Adobe Flash CS4 Professional review

£562
Price when reviewed

Flash CS4 Professional shares many of the suite’s interface features such as tabbed documents, but it hasn’t received quite the overhaul that the rest of the applications have. It lacks, for instance, the application bar facility, and the workspace switcher doesn’t provide presets.

As such, the biggest practical interface change is the relocation of the main Properties panel to the vertical docker. This opens up valuable space for the Timeline at the bottom of the screen, highlighting Flash CS4 Professional’s rediscovered focus: animation.

With this release Adobe has tried to make animation simpler, allowing you to apply tweens directly to objects – a process that used to involve manually creating symbols, keyframes and motion guides. You can even apply simple preset animations from the new Motion Presets panel and create your own to quickly apply the same effect to multiple objects – though it’s still a chore to keep these in sync.

Flash CS4 also makes it possible to add new types of animation. Using the new 3D Rotation and 3D Translation tools you can produce spinning logo and Star Wars style perspective effects. Using the new Bones tool you can create armature layers – effectively symbol-based rigs – that allow you to animate puppets using Inverse Kinematics (drag the foot and the connecting leg moves too).

Most importantly, using the new Motion Editor panel, you can view and edit the individual properties of a tween as Bezier curves. This allows expert users to produce smoother, more natural-looking results. The problem is that this isn’t true property-based animation: the new control is grafted on top of the awkward, underlying system of layers, keyframes, symbols and tweens. The result is that animation is more powerful in Flash CS4 Professional but even more complex.

Web video

Fortunately vector animation is no longer the all-important feature that it once was. In particular, now that broadband speeds are common, delivering near-universal playback of web video has become Flash’s trump card. Adobe claims a 70% share of the market.

Here, Flash CS4’s Import Video command has been reworked to make it simpler to embed FLVs or load them into a playback component. Flash CS4 also adds support for video based on the more efficient H.264 codec. And if your original video isn’t Flash-compatible, the import dialog offers quick access to the Adobe Media Encoder where you can convert it (WMVs need not apply).

Video handling is an important part of Flash’s much-trumpeted role as a platform for RIA (rich internet application) delivery. This was a major focus of recent releases but, with this CS4 release the only significant advance is the ability to output projects as cross-platform desktop AIR apps – a feature already available to Flash CS3 users via an extension.

Instead, Adobe offers the Deco tool. Click with this in its default Vine Fill mode and your screen fills with a trellis of interlocking branches. It’s interesting the first time you see it, and just about useless for real work – and the alternative Grid Fill and Symmetry Brush modes are only marginally more practical. This is bizarre. Has Adobe given up on its vision of Flash as the RIA platform for the future? Certainly this CS4 release’s focus on animation and “flashy Flash” makes it look that way.

A new approach

it_photo_6187In fact Flash and rich internet is more important to Adobe than ever, but to make Flash fit to become that future platform Adobe is having to reinvent it. In particular it is moving Flash away from its old, proprietary, binary, frame-based SWF and FLA formats to more modern, open, XML-based, object-based, programmer-friendly FXG and XFL equivalents.

Details

Software subcategory Web development

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? yes

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