Software Review: Flash CS5

CS5 Design Premium now includes two new Flash-authoring programs—Flash Catalyst for designers and Flash Builder (formerly Flex Builder) for software developers—but Flash Professional remains the primary tool for building interactive Flash presentations. The CS5 version isn’t a huge leap over CS4, and much of the new functionality will be of interest primarily to coders. However, it also adds a few features that designers will appreciate.

Some of these are under the hood, though you will certainly notice the benefits. For example, CS5 introduces a new XML-based file format called XFL that makes it easier for multiple users to collaborate on projects. And an improved text engine provides typographic and layout features closer to those in InDesign (see the video demo). This includes support for multiple columns, text wrap, threaded text blocks and spacing controls such as kerning, tracking and leading. One result is that Flash presentations imported from InDesign now maintain greater fidelity with the original layout.

Animation Tools
A new Spring for Bones feature builds on the Bones tool introduced in Flash Professional CS4. The Bones tool enables a professional animation technique known as inverse kinematics in which you can connect parts of an object so they behave as they would in real life. For example, you can add “bones” to a hand, forearm and upper arm, so that moving the hand causes the forearm and upper arm to move accordingly.

Now, if you select a bone in CS5, a new Spring option causes the bone to behave as if a spring were attached. It’s quite simple: you set values for Strength and Damping, and Flash automatically applies realistic movements to the linked parts based on how the object moves as a whole. You need to see this in action to fully appreciate it (forward to 4:23 of this video demo).

The Deco tool, also introduced in CS4, now has many additional options for creating artwork that would be difficult and time-consuming to make with other tools. For example, the new Tree brush can quickly build a variety of trees and other vegetation, complete with trunks, branches and leaves.

One danger of using a tool like this is that animations can have a “me-too” look since other Flash users have access to the same functions. However, the Properties panel offers numerous options for customizing the tool’s behavior. The Tree brush is one of 13 drawing effects, and when it’s selected, the Properties panel offers a choice of 20 plant types (Ash, Aspen, Birch, Vine, Grass, etc.), plus controls for the color of branches, leaves and flowers or fruit. Most drawing effects behave as elaborate brushes, but you also have the option of creating animated fire, smoke and particles.

Not So Useful
One new feature that’s pretty much useless now is Packager for iPhone. The idea was to get around Apple’s refusal to support Flash on the iPhone by allowing developers to compile Flash content as native iPhone apps. But Apple put the kibosh on that in April by restricting which tools developers could use to create the apps, and Adobe later announced that it would no longer invest in the tool.

New Deco Tool effects in Flash Professional CS5 make it easy to create tress and other artwork:

You can even use the Deco Tool to create animated fire, smoke or particle effects:

Stephen Beale has been writing about computer technology since before many current Adobe employees were born. His first computer was an Osborne 1 powered by steam turbines and illuminated by gaslight, though his memory is somewhat hazy on this point. He’s the author of seven books on computer applications in the graphic arts and a former news and reviews editor for Macworld.  He’s currently editor of a website for public relations professionals in health and medicine. For more information, see his website.

Other CS5 reviews:

Photoshop CS5
Illustrator CS5
Flash Catalyst CS5
Dreamweaver CS5
Back to Creative Suite 5 Overview

Adobe Evangelists, including Russell Brown, will be on hand during the HOW Design Conference,  June 6–9 in Denver, to demonstrate the new Creative Suite 5 tools. 




* Live and On-Demand DesignCasts
* Visit – Your comprehensive source of books, products and tools for designers
* Sign up to receive the HOW eNewsletter.