Macromedia have just announced the, pretty much, annual update to their S-S-Studio line of products. The MX has been dropped after just two outings, and we’re back to plain old Macromedia *InsertProduct* 8.
There’s Dreamweaver 8, Flash Professional 8 (no non-professional?), and Fireworks 8 (the last one perhaps?). Also in the Studio lineup are Contribute 3 and Flash Paper 2.
The Macromedia site is full of a horrid, cheesy, persona-cum-dating marketing exercise:
Fortunately the actual products are looking a little bit more polished than the clichéd marketing bollocks.
There’s little doubt that Macromedia and now, more importantly, Adobe see Flash and Dreamweaver as their most important products.
There is also little doubt that out of the whole Studio, Fireworks is the one that I now use most – and I don’t think I’m alone.
So it’s nice to see that Macromedia seem to have added a healthy number of extra functions, and also addressed some of the quirky, niggly work flow problems:
First there are no less then 25 extra blend modes [above]. Always nice to have, I suppose, but that list looks a bit long for my liking.
They’ve added extra shadow options. So in addition to the old drop shadow we can now, finally, add proper long, and solid extrude-like shadows.
Another missing feature from Fireworks was attaching text to a path, but that too makes an overdue appearance in version 8.
Away from the added features, some of the best changes are to the necessary, everyday functionality. For instance, in every previous version of Fireworks, to export work in jpg, gif, etc you had to go through at least 3 different dialogue boxes! Now we will be able to just go to ‘save as’ like every other application in the world.
Other additions and tweaks are:
- They’ve finally added a grid that doesn’t make your work look like it’s trapped in a chicken hut.
- They’ve added new control panels for image editing and special text characters
- There’s also an improved panel for the auto-shapes
- There’s a CSS navigation pop-up generator (hmmm)
- Better Flash integration
- Blah blah blah
In all the blurb I’ve read so far for the new Studio the marketeers are going through great pains to mention ‘mobile’ at every point.
For instance in all of the Fireworks shows and text you are helpfully told that you can now use Fireworks to design interfaces for mobiles. There doesn’t seem to be any specific functions or tools for this, but apparently it’s a great new feature…
There’s nothing truly groundbreaking in there, but there is certainly a lot to experiment with when it arrives.
“Dreamweaver is the standard package for all web professionals” we are told. I admit to using Dreamweaver MX2004, but in a way that makes it the most expensive text editor on the market.
I have used its template functions, which are very useful for some projects, but overall I just like the code hints, formatting and ‘find and replace’. The WYSIWG rendering is awful, whereas the CSS integration is commendable, but ultimately a bit naff.
So what has Dreamweaver 8 got in store?
Well you can now zoom in on and measure your design to the pixel in the WYSIWG display. This could be good, but only if the rendering improves as much as they say, and drag and drop becomes usable.
In code view you will be able to group fragments together in tree structure, which can be expanded and collapsed to make sense of code spaghetti. A nice idea in theory, but I could see it being confusing.
There’s a new tool bar added in the left gutter of Code View. This lets you add comments and things which could be handy.
They’re making a big thing of their continued integration of CSS with a new ‘CSS Visualisation’ options. This works a bit like the FireFox developer toolbar, and it shades in block elements, and displays their names etc etc.
They have completely remodeled the CSS panel, and it looks to be a big improvement. When you select an element it automatically displays the parent selectors and the hierarchy. I don’t think this will displace TopStyle for me, but I can see it having a place somewhere.
There is now integration of accessibility checks directly into the application, with support for WCAG levels 1 and 2.
They’ve added XML and XLST support, which includes drag and drop of XML components – though how it works isn’t really clear. They make a distinct mention of RSS but I can’t quite work out the details.
In design view they have added a CSS tab that lets you select the media type of the document. So you can preview the print, mobile (surprise!) and other device views without having to open external apps.
Again there’s nothing that will change the way we work, but if they have tightened up the CSS rendering it could make things a bit easier. There are certainly enough interesting additions to warrant a closer look.
Flash Professional 8
There doesn’t seem to be much of a mention for a non-Pro version, so I’m assuming this is all we get now.
I’ve done a bit of work with Flash in the past, and despite it’s detractors I think that, when used appropriately, it is a valuable tool that adds a lot of potential to the web.
I also use Flash for most of the projects I work on, to produce a lot of original graphics and illustrations. I love the ease of which you can draw smooth lines and complex shapes effortlessly. I’ve never got my head around FreeHand or Illustrator, Flash just seems to work the way I want, and I can’t understand why the other apps seem to make everything so complicated.
Anyway I’m glad to see that Flash seems to have had the attention moved towards its artistic side. The last couple of versions have seen more of a focus on the timeline and ActionScript, so some of the prettier elements are showing their age.
For the first time we are going to see a lot of Fireworks like functionality added to Flash. This includes drop shadow, blur, glow, etc being added to, and rendered, by Flash. There’s also a new addition of blend modes too. All of which apparently have little impact on file sizes, despite essentially being traditional bitmap techniques.
There is also the introduction of an object based drawing mode. From what I can gather this is makes all shapes independent of each other, like Fireworks and other illustration apps. You can do that in Flash now, but you end up with about 100 layers, so it should make things even more straight forward and easy to draw with.
There is a whole new font rendering engine, which means that small fonts are now outputted much more smoothly. This should mean an end to pixel fonts being a necessity.
Video content is set to get even easier, with videos being added with just a few clicks. Also there are now drag and drop video player components that work without any fuss to create the video UI.
Then of course there is mobile!
In Flash, however, there is actual content to back their mobile claims up. There is an extensive emulation mode that lets developers test their files on various different popular devices from the likes of Nokia.
Overall, as sual, it’s a case of steady evolution.
At £299 for the upgrade (shipping in September) it seems pretty much worth while, having said that it won’t exactly hold you back if you don’t want to whip out the wallet.
The functionality that’s been added to the apps seems to be fairly useful, and a lot of it has definitely come as a direct response to user feedback.
Seeing as this is the last fully Macromedia Studio, it could well be the end – or beginning – of this evolutionary scale.
They are definitely appear to be lining a really agressive push for the mobile web, and it could be where a lot of focus is headed in the future of the product suite.
If you’ve been bothered reading this far let me know what you think of what’s happening with this and Studio 8, it’d be interesting to know!