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Flash MX 2004

  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent
  • $499.00

Pros

  • Powerful scripting language
  • FX and interactive objects now require less programming
  • new API for plug-ins
  • new usability features.

Cons

  • Programming expertise required for complex projects
  • you must activate the product via the Internet or phone.

Macromedia's new $499 (~£317) Flash MX 2004 Flash animation designer requires less programming, boasts a much improved help system and offers new usability features such as an improved video-import wizard with editing capabilities, a spelling checker and a find-and-replace function. Although beginners might not find it as easy to use as Adobe's cheaper LiveMotion, MX 2004 is a uniquely powerful program. It's a must-have upgrade for current users, thanks to its new support for Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), an improved (and ECMAScript 3.0-compatible) ActionScript 2 programming language, and a new API that allows third-party plug-ins. A professional version that offers more data-handling features and components is also available -- albeit for twice the price.

Setup & interface
Although we worked with a Windows beta version of Flash MX 2004, Macromedia assured us that the shipping version will retain its precursor's approximately 110MB installation footprint. Installing the program from CD takes about two minutes, but Macromedia has implemented a new product-activation scheme, similar to the one found in Windows XP. We're not big fans of this form of copy protection, because activation schemes could eventually be used by less scrupulous companies to collect personal data or worse. But Macromedia assures customers that it's only comparing serial numbers to see if a copy is pirated. You can activate automatically over the Internet or use the company's 24-hour activation hotline and avoid giving any personal information. The face of Flash remains the same powerful but rather complex one found in the last version. Now, however, the Answers panel has been renamed Help and reworked to match Windows' help function more closely. We found the help content far more useful and informative than the previous version's. The Help menu has also been rearranged a bit, but by and large, the interface modifications are slight.

Features
The real changes in Flash MX 2004 lie under the surface. Some tasks that used to require programming in the Actions panel have now been automated. Timeline Effects eliminate some of the dirty work involved in writing blurs and the like, while Behaviors relieve some of the drudgery of programming interactive controls. There are also new pre-made components and support for Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which should allow you to blend Flash and HTML more smoothly. ActionScript 2, the new version of the programming language behind Flash, has been brought up to compliance with the ECMAScript 3.0 standard (an offshoot of JavaScript), which allows for object-oriented features and casting. The other major behind-the-scenes improvement is the new Extensibility API, which allows third-party developers to create plug-ins à la Photoshop or QuarkXPress. We know of none that exist so far, however. New time-saving and usability features include an improved video-import wizard, which now allows you to edit or trim imported video so that you don't have to fire up a separate editor. There's also a spelling checker to minimise the danger of creating a visually spectacular site with embarrassing errors. And the annoyance of having to search through a complex project by hand for instances of an object has been eliminated with a new find-and-replace function. The $999 (~£634) Professional version of Flash MX 2004 adds advanced data handling to ActionScript, better form-development tools, and a number of additional prefab components. Our tests with both versions revealed a minimal number of bugs, although applying a transition effect sometimes hogged the CPU and slowed our entire system to a crawl.

Service & support
Online support for Flash MX is both copious and well written, ranging from downloadable manuals and tutorials to technical support via email. Unfortunately, Macromedia allows just two free tech-support calls within the first 90 days of the initial contact. After that, you must buy one of the company’s expensive support plans.

Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Category creativity application
Subcategory Creativity - web graphic tools
Package Type retail
Distribution Media CD-ROM
Software
Subcategory Creativity - web graphic tools
Category creativity application
License Type box pack
License Category shrinkwrap
System Requirements
Min RAM Size 128 MB
Min Hard Drive Space 190 MB
OS Required Apple MacOS X 10.2.6, Microsoft Windows 2000, Microsoft Windows 98 Second Edition, Microsoft Windows XP
OS Family MacOS, Windows
Additional Requirements CD-ROM
Header
Brand Macromedia
Product Line Flash
Model MX 2004
Packaged Quantity 1
Compatibility Mac, PC
System Requirements Details
Min Operating System Apple MacOS X 10.2.6, Microsoft Windows 2000 / XP, Microsoft Windows 98 Second Edition
Min RAM Size 128 MB
Min Hard Drive Space 130 MB, 190 MB

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