February 2003

Cyber News and Reviews is a monthly column published for parents, teachers & business owners featuring kids educational software reviews, business software reviews (small business & home business), games and entertainment articles, a free resource since 1995.


A Few Cool Flash Tools for Your Web Pages, Liberty's Kids from the Learning Company and JumpStart Advanced Preschool from Knowledge Adventure, reviewed by Howard Berenbon

A Few Cool Flash Tools for Your Web Designs

If you're new to Web site designing or just dabble in Web site design for personal use then you may want to consider adding Flash animation to your sites.  Flash can help spruce up your Web pages, and get your site noticed, without using much in the way of online resources.  Here are a few cool tools for your consideration.

KoolMoves from Koolmoves.com

KoolMoves is definitely a real cool flash animation tool.  If you visit their Web site, Koolmoves.com, just the introduction animation will give a quick glimpse of what you can do with a flashy flash animation tool.  So, take a moment and visit their site, and you'll quickly see what I mean.

After downloading KoolMoves from the Internet and a quick installation, you'll be designing flashy flash movies in no time for you and your Web site clients.  This is a feature-filled utility with lots of neat options allowing you to create simple or complex flash effects.  It also includes a list of pre-designed effects, or you can jump in and create your own.

You'll begin designing your movie from the KoolMoves main menu.  Starting at the tool bar, you'll add text and graphics frame by frame until your project is complete.  If you get stuck, don't worry.  Help is a click away with detailed instructions, graphic examples and even online tutorials.  This is a well-documented editor that won't let you down. 

You'll learn to work with their drawing tools, clip art, buttons and even sounds.  Designs are only limited by your imagination.  And if you need some quick text effects, select from just over a hundred pre-designed templates that will only take minutes to create.  Just enter the text, pick a typeface, font style and size, and then click on a template.  Instantly, you'll see your text animated on screen.  If you like what you see, just save it in the proper format and it will generate the html code you need to insert into your Web page.  I had no trouble getting a little flashy eye catching movie up and running in less than 5 minutes.   I had the text, "E-commerce Shop," bounce on the screen, letters jumping up and down like kids on a trampoline, and then slowly stabilizing before my eyes.

You can have your text twist, rotate, jiggle and jump, bend and bulge, fly in and out, or just roll in place, and much more.  Any of these effects are easy to create, and just as easy to add to your pages with a few lines of code calling the flash file you've uploaded to your domain space.  Some HTML editors will add the control codes automatically, after you inserted the .swf file into your page.  And if you're worried about the space a flash file will take up, don't.  The text effects use very little memory.  My small attention-attracting flashy text file effect only used 7k of RAM.

If you feel creative, KoolMoves has the tools for you.  Create your movie frame by frame with text and graphics effects.  For example, pick a shape from the tool bar, add it to frame 1 and then select an action from either the Effects or the Transform menu.  You can add effects and manipulate the object in several ways: rotate, scale, slant, squash, center, flip and more. Then advance to the next frame for more action. You an even draw the shape you need with the drawing tools provided, add a solid color or gradient, change the movie background color and image, change the height and width, and add sounds to each frame. To preview your design in progress, just click on the Play Movie button at the bottom of the screen. If you'd like, you can import a graphic object and design an effect around it.  I imported photo of a baseball and set it rotatin .  Eventually, you'll have that perfect flash movie for any Web site occasion.  It would help if you had a little graphics design experience.  If not, just check out a tutorial or two for help and some tricks.

It was easy to design a second flash movie with some text, a graphic object, a background image plus a bunch of special affects without relying on a template.  The effects are very simple to add to each object in your frames, with some automatically extending the effect to other frames.  And, they don't use much memory.  My second attempt using 4 separate text objects and one graphic drawn freehand, only used about 20k of memory. 

KoolMoves is a great product, and a bargain at only $39 with free upgrades through January 2004.  It also includes extras like clip art, regular and animated plus some great Web design templates specific for use with Flash movies.  This is a must-have product for any Web designer, beginner or professional.  Visit KoolMoves.com for more information.

Mix-FX from Triple W Communications

Mix-FX from Triple W Communications (http://www.mix-fx.com), is not a full-featured editor, like KoolMoves, but offers an easy-to-use set of templates to create some excellent Flash text effects, perfect for incorporating in any Web site design.  With a $27 price tag, you can't afford to pass up this fast Flash movie generator for your arsenal of Web site design tricks.

After downloading from the Internet, and a quick installation you'll find a very easy-to-use main menu.  Actually, you have three boxes to work with.  Enter your text into the first box on the top left and select the type of effect from the drop-down list of 19, and select the font.  Click "update" and your text will appear in the center of the screen. Then on to box number 2, in the top middle, where you'll pick the text size, degree of rotation (from 0 to 360) and the color.  Here, you can also pick the background effect from a list of 25, and select the background size, degree of rotation and color.  I selected a lighthouse background effect where the beam scans over the text from left to right.  Now to the final box, on the top right were you'll select the movie color and dimensions, which is actually a frame around the effects you've select in boxes 1 and 2.  Click "update" to make those changes, and what you see is what you get.  Now all you have to do click the SAVE button for viewing and saving options.  You an easily go back and change your creation, until you've found the best combination of effects to meet your Web page design requirements. Visit Triple W Communications at http://www.mix-fx.com, for more information.

SWfX and Linx from Wildform, Inc.

SWfX from Wildform, Inc. (http://www.wildform.com/), is another must-have Flash movie Web site tool offering over 300 easy-to-create text effects templates, similar to Mix-FX, with a comparable price.  At just $29, it's an easily affordable addition to any Web designer's toolbox.

