Well, Flash CS3 has been out for some time now, and following the Macromedia / Adobe merger, it was always going to be interesting to see what major changes arose from this. I'm pleased to report that there is nothing but positives, as once again the Flash franchise has jumped up another notch and has thoroughly impressed me with its ease of use and range of new features. So what's changed since Flash 8 and the merger and is it worth the upgrade? Let's have a look.
The first thing I noticed upon loading the program was the new look of the menus, with buttons and icons all sharing consistent appearance with other programs in the Adobe Suite. Tools panels now look the same as Photoshop and Illustrator, incorporating their handy minimizing attributes (the double arrow slide option) and the ever handy stacking features. This allows you to easily organise your workspace with minimal room taken up by tool bars, leaving more room for the stage itself. The tab structure within the toolbars that was used in previous versions of Flash remains though, so regular users will find navigating around much the same.
Flash 8 included filters and blend modes as well as bitmap handling and new green screen video capabilities as part of its new features. These features carry on into Flash CS3, although the main focus is on streamlining these processes rather than introducing new ones. Running Flash CS3 with multiple applications open (such as Photoshop and Dreamweaver) does tend to slow things down a fair bit, so the recommendation of 1 GB of RAM and 2.5 GB of Hard Disk space is a necessity. But if you have purchased a PC or Mac in the last year or are in a design orientated business, such requirements should already be at your disposal.
One of my favourite new additions to the CS3 version of Flash is the ability to import PSD and AI files from Photoshop and Illustrator, and retain those important layers. Now there is no need to save each layer individually and then import. Flash also now lets you drag pre-built images onto the stage and customize them using the variety of pen tools found in the tool bars. There also contains features to modify primitive shapes (such as rectangles) and make alterations to the shapes on the stage. Streamlining indeed!
Compiling has also gone up another level, with a new and improved Flash Player 9 compiler that Adobe claims is '100 times faster' than Flash 8. The claim is that Flash movies can be compressed faster and smaller than before and should load faster in internet browsers. I honestly haven't noticed much of a difference in load times, but compression of file size has improved significantly. As in Flash 8, Device Central is included to allow users to preview their work on a variety of different media (such as mobiles and Palm pilots). Flash Player 9 also allows full screen video, and no longer requires the use of a bounding box. Definitely the future in internet video.
But perhaps one of the biggest inclusions into Flash CS3 is support for Actionscript 3.0 complete with a new set of Actionscript 3.0 components. This is the new way forward in terms of Actionscript programming, and promises the ability to create even more interactive Flash applications. There are a few differences between using version 2.0 and 3.0 to make applications work, though the Adobe Design Centre offers some examples here.
It's not just the coding language that's changed though, as the Actions panel now sports a new list of buttons to better assist users in building and validating their Actionscript. A new and improved Debugger has been included as well which is the same as the one used in Flex Builder 2, meaning consistent behaviour between the two tools. As well as this, another cool CS3 feature allows you to double-click on errors in the Compiler Error Checker, and then highlights the problem area within the code. A lot easier than having to sift through code just to find an error. So although the coding is becoming more complex, the tools available to assist you are also evolving to become more useful.
There are heaps more new features (I could carry on for a while here) but a complete list of the new updates and changes from Flash 8 to Flash CS3 can be found on the Adobe Design Centre website.
So what's the design community's reaction to Flash CS3? A rousing endorsement, with plenty of praise and appreciation of the new streamlined version. Based on my use of the program for the past six months, I would have to agree and thoroughly recommend to any serious users of Flash. The ability to move objects between various CS3 products is now a breeze, saving a lot of time and heartache, and the range of options and abilities that Flash contains is simply staggering. Flash is still going to be a difficult program to pick up on for beginners, but for experienced users it clearly shows why it is the best in its field. Those contemplating an upgrade from Flash 8 should tarry no longer as it is well worth the investment. Two thumbs up.