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Flash Professional CS5 Review

Flash Professional CS5 Review

Today Flash CS5 is announced and as with former releases, we've taken a good look at the new software. While the debacle around the iPhone export feature goes on, there's lot's of other features to like in this release!

If you've followed Flashmagazine carefully, you will probably have seen many of the new CS5 features already. It is however something entirely different to try the software yourself and I have to say I really like the look and feel of Flash CS5 (FCS5).

The iPhone packager

When this feature was demo'ed at the Adobe MAX conference , everyone thought that Adobe had nailed it. Many think the iPhone export is the main new feature of Flash CS5, but we were soon taken down to earth by a certain head of Apple inc and his new SDK rules. The feature will however debut in FCS5 as planned despite the fact that it is very likely that Apple will not distribute any applications made with it. We will just have to wait and see how this plays out, but the start is looking far from good Flash fans like ourselves may think this is foul play by Apple, but truth is - Adobe never asked Apple for permission.

 

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Last week, before Apple's new line was known, we asked Richard Galvan, Product Manager for Flash authoring if they had any guarantee from Apple that Flash-generated iPhone apps would be allowed access to the App store. Richard replied that there's no indication from Apple that they feel this way about this. He also said that 130 apps made with Flash are in the app store already. All we can do is hope Apple and Adobe can work this out as it would be a very handy feature.

Then again - it's no crisis. The list of mobile businesses that want to include Flash on their devices is solid and growing and one analysts (and Apple fan) mean that while Apple changed the mobile business, it's decline in the market has already started. To quote Flash developer Kevin Suttle "what’s the worst that could happen? We go back to the massive amounts of Flash/Flex work we had before MAX 2009?". Adobe's Kevin Lynch has also made an official statement saying that "the ability to package an application for the iPhone or iPad is one feature in one product in Creative Suite". Luckily there's lot's more in this release and the rest of this review will focus on that. We'll also highlight more of the mobile specific features later in the article.

Code improvements

The code editor in Flash has always been kind of a stepchild. So many used external code editors that Adobe didn't find it important to spend on it. FCS5 changes this! The editor now has full support for code hints and auto-completion, also for external libraries. Just write "var mySprite:" and as you type, all object types from linked libraries will pop up. Just as in Flash Builder, when you then take that further and write "var mySprite:Sprite = new ", the Sprite class will be at the top of the list of code hints so you can just press Enter to accept it. The code hinting works for all methods, properties and parameters

 

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Other nice additions are automatic adding of import statements and closing of brackets, so expect a solid speed boost if you've been coding using the Flash IDE up until now.

Snippets

This is something I've been missing for such a long time. I do workshops on a regular basis and when we get to adding interactivity, I always have to put up a code sample and have the class write it in. For someone that's never ever written code, this is really scary and it's hard to get the colons and semicolons correct.

With the new snippets panel, it'll be the students that "write" the code itself and it'll be error free. In a learning situation it's always better that the students do a bit for themselves and then try to tweak it. Having the ability to add snippets yourself is even better.

 

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The snippets that come with FCS5 are all useful, but I've found one that'll be confusing to beginners. To a beginner, video is just that. It's video. In the Audio and Video category, there's several snippets. Some of these work on the FLVPlayback component, others work on a Video object and another sets up a Netstream object. While nice code examples, beginners will most certainly fail here. This is stupid given that all the tasks could have been achieved using the FLVPlayback.

The snippet system is cleverly set up in that it prevents naming crashes, so if you add a snippet for two buttons, the methods will get separate names. One problem I foresee is that the snippets are set up with quite compact naming. A seasoned programmer will instantly see that "fl_SC_1" is different from "fl_SC_2" but imagine when many snippets are added. All this code starting with "fl_" will become very confusing to the ones it is intended to help. Longer and more descriptive names are always more helpful to beginners.

The new formats FXG and XFL

CS5 also sees the debut of the XFL file format, a new format that several Adobe applications now can export to. By saving your project to a folder with all the assets within and a XML file that describes the content and how it fits together (the .xfl file), you can now easily add your projects to version control systems such as SVN or GIT. The graphics are described in the XFL file using the new FXG format and can be exported from InDesign, Photoshop or Illustrator.

The spec for this file format will be published and open, so other applications may be used to author FXG files as well. Who knows? Maybe someone will use this to create a competing Flash authoring tool using FCS5? Anything is possible with open formats.

