Fireworks CS4 review

Speed bumps in Fireworks CS4 include fast import of images and enhanced handling of multiple documents. If you open a number of files at one time, they are presented in a series of docked tabs. These tabs can be torn off to create floating document windows, or moved to the lower edge of the screen, or towards the side to create vertical and horizontal file groups respectively. The asynchronous save feature is also welcome for increased productivity – you can save a document in one tab and switch to work on another document window as the original is still saving.

The interface has had a makeover. Again we have the Adobe Workspace Switcher, this time only offering three preset layouts (though you can add your own). Expanded Mode is the default arrangement, in which the panels are located on the right, grouped in tab sets. You can also view the workspace with collapsed icons with panel names or just icons. Panels in any of the modes can be dragged onto each other and easily reordered. You can also activate the Application Frame from the Window menu, which is turned off by default. This encompasses the main document screen and all the tabs and panels in a single, integrated interface with a grey background. It can be resized, which is handy when you have a couple of applications open, with panels and documents all being shifted together. It also hides the distraction of a cluttered desktop.

Other elements have been tweaked to improve productivity. All sorts of options can now be set in the new Preferences panel. This includes sections devoted to guides and grids, importing Photoshop files, integrating with Dreamweaver and Flash, or working with plug-ins. Guides can display horizontal and vertical measurements between objects, with dynamic updates displayed when you hold down the Shift key when moving the guides. It also features a heads-up display of co-ordinates when moving guides and objects, to make accurate placement more fluid. To aid precise layout when moving objects, Smart Guides appear whenever one object is aligned with another along the top, sides, or middle.

A pull-down menu at the top of the Styles panel makes it’s easier to find specific styles or share styles across documents. Furthermore, when you edit a style you can activate a Redefine Style function from the Properties panel, which causes the change to ripple through any instance of that style in the document. The same functionality exists for editing Symbols, which can now be nested and edited in place.

The Export to PDF feature takes advantage of the greater interactivity in PDF documents supported by Acrobat and Adobe Reader. You can embed navigation hotspots in the Fireworks document to jump to other pages in the PDF. This gives a better impression of how a website or mobile phone application will behave than a static storyboard. The CS4 integration continues when importing Photoshop PSD files. These can be scaled before import and you can choose to include guides or to convert all layers to frames. Improvements to the text engine in Fireworks let you import PSD files with fully editable text, so you can use ligatures and text properties such as strikethrough in Fireworks for the first time. Once you’ve a finished layout in Fireworks, complete with Slices and hotspots for interactivity, you can choose to export it as a CSS rule embedded in the exported HTML page or as a separate file for the CSS rule.

Adobe AIR applications can be developed and prototyped using Fireworks. You can create interactive documents using a combination of JavaScript, HTML and CSS, as well as content from Dreamweaver and Flash, then add AIR mouse events to the layout from a list of four. Then, by choosing Commands➝Create AIR Package, you can set dimensions and appearance settings before previewing how the AIR application interface would appear. However, this isn’t a complete coding tool – the AIR functionality will have to be created in Flash or FlexBuilder.

OUR VERDICT

Fireworks shares many features with Photoshop and Illustrator, which have both been enhanced in CS4 to provide more for web designers. However, it fulfils the role of prototyping tool very well, so would be worth investing in as a standalone product for this purpose if you didn’t want to upgrade to the whole CS4 suite.

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