I have—we all have—been trying to decide for a long time whether or not the acquisition of Macromedia by Adobe Systems is a good thing. Do I really want one company to control the features and price of this many of my favorite tools?

After Effects CS3—due out any day now—seems to address these concerns by actually improving the integration between the previously disparate software applications. Creative Suite 3 in general has made integration its goal—the workflow has been streamlined between all the elements of the Suite—and the new version of Adobe Bridge is even more massively powerful than the CS2 version.

But After Effects CS 3 in particular is dramatically improved in this regard. The barriers between it and Flash are now so transparent that one wonders how many versions Adobe is away from just making them one package. After Flash or Flash Effects is the only question.

After Effects can now import SWF files as vectors with alpha channels and batch export FLV files with embedded cue points. With the addition of a Shape Tool, this makes After Effects almost as powerful and versatile at producing vector-based animation as Flash. Which one to use now might be most dependent on the user’s facility with the software.

After Effects CS3 boasts a host of other new and wonderful features (a puppet tools for figure animation, per-character 3D text animations, color management integrated directly into the workflow), but it’s the way it works with everything else that makes After Effects so powerful. With video layers in Photoshop and unlimited batch processing in Illustrator (through Bridge), how long until we can just buy one application to manage all tasks?