Macromedia has updated its MX products, including Studio MX, Dreamweaver, Flash, Flash Professional and Fireworks. FreeHand has not been upgraded as that product is on a different release cycle.
The revised products comprise Macromedia's MX 2004 series and focus on making projects faster to complete with workflow, technology and integration improvements.
Dreamweaver MX 2004 introduces a host of workflow enhancements include a new Check-in/Check-Out feature which shows when files are being worked on by other users. Creative design-focused webmasters benefit from simple, but essential, improvements including better table editing tools, a customizable user interface, so developers can access the tools they use and lose the ones they don't, and a variety of built-in features from Fireworks.
The process of editing Flash objects imported into a design has been improved, and support for copy-&-paste of data directly from Office and Excel documents while preserving fonts, colours and CSS styles is also built-in. This version gets Unicode support, so users can design Chinese-language Web sites on a UK Mac, for example. For technical Web designers, Dreamweaver MX 2004 supports a variety of server technologies, from PHP to ASP.Net, and offers much-improved CSS tools, including pre-built CSS templates.
Macromedia is applying CSS technology as a route to building intricate sites in Dreamweaver, including site-wide and specific site style tools. The application can check CSS code as it is produced, ensuring cross-browser compatibility. As it ships, Dreamweaver checks for compatibility with iterations of Internet Explorer and Netscape, but the company expects third parties to release plug-ins to extend this to check CSS against other browsers. Secure FTP is built-in.
The software requires Mac OS X 10.2.6, a minimum 500MHz G3 Mac and ships in September. It costs £339 for the full version or £169 for an upgrade.
Flash MX 2004
Macromedia has upgraded Flash with Flash Player 7, and a new authoring environment – Flash MX 2004. The company has also introduced Flash MX Professional 2004.
Flash Player 7 now performs almost as fast on a Mac as it does on a PC, Macromedia said. An improved compiler in Flash together with improvements in the Player mean performance has been improved up to ten times in common applications, said Macromedia. End users of Flash applications will see faster graphics, video playback, component initialization and XML parsing, as well as better memory handling.
The authoring environments benefit from new templates and pre-built components, and the capacity to import digital video, EPS and PDF files straight into Flash. Timeline Effects make it easier to add elements to animations. The feature simplifies the task of coding Flash, which uses ActionScript. Transition, Transform, Copy to Grid, Blur and Drop Shadow are among the Effects provided. The Transform Timeline Effect animates an objects position, scale, opacity and tint with a few clicks. ActionScript 2.0 is a more robust programming language than before, the company said.
With development speed critical in today's Web business, Macromedia has built a host of templates for common applications such as building presentations, slide shows, video presentations and interactive learning applications. The inclusion of a selection of pre-built components – buttons, boxes, menus and scroll bars – should also help speed development.
One fun – but useful – feature, the Polystar tool exists to draw multisided polygons and polystar shapes on the fly.
Flash and video
Macromedia has made it easier to import and edit video clips, with a selection of tools for compression, scaling, cropping. The company isn't trying to take on QuickTime and Windows Media, but has improved Flash video capability to make it more possible than before to carry video within Flash applications.
Video performance has been improved, because the video no longer needs to be embedded in the Flash code itself, making for faster playback.
Flash also offers an extensibile architecture so third-party developers can build such extensions as tools to create charts, animated text effects. Several such retail tools are expected to ship now Flash MX 2004 is available.
Flash will appear in a host of handheld devices this year, so Macromedia has introduced an Alias Text tool to optimize text for low resolution displays and tiny screens.
Other features include: built-in spell checker, search-&-replace, a deployment kit and Unicode support. Developers can create macros with the new History panel and with custom commands. CSS support has been extended to allow users to create consistent text formatting between Flash and HTML content.
This product costs £419, upgrading from Flash 5 and above costs £169.
Flash MX Professional 2004
Flash MX Professional 2004 introduces features developers can use to build for wireless handhelds and mobile phones.
It offers all the features of Flash MX 2004, adding more tools for device development – such as MIDI ring tone support and device templates – and video. It also offers a forms-based authoring environment, so developers can build applications with consistent styles between pages.
It ships with an extensive library of pre-built components, including data integration and video playback items. These are built using an object orientated development framework that makes it easy to change or build new components. Developers can also link active components to external data sources, including Web services and XML. A feature called Shadowing will track changes to data sets, but minimizes the amount of information that needs to be sent across the Web by only updating that data which has been changed.
Project management is also important. To help this, the company has built a Project Panel into its pro Flash application. This lets users collect all a project's files in one place; the software can also ensure that all a project's elements are kept up to date.
Flash MX Professional 2004 costs £579, upgrade from Flash 5 for £249.
Fireworks MX 2004 is dedicated to creating, optimizing and exporting Web graphics. This version offers much tighter integration with the rest of the MX range, and benefits from new bitmap and vector-based tools, along with complete Unicode support. Application performance is 85 per cent faster, claims Macromedia. Its handling of large images has been improved, so processor-intensive tasks including scaling and text editing are faster.
Macromedia has taken Firework's user interface and made it more responsive. Users can save screen real estate by closing panels, and a tabbed document interface improves navigation.
Like Dreamweaver, Fireworks offers a Check-In/Check-Out function, and has a built-in capability to copy files to/from remote servers from within the application.
Fireworks arsenal of graphics editing tools has been significantly extended. A new Contour Gradients feature, borrowed from FreeHand, can make multicolour gradients that follow the outline paths of a shape. New Auto Shapes tools are extensible, and "offer image manipulation beyond drag-&-drop", the company said. Auto Shapes can adjust curves, repair shapes and even break shapes up into sections for other uses. A dozen such tools ship in the box.
Also new, Live Effects tools exist to create the illusion of motion, with Linear, Radial and Zoom Blur and a series of touch-up and red eye removal tools. The company has introduced text anti-aliasing options, including settings that exploit Quartz. This product requires a 500MHz G3, OS X 10.2.6 and 128MB RAM. It costs £249, upgrade costs £169.
Studio MX 2004
Macromedia's Studio MX 2004 comprises all the previously-detailed products along with FreeHand MX and ColdFusion MX 6.1 Developer Edition. It costs £699, or £309 to upgrade from Studio MX.
In this release, Macromedia has also introduced a product activation system to curb software piracy. Users are asked to enter a serial number from the product packaging. The application calculates a unique ID number based on the serial number and the machine's hardware configuration, including information about the hard disk and processor, which must be sent back to Macromedia to activate the product, tying it to that machine. The company says this has been developed to secure customer privacy and that the process takes just a few minutes online.