Monday, August 25, 2003 —Macromedia announced the first major upgrade to Macromedia's Studio MX product line, featuring major enhancements to Dreamweaver and Fireworks, and a major forking in the Flash product line, with both a standard and a high-end "Professional" version of the product released for the first time.
Many of the enhancements in the Flash product are available only in the new Professional edition. Key among these is a forms-based way of creating applications in the Flash environment, as opposed to the timeline metaphor that Flash has traditionally used. Forms allow users to visually lay out their applications as a series of screens instead of in the continuous, unbroken movie format. Users of Flash MX Professional 2004 will have the choice of using forms or timeline for their applications. Jeff Whatcott, Senior Director, said the company hopes this flexibility in Flash will attract a new audience of developers, particularly those familiar with the drag-and-drop, forms-based approach pioneered in Microsoft's Visual Basic, and now standard in most modern IDEs, such as Visual Studio .NET, Borland's Delphi, IBM's VisualAge family, and the open source Eclipse project (see Figure 1).
|Figure 1. Visual Flash: The ubiquitous Flash timeline is nowhere to be found using Macromedia Flash Professional 2004's new Forms-based UI. New slider controls can be seen placed on an application in progress.
The Flash Professional product builds on the server connectivity features added with the original MX release, giving Flash scriptable data binding for SOAP Web services, XML, and Flash remoting, allowing developers to more easily connect their Flash applications to remote services. Flash's library of form controls, which was new in the original MX product, has been significantly expanded—from seven controls to thirty. These controls include convenient UI elements such as slider bars. The original seven controls are available in both versions, while the newly added controls, described as "more sophisticated," are available only in the Professional version.
Flash's video editing and encoding capabilities have also been enhanced, with several plug-ins added to allow integration between popular third-party editing tools.
The standard version of Flash MX 2004 has a library of timeline effects (frequently used animation behaviors) that developers can drop into their Flash applications and configure without scripting. The compiler in Flash has been optimized so that proprietary Flash .swf files run faster, even in older versions of the Flash player. Developers will welcome the fact that compile time in the IDE is significantly faster in both versions.
With this release of Flash the ActionScript language has been revised to version 2.0, which is compliant with the ECMA3 standard.
A new version of the client-side Flash Player, Flash Player 7, was also announced. Whatcott said that playback performance in Flash Player 7 is dramatically improved. Many operations run twice as fast as the previous version, while a few are as much as eight times faster than before. The performance gains will be most notable for Mac OS X users.
Both the Flash and Dreamweaver products now support Cascading Style Sheets. This standard makes it far easier for developers to create multiple sites with predefined, standardized UI elements. Using CSS can significantly reduce page bloat, resulting in both less bandwidth consumption and faster page rendering.
Dreamweaver can now perform dynamic browser validation checks in the environment. This feature allows developers to pre-select the browsers and versions for which support is required. Dreamweaver will then check pages against each browser and return detailed error information when features break on particular browsers. All major browsers are supported including Opera and Mozilla, and going back as far as 3.0 versions for Internet Explorer and Netscape.
Fireworks MX 2004 has been revamped with better image import, new drawing tools, and team development features such as version control.
Flash MX 2004 is $499; Flash MX Professional 2002 is $699; Dreamweaver MX 2004 is $399; Fireworks MX 2004 is $299. All three products are available as a bundle in Studio MX 2004, which is $899 with regular Flash and $999 with the Professional version. Upgrade discounts are available.