Macromedia will announce Studio 8, the newest version of the company's suite of applications for content authouring today.

Studio 8 now includes Dreamweaver 8; Flash Professional 8 (including a new Flash 8 Video Encoder); Fireworks 8; Contribute 3; and FlashPaper 2. It no longer includes FreeHand.

The announcement of Studio 8 comes four months after Adobe released Creative Suite 2. Adobe plans to purchase Macromedia for $3.4 billion.

"This comes at a time when both companies are healthy, profitable and growing, so it's a good time for both companies to be doing this," Jim Guerard, vice president of product management and marketing, told MacCentral.

"The other interesting thing is that we will have the world's leading tools for deploying content under one roof. That's going to allow us to do some interesting things for our customers."

On the non-inclusion of FreeHand, he said: "FreeHand continues to be an important and successful product for the company and we will continue to sell, support and maintain it as a standalone product."

Two years in the making, Guerard calls Studio 8 "the biggest software release in the history of Macromedia." He also said the this is the most customer driven release the company has ever done as product teams strive to understand customer needs like never before.

"Each of the product teams went around the world to meet with 40 key customers, onsite, for really immersive sessions," said Guerard. "This wasn't just to talk about what they would like to see new in the tools, but to understand their pain-points, their workflow and their usability issues, so we could address those in the process."

Dreamweaver builds on visual CSS, ease of use

Since debuting in 1997, Dreamweaver has been the tool of choice for many Web designers who liked the option of hand coding, while having a visual representation of their work. Dreamweaver 8 continues to build on many of the visual aspects of previous releases, while improving workflow and integration.

"This builds on what Dreamweaver has always been good at, which is making complicated technologies approachable to even the most basic users, while giving advanced users room to grow," said Jen Taylor, product manager for Dreamweaver.

One of the areas Macromedia focused on with Dreamweaver 8 is improving visual CSS. With a new, unified CSS panel, Dreamweaver provides a one-stop shop for working with CSS styles applied to pages. The new interface makes it easier to see the styles applied to a specific element and identify where attributes are defined, according to the company.

Dreamweaver also includes CSS layout visualization, which allows you to apply visual aides at design time to outline CSS layout borders or color CSS layouts. A style rendering toolbar gives users the ability to toggle to design view and see how a layout will look in print, on a handheld or on a screen.

Macromedia has also worked on integrating features of its other products in a more efficient way into the workflow of Dreamweaver. For example, Dreamweaver 8 can easily integrate Flash Video into a website.

"We wanted to make sure that within Dreamweaver people had a workflow that enabled them to simply encode and load their video on the page," said Taylor. "It could not be simpler; you just browse to your Flash video file, pick a skin and you're done. You can have video up and running on your website in less than five clicks of a mouse."

With the popularity of blogs these days, Macromedia talked to several of the blogging software makers with the intent to add support for them in Dreamweaver 8. Unfortunately, that functionality will not be built-in to this release, but may make an appearance through extensions.

"It's something we spent a lot of time talking about and we actually talked with a lot of them because we wanted to add support for them in Dreamweaver," said Taylor. "We realized that they are at a point in their life cycle where they are still changing and evolving. What we are doing is working with the extension development community to add support for those blogs."

Flash improves Mac user experience

Flash 8 Professional comes with many new features including higher-quality video and improved text tools, but Macromedia also focused much of their time on improving the experience for Mac users.

Document tabs are now included in both Flash 8 Professional and Dreamweaver, a feature that was available for Windows in the last version of the suite. Macromedia also moved to Mach-O for both Dreamweaver and Flash, bringing it closer to native Mac OS X APIs.
Flash Player 8 will now use Apple supported Open-GL to render graphics, a move the Macromedia says brings performance very close to its Windows counterpart.

"We've done a significant amount of work in the authouring tools specifically for Mac users in this release," said Flash Product Manager, Mike Downey. "We lagged a little behind on the Mac versions, so we not only wanted to catch up, but to do more targeted improvements in performance and usability."

Flash 8 Professional now includes Filters, which allow designs to be made with built-in filter effects like drop shadow, blur, glow, bevel, gradient bevel and color adjust. Adding the filters does not increase the file size of the Flash file because Flash Player 8 renders the filters in real-time.

Flash 8 Pro also includes a new font rendering engine called FlashType. Macromedia says that FlashType provides clear, high-quality font rendering, making small fonts look clearer, greatly improving readability.

Flash also features a new video codec, called On2 VP6, which Downey said provides high video quality, but at a small file size.

While previous versions of Flash focused heavily on the developer, Macromedia took a different approach with Flash 8 professional. With this release the company paid more attention to designers and giving newer users easier access to advanced tools.

"A focus we've had in Flash for this release was that for every powerful new feature we add, we wanted to make it useful and approachable for every Flash user, not just hand coders," said Downey.

Fireworks extends filters, import formats

While Macromedia's image editing application, Fireworks, didn't receive as much attention as Flash or Dreamweaver in this round of updates, there are a few noteworthy additions.

Dreamweaver users will appreciate the ability to create CSS pop-up menus in Fireworks and export the graphics and CSS code, ready to be imported into a Dreamweaver document.

Fireworks also added an image-editing panel, which brings the most commonly used image editing tools, filters and menu commands in a central location. Twenty-six new blend modes including Overlay, Color Burn and Hard Light are also included in Fireworks.

Contribute 3 and FlashPaper included in Studio 8

Macromedia has included Contribute 3 and FlashPaper 2 in this release. Contribute is an easy to use visual Web publishing tool whil FlashPaper lets users create Flash or PDF-based files out of any printable document, useful for embedding on webpages.

Pricing and availability

Macromedia Studio 8 is expected to ship in September. Localized versions in German, French, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese will be available shortly thereafter. Studio 8 costs £699, or £299 for an upgrade.

Individual product pricing: Flash Professional 8: £499 (£249 upgrade); Dreamweaver 8: £339 (£169 upgrade); Fireworks 8: £249 (129 upgrade); Contribute 3: £99; FlashPaper 2 £49; and Flash Basic 8: £299. All prices exclude VAT.