Generator 2 Authoring Extensions featured in Flash 5 allow you to automate the off-line production process of complex and dynamic Flash sites. There are two parts to Generator: the Generator authoring templates in the Flash environment and the Generator Web server extensions that enable you to produce dynamic graphics. You can use the Generator authoring templates that come with Flash 5 to simplify some of your everyday Flash tasks, even if you never intend to use Generator as a dynamic graphics server.
Final Comments
Flash 5 is a major upgrade and a must have if you are upgrading or a new user. It does take dedication to learn, and it can be exaggerating at times because of its robust features. Yet, these same features give you the ability to create awesome, interactive sites. It's a great program, with little or no competitors.
System Requirements


  • 133 MHz Intel Pentium processor
  • Windows 95, 98, NT 4, 2000 or later
  • 32 MB or RAM
  • 40 MB of available disk space
  • 256-color monitor capable of 800 x 600 resolution
  • CD-ROM drive


  • Power Macintosh
  • MacOS 8.5 or later
  • 32 MB of free application RAM
  • 40 MB of available disk space
  • 256-color monitor capable of 800 x 600 resolution
  • CD-ROM drive
Graphics: Adobe Photoshop 6.0
Web Page Design: Macromedia Dreamweaver 4.0
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