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May
2004

Macromedia Studio MX 2004

If you are building web sites and are not a code junkie than you probably want to use a program that will allow you to build the pages in a graphical manner. By this I mean working as you would in a page layout program like Adobe InDesign or QuarkXpress. Macromedia Dreamweaver is by far the choice of professionals in this field. This month I’m taking a look at Macromedia’s Studio MX 2004, which includes not only the aforementioned Dreamweaver, but Fireworks, Flash and Freehand as well. 

First an overview. Dreamweaver is a program for graphically assembling web pages. Fireworks is an image-editing program similar to Adobe Photoshop and ImageReady. Flash is a vector animation program that can be used for web and video animations as well as complete web pages, dynamic applications and games. Freehand is a vector illustration program that can do double duty as a page layout application. Studio MX 2004 features a tighter integration between the component applications than in the previous version. 

Studio MX 2004 is a complete web-authoring package. Everything you need is right here. You can layout a site map in Freehand and export the drawings to web pages for client approval. You can then design the site in either Freehand or Fireworks. Freehand exports easily to Flash so you do not have to recreate assets for animations or web pages. Fireworks allows you to slice up your design and transfer all or select parts of it to Dreamweaver
Fig. 1
Dreamweaver is the star of this suite (Fig 1). The app features Macromedia’s Roundtrip HTML technology. This means that you can bounce back and forth between code and design view while maintaining high-quality code. Dreamweaver gives you everything you need to work on a site by yourself or collaboratively. Users can check in or out of a site to avoid the mistake of overwriting files that have already been updated. Dreamweaver is compatible with major application server technologies for building dynamic sites. Macromedia includes their own ColdFusion MX 6.1 Developer Edition, but it will also work with ASP, ASP.NET, JSP and PHP

Dreamweaver MX 2004 adds enhanced support for Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). CSS properties are easier to edit (Fig. 2) and you can see visual representations of styles in the Style pop-up in the Properties panel. You can now copy and paste from Microsoft Word and Excel while preserving fonts, colors and CSS styles. Dreamweaver also now automatically checks for cross-browser compatibility issues. You can specify which browsers you want to support and Dreamweaver will check the tags and CSS for you.

Fig. 2

Several image-editing features that you would previously need to use in Fireworks or Photoshop for are now integrated into Dreamweaver’s Image Editing toolbar (Fig. 3). Cropping, resizing, sharpening and brightness/contrast adjustments are easier than ever. If that is not enough, you can edit an image directly in Fireworks and then simply click the Done button to save and return to Dreamweaver. Editing a Flash object works the same way, and like in the previous version, you can create Flash text and buttons directly in Dreamweaver without even having to know a thing about Flash

Fig. 3

Fireworks MX 2004 adds several new features, the best of which is a generous speed increase. Fireworks MX was wickedly slow, especially with larger images, but this new version feels much peppier with Macromedia claiming it is as much as 85% faster. The Check-In/Check-Out features of Dreamweaver have been migrated to Fireworks further leveraging the workgroup potential of the package. Text anti-aliasing has also been improved.

With any new version of a graphics program you want to try out the cool new effects and Fireworks delivers on this front. Take a look at the new Contour Gradients, Replace Color and Red Eye Removal tools. New Live Effects include Linear, Radial and Zoom Blurs. These are not just filters like in Photoshop; a Live Effect can be turned off or on and is non-destructive to the image. The new Smart Shapes (Fig. 4) are a great time-saver; the bent arrow’s curve can be modified, the circle can be easily divided into pie sections.

Fig. 4

Flash now comes in two flavors: Flash MX 2004 and Flash MX Professional 2004. Flash is a very powerful application. On the surface it is simply an animation program, and a very good one at that, being able to control video and audio clips. But Flash also features database connectivity and the powerful ActionScript programming language. The Flash browser plug-in has been widely adopted with over 515 million installed clients and is now installed automatically with most browsers.

Flash’s core vector animation is very well suited to the web. Complex animations can be created while maintaining a very small file size. Vector animations are also scaleable so the can look good on any size screen. This new version even allows you to share a CSS style sheet with Dreamweaver for a consistent look throughout your site.

The Professional version gives developers more control over interactive applications. Forms are easier to build and implement, connecting to data sources for dynamic content can be accomplished with minimal scripting and advanced prebuilt components can be data bound making it easier to display that data in your final project.

While it is the oldest of the Macromedia’s applications, Freehand is the red-headed stepchild of the package. Freehand MX (not MX 2004) is a great illustration program, but it has limited interoperability with the other apps. There is no great inherent benefit to using Freehand (over, say, Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw!) to build or design objects for your site. That said however, it is a robust tool. I have been using Freehand since version 3.1 (Freehand MX is version 11) and I recommend it highly.

Macromedia Studio MX 2004 lists for $899 with upgrades starting at $399. Studio MX 2004 with Flash Professional will run you an extra c-note. You will need to have Windows 98 SE, 2000 or XP or Mac OS X 10.2.6 or higher, at minimum a 600 Mhz Pentium III or 500 Mhz PowerPC G3 processor, 256 MB RAM (512 MB is recommended) and 800 MB of free drive space. Macromedia Studio MX 2004 is a fantastic integrated web development suite and is highly recommended for anyone wanting to make a professional presence on the Web.

Paul Vaughn is a freelance graphic artist, writer and web designer. If you would like to see the Graphics Guy address a specific topic email Paul Vaughn at paulv@mac.com.

 

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