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Adobe CS5 Web Premium Part Two: The Flash Platform

The three-part review continues with a veritable smorgasbord of Flash choices By Kevin Schmitt

Honesty time, dear readers: I don't think this is going to be an actual review. As Velveeta is to real cheese, there may be some review-like qualities to what follows, but considering the current all-out assault on Flash and everything it stands for, it may be beneficial to take a larger view of what Adobe has done in Web Premium CS5, namely the inclusion of not one, not two, but three separate tools for creating Flash content.

It got political, and reason was the first casualty

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you're already aware of the massive nerd fight that has been the Apple / Adobe / HTML5 / iPad / iPhone / Flash / H.264 / their mothers and grandmothers / the kichen sink brouhaha over the last several months. I don't know about you, but I'm sick to death of the demagoguery flying around. There are many reasons this debate irks me so, but the two biggest ones are 1) anti-Flash advocates, while correctly pointing out many of Flash's shortcomings, massively overstate HTML5's imminent readiness on the desktop and 2) both sides can be quick to assume that we're in some zero-sum game where THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE! THE PRECIOUSSSSSS! Rarely do you hear that both technologies make sense and have a role to play, and while (the loose set of technologies commonly known as) HTML5 continues to coalesce and can gradually replace some things Flash can do (including video, which is where the focus of the debate has been), Adobe clearly thinks Flash will not only survive, but thrive.

Not that you asked, but I happen to like Flash both as a user and developer (and have made a pretty decent living off of it these last several years), despite its problems. So yeah, I have a horse in the race, but like many Flash folk, Flash itself was a replacement for what I used to do in Director. I'm very much looking forward to HTML5 becoming a ubiquitous standard (hopefully complete with a full set of designer-friendly development environments to pick from), because I've never been content to stand still and live or die with a single solution. I have doubts as to the speed with which it's going to happen on the desktop, because we're all at the mercy of both browser makers supporting the standard as well as corporations and end users adopting those browsers. In the mobile space, however, it's a much different story. Considering how quickly WebKit is becoming the mobile browser engine of choice, HTML5 will see serious inroads on mobile devices sooner rather than later. Couple that with Apple's big stake in the mobile business right now, it's not hard to see why they're getting behind their own proprietary App store as well as open standards tailor-made for a browser engine they are active sponsors of.


Adobe, for its part, has owned the rich media space on desktop browsers, but has historically struggled to adapt Flash to mobile devices. Those struggles may (not necessarily will) be coming to an end with the imminent release of Flash Player 10.1 for desktops and mobile, so it will be interesting to see how gripes like battery life, gesture support, and whichever other "but... but..." complaint du jour happens to be are either justified or debunked over time. I could go on about this all day, but with that as the current backdrop to the release of the CS5 lineup, let's take a look at the three(!) Flash-centric programs Adobe includes with the latest Web Premium bundle.

Flash CS5 Professional as a response, and on its own

The way things were supposed to go, the BIG DEAL in Flash CS5 was the Packager for iPhone feature, which was clearly designed to usher in a glorious new era of Flash development. Imagine starting a Flash project and publishing for Web, desktop, and all major mobile app platforms from a single codebase. Well, that ain't going to happen. Apple up and banned using any third-party iApp compilers on the eve of the CS5 announcement, so while the iPhone Packager did, in fact, ship with CS5, Adobe has already abandoned any further development. Since it's a dead feature and technology, I'll say nothing further on it save for the fact that giving Flash the ability to target non-SWF (or non-AIR, if that's the way you roll) as a final interactive output format is an intriguing development.

Intriguing, you might ask? Indeed. Because I'm going to start my look at Flash Professional CS5 not with what it does, but what it doesn't do. As I said in an earlier introductory piece, Adobe really hasn't focused on HTML5 in any appreciable way in any of the CS5 applications, which I think is a mistake. Instead, they focused on an iPhone publisher that was made irrelevant before it even shipped, instead of pouring their visible energies into an open standard (albeit an emerging one) that, theoretically, no one company could torpedo on a whim. Unless Adobe is planning on turning over a new leaf by making an effort between major rollouts to update products like Dreamweaver and Flash with feature-adding point releases, it's going to be at least eighteen months before we see anything substantive on the HTML5 front. That's an eternity, and Adobe's goose may well be cooked by then. Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch, even as I was writing this piece, came out and said the company was going to build world-class HTML5 products, but I'm very curious to know when that might be, or in what form that will take. There does seem to be the benefit of some time, because the HTML5 spec itself is kind of a mess, and until a critical mass of browsers support a common feature set, the bad old days of the browser wars are very much back on. Getting back to my main point, Adobe could very well choose to build upon Flash Professional to make it a more generalized multimedia production tool, capable of publishing to more than just the SWF format (Canvas projects, anyone?). The first step towards that end is the admission that SWF may not be the end-all-be-all of interactive publishing, which is what the nascent-yet-already-dead Packager for iPhone represented. So while Flash remains pretty much SWF-only for CS5, don't expect it to stay that way. I think Flash, if it is destined to die, won't do so for a while yet, and Adobe needs to hedge their bets. Time will tell.

The here and now

Enough pontificating -- there's an actual release on the table here, so let's talk about that. Historically, new Flash Pro versions have fallen into a pattern of alternating between stuff for designers and stuff for coders, so with that soft fact as a guiding principle, it would stand to reason that Flash Professional CS5 would be a coder-focused release. To an extent, that's true, a point which we'll get into in a minute. But there's also stuff for designers, a fact which I'll augment by saying that while the new features in Flash CS5 generally tend to fall into the nice and useful categories, there just aren't a whole lot of them. So if you're looking for a feature-packed release, this probably isn't it.

However, what is here is, by and large, welcome. Let's start with the aforementioned coding improvements, namely the terrific code hinting and helpers borrowed from Flash Builder (fig. 1).


Figure 1

Just in case the image doesn't tell the whole story, the code hinting is much more intelligent, even providing help for custom classes you may have placed in your classpath. What's more, Flash takes care of importing any new classes for you, inserting the import statements at the top of your code. In my opinion, it doesn't go far enough, though. I'd love to see Flash be smart enough to insert a companion function after adding an event listener, for example -- why not go all the way with it?

Gripe aside, there's more on the code front. If you want, Flash CS5 can use Flash Builder as a dedicated ActionScript editor. When defining a new Document Class, you can specify Flash Builder as the owner of the class (fig. 2), meaning you write your code "over there" and use Flash CS5 to compile.


Figure 2

Flash CS5 also introduces Code Snippets, which is pretty much just what it sounds like. Open the panel, select a snippet, and insert it into your code (fig. 3). There are a bunch of pre-defined snippets, covering categories like navigation, animation, loading, and more, and of course, you can define your own. All in all, a pretty solid initial version of what is sure to be a handy feature for novices and pros alike.


Figure 3


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Related Keywords:adobe, cs5, web premium, flash professional, flash catalyst, flash builder

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