Workflow improvements

Improving the workflow has been one of the main themes for the CS5 release and while you can't move files between Flash and Flash Builder (formerly Flex Builder), we are really getting somewhere. You can set up FCS5 to use Flash Builder as it's main code editor. You can also do this the other way around, by referencing the FLA from Flash Builder. When you have edited your code in Flash Builder, just press CTRL+Enter as you're used to and FCS5 opens up to display the file. Close the preview and you're right back in Builder. This is a very nice implementation that I've gotten used to very easily.

 

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In theory, Flash Builder can be used to debug and profile files created in FCS5. The files supposedly share breakpoints and all but I was unable to get this to work. I'll keep looking for the way to do it as this is something I've wanted for a long time. The debugger in Flash has become less and less valuable with every release and being able to use the one in Flash Builder would be great.

Device Central

Modern mobile phones have things such as accelerometers, gestures and multitouch and now we can use these in Flashplayer 10.1 and AIR 2.0. To support this FCS5 comes with an updated version of Device Central that let's you test all these things without having to deploy the application to the mobile phone. It's not a replacement from tesing on the device, but it makes the development process so much easier.

Keep in mind that while we may not be able to target the iPhone, we'll soon be able to target many, many more devices based on the Android platform created by Google. It's not quite the same, but HTC, LG, Motorola, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sony Ericsson all creates phones based on this system. Together with Nokia (that is not using Android) these all will support Flash Player 10 or AIR 2.0 and many will even support both. While I couldn't get this to work at all with the Beta build I had been given, Device Central will let you test against emulated versions of all of these phones.

A little for the designers as well

FCS4 was huge for designers with so many cool new features. One of these were Inverse Kinematics and FCS5 takes this a bit further and adds some physics to the mix. For each joint, you can now set up springs to make the motion more natural. Apparently, there's more then just this one physics feature added and I can't wait to see what will happen when someone hacks this so it can be used via programming.

 

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The Deco tool has also gotten an update with more effects available. Direct edit of assets in Photoshop from the library is another timesaver. No need to Edit, right click image symbol, click update, close dialogue. As a designer, you'll also love the next main feature on our list that gives you total control over text.

Text Layout Framework

Many years ago, I set out to create a proper HTML editor in Flash. There was many on the market, but none of them could produce standards compliant code due to the terrible HTML rendering in the Flash textfields. I spent months on this but I failed at the end. It simply was not possible. I have not tried doing this with the new Text Layout Framework (TLF), but I have a feeling that this would now be possible.

 

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TLF adds all the things we've been missing from textfields in Flash. It's actually been available on Adobe Labs for quite some time and many have tried it out using just code in Flash CS4. Now it's an integral part of the Flash IDE and you define text boxes and text flow using the standard Text Tool. TLF Text is the default kind of textfield in FCS5 but you can still change your textfields into the "Classic Text" and save those extra 36Kb required to support all the features in TLF. Embedded fonts are now using the DefineFont4 format that has the benefit of some extra compression. In fact - if your application need to embed several thousand characters (or several fonts), this extra compression can actually save you the extra 35Kb of TLF.

You get textflow from field to field and column to column just like in professional text layout programs. You get click and select text across textfield boxes, textflow around objects, bidirectional and vertical text supporting a multitude of languages, proper programmatic selection (what a nightmare it's been!), kerning, leading, margins, padding, tab stops, inline graphics, properly underlined links, full OpenType support, ligatures and many professional typographic controls. Another nice benefit from adding all this functionality, is that you can now have designers create complex layouts in Adobe InDesign that you can then open, edit and program in the Flash IDE.

While it sounds like TLF can solve all your text problems, I still found some things I don't like. You still can't right click a link and decide to open it in a new tab or a new window. The UI for linking textfields (so text flows between them) is not like I expected it. I found it odd to first click the link-icon and then click on or draw the next textbox. For some reason, I expected to click and drag between boxes to make the link, but I guess that's just me not using layout programs that much.

Back in 2002, Flashmagazine switched from SWF format to HTML because of the lack of these capabilities. We doubt we'll ever change back to SWF as our publishing format since it's just not right for the kind of content we deliver, but we sure could have done so now. Having all these possibilities will do wonders for typographic layout and text on the web.

Small but nice additions

There's a host of other new features in FCS5 as well. While not all important, they're still very handy for those that need them.

