Computer programs these days strive to give you an intuitive work environment. A word processing document, for example, looks pretty much like a piece of paper and shows your words as you type them. Movie playing software has controls that look just like the ones on your home DVD player. Flash 8 provides the powerful and flexible tools that you need to create interactive animations, which is a more complex affair than producing text or playing media. Problem is, if this is your first time in an animation program, it may not be immediately obvious what to do with all these tools.
When you start with a blank Flash document, you find yourself staring at a blank white square and a dizzying array of icons, most of which appear to do nothing when you click them (Figure 1-1). You'd pretty much have to be a Flash developer to figure out what to do next. In this chapter, you get acquainted with all the different parts of the Flash window: the stage and main work area, the main menu, the toolbars and panels, the Timeline, and more. You'll also take Flash for a test drive and get some practice moving around the Flash screen. When you learn to create an animation of your own in Chapters 2 and 3, you'll feel right at home.
For more help getting acquainted with Flash, you can check out the built-in tutorials by selecting Help → Flash Help → Flash Tutorials. You can read about them, along with the rest of Flash's Help system, in this book's Appendix.
Figure 1-1. The white rectangle in the middle of the main Flash window—the Stage—is where you actually work on your animations. This entire window, together with the Timeline, toolbars, and panels identified here, is called the Flash desktop, the Flash interface, or the Flash authoring environment.
Once you've installed Flash on your computer (Section A.2.2), you can launch it like any other program. Choose your method:
Double-click the program's icon. You can find it on your hard drive in Program Files → Macromedia → Flash 8 (Windows) or Applications → Macromedia Flash 8 folder (Mac).
Click Start → All Programs → Macromedia → Macromedia Flash 8 (Windows). If you're running Mac, you can drag the Flash 8 icon from the Macromedia Flash 8 folder to the Dock and from then on open it with a single click on the Dock icon.
Up pops the Flash start page, as shown in Figure 1-2. When you open the program, you're most likely to start a new document or return to a work in progress. This screen puts all your options in one handy place.
If Flash seems to take forever to open—or if the Flash desktop ignores your mouse clicks or responds sluggishly—you may not have enough memory installed on your computer. See Section A.2.2 for more advice.
When you choose one of the options on the start page, it disappears and your actual document takes its place. Here are your choices:
Open a Recent Item. As you create new documents, Flash adds them to this list. Clicking one of the file names listed here tells Flash to open that file. Clicking the folder icon lets you browse your computer for (and then open) any other Flash file on your computer.
Figure 1-2. This start page appears the first time you launch Flash—and every subsequent time, too, unless you turn on the Don't Show Again checkbox (circled). If you ever miss the convenience of seeing all your recent Flash documents, built-in templates, and other options in one place, you can turn it back on by choosing Edit → Preferences (Windows) or Flash → Preferences (Mac). On the General panel, choose Show Start Page from the On Launch pop-up menu.
Create From Template. Clicking one of the little folder icons under this option lets you create a Flash document using a predesigned form called a template. Using a template helps you create a Flash animation quicker because a developer somewhere has already done part of the work for you. You'll find out more about templates in Chapter 7.
Extend. Clicking the Macromedia Flash Exchange link under this option tells Flash to open your Web browser (if it's not already running) and load the Flash Exchange Web site. There, you can download Flash components, sound files, and other goodies (some free, some fee, and all of them created by Flash-ionados just like you) that you can add to your Flash animations.
Take a Quick Tour of Flash. Why the Flash development team thought folks running Flash would want to sit through an ad is anybody's guess. Click this option if you must, but don't expect much in the way of usable, nitty-gritty information. Instead, a multimedia presentation shamelessly regales you with market-speak describing all the ways you can "enhance" the "engaging experiences" you create in Flash.
Except for the Macromedia Flash Exchange, which you find on the Help menu, all of the options on the start page also appear on the File menu (Figure 1-3 below), so you can start a new document any time.