After a quick download and installation from the Wildform Web site, you'll be creating those flashy text effects in no time.  From the main menu, you'll pick and effect on the left side of the screen, and then enter your text at the top center.  Each time you select an effect, you'll see it in action displayed in the Wildform SWfX Preview window.  Directly below the text window you'll find the Font control boxes for selecting the font size, color, line spacing and x and y positions of your text.  Below the Font controls are the movie width, height, frame per second and background color selections.  Once you've designed that ultimate text effect you'll need to save it in the proper Web site format.  You'll find those buttons just below the Movie controls.  There's also a preview button so you can test the effect after making those changes.

Wildform, Inc. also has an inexpensive flash movie-editing program called Linx (just $49) that allows you import, edit, combine and manipulate any flash movie file with images and audio. Visit Wildform, Inc. at wildform.com for more information on SWfX and Linx.

Liberty's Kids from The Learning Company

If you and your kids want to learn more about American History then Liberty's Kids from The Learning Company (also a series seen on PBS) is a new CD adventure you should consider adding to your library of educational software. Along with great graphics and sound effects, kids, ages 8 to 12, will learn what it was like to live in 18th century around the time of the American Revolution.  They'll assist two young reporters, Sarah Phillips and James Hiller, who happen to work for the famous statesman, scientist and inventor, Benjamin Franklin, getting the ultimate story for publication in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  In their search, they'll meet soldiers, encounter spies and interact with Native Americans, statesman, Patriots, Loyalists and local town's people.  Kids will collect information and choose details to include in the story; and it may be printed in newspaper format.

After a quick installation from a single CD and signing in, you'll watch an introduction video with an overview of the period.  Then you'll enter the Print Shop where you'll find your assignments as apprentice reporter and write your stories.   Here, you also can explore some of Ben Franklin's inventions.  Did you know he invented bifocals?  It's an important invention that most adults over 40 will use to improve their vision.

Ben Franklin is in London, but his assistant, Moses, will help you with your assignments as they're posted on the Print Shop bulletin board.   Becky, my 8-year-old daughter, was at the computer when the first assignment appeared.  She had to cover the famous Boston Tea Party where early Americans protested against the British rule by dumping crates of tea into Boston Harbor. Clicking on the bulletin board, Becky found herself at the dock with Sarah Phillips and James Hiller in Boston where the incident took place.  There she roamed the area (by clicking on arrows to move the characters and change the scene) and interviewed people to gather information for the story. After spending almost 3 hours playing the adventure, at three different sessions after dinner, Becky told me she really liked the CD.  I wasn't surprised.

Seven assignments are available, covering seven American Revolution era events including Lexington & Concord, Declaration of Independence, Crossing the Delaware, Saratoga, Valley Forge and the Battle of Yorktown each taking a lot of time to complete offering lots of history as you go.  They'll even meet and talk to famous people living in that era like Samual Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Paul Revere.  Kids will also find some fun printable activities like puzzles and games; and they can even view mini-movies form the PBS Kids television show.  As an added incentive, kids earn points for their published stories, based on the number of papers sold.

Liberty's Kids sells for  $24.99 and will run on any multimedia PC, Pentium166 MHz or faster processor, 32 MB RAM with Windows 98/ME/2000/XP and an 8x CD-ROM drive.  It also runs on a Power Mac G3 180 MHz or faster with 32 MB RAM and an 8x CD-ROM drive. 

The Learning Company
500 Redwood Blvd.
Novato, CA 94947
Phone: 415-763-4700
URL learningcompany.com

Quick Picks of Recommended Software

JumpStart Advanced Preschool from Knowledge Adventure

JumpStart Advanced Preschool (ages 2 to 4) is the latest and greatest, upgrade to their JumpStart educational software series which includes JumpStart Preschool, JumpStart 1st Grade and JumpStart 2nd grade. This series has been around for at least 6 years offering exceptional quality with educational quantity for kids from pre-school to middle school. Each title offers high quality graphics, sound effects and music to provide entertainment with learning.

The newest JumpStart Preschool title has many more features then the original (first reviewed here in May 1999) and is better than ever. This latest version offers something completely different: seven selectable learning styles with help from all the popular JumpStart characters: Frankie The Team Leader, Eleanor The Reader, Casey The Athlete, Pierre The Musician, Kisha The Artist, CJ The Scientist and Hopsalot The Math Whiz. A learning style can be suggested by the program after answering a series of questions. Also, a very nice feature allows the difficulty to be self-adjusting

After a quick installation from a single CD you're on your way to your goal: earn points for power boosters and then participate in the wacky car races. The activities are centered at schoolhouse with access to Counting Along (count balloons with Casey), Alphabet ABC's (match letters with Eleanor), Fun With Patterns (sort animals with Frankie), Learn Music (make songs with various instruments), Time for Phonics (match sounds with Kisha) and Shapes and Colors (find silly shapes with Casey).  Also, if you want to save some money and still have an old JumpStart CD lying around the house, you can trade it in for a cool $10 rebate (it must be a JumpStart Preschool, Kindergarten, 1st Grade or 2nd Grade to qualify).

JumpStart Advanced Preschool sells for $28.99 and will run on any multimedia PC, Pentium 233 MHz or faster, 64 MB RAM with Windows 98/ME/2000/XP and a 16x CD-ROM drive. It also runs on a Power Mac G3 233 MHz or faster with 64 MB RAM and a 24x CD-ROM drive.

Knowledge Adventure, Inc.
19840 Pioneer Avenue
Torrance, CA 90503
Phone:     1-800-545-7677
URL education.com