Adobe LiveMotion 2.0 was a pretty good program that exported to .swf It was discontinued last year by Adobe due to lackluster sales. Macromedia owns the technology so any competitor will always be one step behind.
Ask them for a student license (if you still a student) or just start puttin some money on the side... I did that too in order to buy Flash 5 and it was worth it. Now I only pay for the upgrades.
There are ways to get Flash for free...I won't endorse these methods but it is something to think about. I agree though that there is nothing better than Flash, Adobe tried and failed to compete. It simply comes down to the fact that Macromedia owns the technology and no one will ever compete with them in this market.
With SwishMAX you may get nice intro's and such, but it's known to be buggy and limited.
I was not aware that SwishMax is buggy. As price would have been a great replacement.
...or just start puttin some money on the side...
Related to this "puttin some money on the side" does anyone know of any way to buy an older version of Flash (say Flash MX instead MX 2004). More exactly: is there any seller specialized in selling older version software (not antique...just a little bit outdated).
For animation purposes, Flash hasn't really improved since version 5. I'd go on ebay and see if you can find someone selling Flash 5.
Since that version, Macromedia improved it's scripting as well as the environment and extendability. By the sound of it, it doesn't sound like you will be doing a whole lot more than animating and making simple websites if that. SwishMax is indeed a Flash competetor but is no where near Flash if used to its full potential. If you are just animating, I wouldn't worry about SwishMax. Everyone I know who uses it loves it so I've heard no bug reports.