  • The FLVPlayback component now has a better Cue Point editor that integrates nicely with the CuePoint snippet, making it easy to make quite advanced video applications without much programming.
  • FLVPlayback also gets a new series of minimal skins that take up less screen estate
  • Video can now be played back directly on stage. This supports alpha-video so aligning alpha video to graphic assets are now much easier
  • SWF size history, shows how your SWF has grown over time based on data gathered every time you compile your file.

Lost features

Yes. FCS5 has actually lost some features with this release. In every release, some features are regarded as outdated and are thus discontinued. From now on we won't be able to open Freehand, PICT, PNTG TGA and SGI files. We also won't be able to export EMF, WMF as well as sequences of WMF, BMP or TGA images. Version Cue support is also dropped (who ever used that?). There's a couple minor other things as well that you can find in the release notes.

The rest of the CS5 package

We've not had the time to play around with much of the rest of the CS5 package but I have to say that Photoshop CS5 is my absolute favorite this release. Adobe's Bryan Hughes gave me a demo and it's been quite a few years since I've said "WOW" that many times during a software demonstration. By now, you've probably seen the video sneaks of "Puppet Warp" and the "Content Aware Fill". Truly amazing stuff, but wait - there's more! The new Remove Noise feature will fix those grainy images you took in low light conditions. It's almost like magic to see it do it's stuff! The HDR simulation and new artistic paint tools are simply brilliant! Seriously - anyone with above average interest for photography will want this version after seeing the demos!

 

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If you use Premiere for video, this release is an absolute must as well. The new hardware rendering engine (named Mercury) is just crazy fast and it can now utilize any number of cores in the CPU. The speech analysis features are also killer. InDesign CS5 users can also author Flash now! Complete sites, with (limited) interaction and animation is actually possible though I have not explored it more.

Conclusion

If you are a programmer using Flash in your daily work, you should absolutely get this release. No doubt about it - the enhancements to the workflow and code editor alone will pay for the upgrade. If you're a designer - it depends. The new brushes for the Deco tool and the improved IK is hardly solid selling points. If you need better control of text, the TLF integration will save you a lot of time. If you're a designer that want to get into programming Actionscript, this is a good release as well since the new snippets function can give you a good starting point for learning. As for the stability of the final product - make sure you read our disclaimer below.

As for not being able to publish iphone applications to the Apple App Store - this is sad but it will still be useful for prototyping iPhone applications. After all, there's few tools that are better or faster than Flash for prototyping so in itself that has value. Maybe Apple and Adobe will become friends again and maybe time will show that the iPad really needs Flash? Maybe even Steve Jobswill understand that the Open Screen Project can offer value to his platform? Only time will tell. Flash Professional is $699 for a full license and $199 for an upgrade.

Another great move is the change of contents in the Web Premium package: Dreamweaver CS5, Flash Professional CS5, Photoshop Extended CS5, Illustrator CS5, Flash Catalyst CS5, Flash Builder 4, Fireworks CS5. This really is the collection I would have wanted to put together myself. It's all software that I can really use rather than crummy site editing software like Contribute. I will however miss SoundBooth. Not sure why they removed that and added Business Catalyst instead. The whole Web Premium package costs $1799 and upgrades start at $599. All the software is now available for Preorder and as usual it will start shipping about 30 days after the announcement.

Disclaimer
This review is based on a
beta build of Flash CS5 that does not represent the final version of the software that will ship in about a month from today. The build I got to test was actually more than three months old and during my testing, I had many issues. On occasion, code hinting failed for external AS files, the entire UI jumped up and down during exports and many other things. According to our former experience, most of these bugs will be gone in the final version but you never really know. It took Adobe a long time to make Flash CS4 stable enough for daily use. However, during my testing the software never crashed like FCS4 sometimes did so I see that as a good hint that FCS5 will be more solid.

 

About Jens C Brynildsen

Jens has been working with Flash since version 3 came out. Since then, he's been an active member of the Flash community. He's created more than a hundred Flash games (thus the name of his blog) but he also creates web/standalone applications, does workshops and other consulting. He loves playing with new technology and he is convinced that the moment you stop learning you die (creatively speaking). Jens is also the Editor of this website.

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Comments


Posted by marc.thiele on 04/12 at 09:32 AM

Really nice article, Jensa. Good you wrote it and we can advise ppl at FFK10 to read it ;)

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