If you haven’t used Flash lately, you’ve missed a lot: it’s been quietly becoming more powerful. ActionScript 2.0 finally made Flash into a suitable programming environment, and Flash 8 brought awesome pixel-processing features via the BitmapData API. Add these to Flash’s lovely vector animation features, and Flash becomes a must-have tool. We’ve had a lively discussion about Flash maturing on the Create Digital Motion forum. There’s just been one problem: performance is not what it ought to be, because of bottlenecks within ActionScript and the program’s core.

That’s why Flash 9 is exciting. ActionScript 3.0 promises up to a ten-fold boost in performance. Here’s a simple example of the kinds of changes in store: previous versions of ActionScript didn’t actually have an integer variable type, so if you run a loop, you actually have to specify the loop variable using floating-point numbers. (In plain English, imagine if you had to learn to count as “1.000000, 2.000000, 3.000000 …”. You get the picture.) For you bleeding-edge types, you don’t have to wait until 2007 when Flash 9 / ActionScript 3.0 is set to ship. It’s here today in preview form:

Adobe Labs Flash 9 Preview, via a great blog called, oddly enough, The Flash Blog

Adobe says this is the only glimpse we’ll see of Flash before it ships next year, and they’re keeping plenty of secrets — all the features of the new Flash and even some of the new ActionScript features are hidden. (Ah, proprietary software.) It’s still worth testing, though, especially if you’ve built some complex animations that choke in ActionScript 2.0. Flash ninjas out there, do let us know how this works out for you.

“2007” should sound familiar to Mac users; it’s when Adobe promises their Creative Suite will support Intel Macs. Let’s all just take a big vacation and backpack through Europe or sail solo around the world in the meantime; agreed?