One feature missing from this version of Flash MX is true server application integration, but that's coming. ColdFusion MX, which is expected this summer, is the first market evidence of the merger between Macromedia and Allaire. Consisting of a Flash Application Server Gateway and a Communications server, Flash authors will be able to integrate applications on J2EE and .NET servers, as well as the ColdFusion MX server via a protocol built into the Flash 6 player itself.The application server gateway provides an interface between app servers and the Flash client that goes beyond the useful but inflexible HTTP Get/Post methodology Flash currently provides. Right now, Flash authors must build an intermediary interface to server applications that can accept requests via HTTP. Typically this entails an ASP, PHP, or JSP page that brokers requests to and from a server application. The application server promises to eliminate this middleman.
The communication server promises to broker direct inter-client connectivity for applications such as synchronous messaging. In addition, Macromedia will also release Dreamweaver MX, which will add support for additional server and connectivity technologies for Flash and application architects. If you've been creating middle-tier pages to connect Flash clients to servers dynamically, you will be glad to know that you won't have to do that much longer. Until then, Flash MX offers an abundance of new features.Design Features
Flash MX includes numerous upgrades that let you do more work within Flash itself, so you'll do less prepping and importing of content from applications into Flash.
A new Color Mixer panel makes the process of arbitrary color selection intuitive. In addition to selecting colors directly, you can specify RGB or hex color values manually in the Color Mixer. The Mixer lets you create gradients in the same simple fashion as Freehand or Adobe Illustrator. Transformation and distortion tools make their appearance for the first time, minimizing the need to use special illustration software. Designers can specify element positions on the stage down to the pixel level, which provides much greater visual control.Flash MX improves the Library and Timeline. Text controls can now render HTML directly, including URL links to external resources or even resources inside the movie itself, such as the results of ActionScript function calls, and the Timeline now supports layers.
Video & SoundIn previous versions, you had to exit the Flash environment to display video clips, such as movie trailers. But Flash MX lets you import a host of major video formats directly into the Flash movie itself. Unlike Flash 5, which stored video as a series of JPEG images, video in Flash MX preserves the media type. Flash MX includes a special Sorenson codec, Sorenson Spark, which operates both in the IDE (encoding) and in the player (decoding), that streams high quality video. At present, Flash MX supports AVI, Digital Video, MPEG, QuickTime, and Windows Media video formats. Flash MX can also maintain external links to QuickTime-formatted video, which allows designers to separate the video files from the Flash source (see Figure 3).
For now, Flash won't support streaming audio formats, but a Realtime Messaging Protocol (RTMP) based streaming audio and streaming video server will accompany the other MX products by mid-year. Flash MX offers more advanced sound control than version 5, including the ability to synchronize movie elements with sound clips.Internationalization & Accessibility
In a major leap forward, Flash MX has solved two major access problems of Flash 5, support for non-Western encoding and improved user accessibility.In Flash 5, creating a movie in a non-Western encoded language seemed almost harder than learning to speak the language. To create Japanese content, for example, authors needed to use a third party tool for double-byte integration, or a Japanese OS and the Japanese version of the Flash authoring environment (and therefore a native-speaking Japanese author). But with Flash MX, all you need to do is install and set the proper language encoding (Control Panel > Regional Options on Windows 2000/XP, System Preferences > International on Mac OS X), and type text directly into any Flash element. All text in Flash MX uses double-byte character encoding (DBCS), and exports to UTF-8 in SWFs for use in the player. Of course, this means that all the content of a movie must be in only one encodingyou can't change encodings on the flybut that limitation should cause few problems. Flash MX text boxes now support both right-to-left and vertical text directions to assist with internationalization (see Figure 4).
Developers and designers should take care when using Unicode text loaded dynamically (e.g. via XML, loadVariables). In my tests, text loaded fine from loadVariables and XML sources when that data was UTF-8 and UTF-16 encoded. Unicode text transmitted over the Internet must be UTF-8, but the player had trouble with other encodings. Also keep in mind that text rendered with device fonts will require end users to have the fonts installed on their machines.The Flash 6 player (which is available in beta now, but will be released officially on March 15) now supports screen reader technology for text and input fields that comply with Section 508 accessibility standards. Because the player uses Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA), Section 508 compliance is available only in the Windows version of the Flash player. The release documentation provides tips for building accessible Flash content.