Fireworks 4

Macromedia’s Fireworks has developed from a product aimed to speed up day-to-day creation and management of Web graphics and animations, to a much-more sophisticated tool that is integrated with all of Macromedia’s other Web products. Fireworks now has advanced animation tools and scripting techniques for creating complicated Image Maps, Rollovers and Pop-up menus. User feedback figures highly in Macromedia’s motivation to improve its software tools, and so Fireworks 4 now includes many of the suggestions offered by long-time users.

Fireworks started off as the designer’s alternative to the long and complicated process of optimizing graphics for the Web using tools designed for producing graphics for print.

One of Fireworks’ main strengths was that all of the elements in a design remained completely editable at every point of the production process, something that no other graphics program did at the time. This was a major advantage to Web designers because of the speed at which changes need to be made to a Web banner, or a whole site.

The multitude of new features in Fireworks 4 now includes a complete set of bitmap and vector tools, advanced interactivity, the Macromedia User Interface, additional industry-standard support for importing and exporting files (including FreeHand 9 import support), and a Fireworks import Xtra for Director. Fireworks file import now, at last, includes support for the EPS format. You can also import or export PSD files types with layer masks, and additional effects retained in the file. The new improvements include additional bézier-pen enhancements that you can use to manipulate paint strokes, for instance.

In the past, Web-graphic creation involved using two or even more different applications to allow designers the freedom they needed to produce fantastic-looking designs – whetherit was Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, FreeHand or a shareware optimization package. Now, most designers’ requirements are met with Fireworks 4, although it is not yet absolutely foolproof. In addition, it provides streamlined workflow for page designers and easier updating of graphics.

The revamped user interface includes the same additions as Dreamweaver (see page 48-49); for example, customizable keyboard shortcuts, and the Launcher Bar that includes one-click access to show and hide panels.

Java juice

JavaScript-based Pop-up menus are widely used for improving navigation around a site – especially if there are many sub-sections within the main site navigation that can change frequently.

In the past, this sort of element has required some knowledge of JavaScript and too-much time spent fiddling about with graphics and slices. Now Macromedia has provided a special pop-up menu creator feature that takes you through each step quickly and simply. While this means you don’t get the range of choices you’d get by coding by hand, you do save yourself an awful lot of time. So, although it’s not ideal for all demands, it will assist anyone new to Web design – especially if they’re using Dreamweaver. Drag-&-drop rollovers have also been made easier to create in Fireworks. Simply drag the target item from the source slice to the area where you want the rollover to occur – that’s it.

Live animation
Creating snazzy animations is much easier to do in Fireworks 4, because Macromedia has improved control of on-screen manipulation tools. The properties for an animation can be entered in the new Animation Wizard or altered on the canvas itself. Rollovers and behaviours created in Fireworks can be imported easily into Dreamweaver without losing any of the elements in the animation. Another new feature is selective JPEG compression. This allows you to compress the most important sections of your image at different settings to parts where the quality is not so important, such as the landscape background to a photographed portrait. This allows the foreground to be viewed in crisp and sharp quality while the less important background uses a minimum of that all-important file size.

Fireworks’ integration with Macromedia Flash (Macworld, October 2000) is tighter too – letting you add bitmap graphics to vector-based Flash sites by editing the library item from Flash directly in Fireworks.

One particular improvement is the ability to manipulate text on the canvas at the same time as having the text-editor window open.
This was a specific annoyance to users in previous version of Fireworks, as it was frustrating not being able to view the results of the text manipulation as you changed settings. Thankfully, making adjustments to text properties is easier and faster in version 4.

Round and round
Roundtrip table editing is another new feature in version 4 of Fireworks. As in Dreamweaver’s RoundTrip HTML – where changes made in the layout mode are exactly replicated in HTML, with no unwanted re-writing by the application of a programmers coding – the table or JavaScript edits made in Fireworks are automatically mirrored in Dreamweaver.

Time savers
In order to speed up repetitive and boring jobs, Fireworks has the ability to process many files quickly using its Batch Process feature.

Version 4 of Fireworks now has a complete Batch process environment making sorting and setting up the files to be altered much quicker and easier for novices and professionals alike.

You can alter the scale, dimensions, and export settings for multiple files, and also run built-in JavaScript commands on files. For example: Convert to Sepia; Create Picture Frame; Distribute to Layers; and adding ALT text to empty tags.

The only moan is that Macromedia could have made the windows within the Batch Process options window expandable – so that you can view all of your files at once, rather than having to scroll.

OUR VERDICT

Fireworks 4 has tons of new, well-thought-out features. Any designer worth his salt will upgrade from earlier versions as soon as possible – if only to take advantage of the streamlined workflow enabled by the Common User Interface in all of Macromedia’s products. Although Adobe Photoshop 6.0 now includes a ‘Save for Web’ feature – basically ImageReady integrated into Photoshop – the additional animation and scripting features in Fireworks 4, as well as the competitive price for a Web-dedicated graphics application, keep the new version on top.

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