Macromedia has announced MX upgrades across the gamut of its applications, offering details of ColdFusion MX, Dreamweaver MX, Fireworks MX and Macromedia Studio MX. These follow the March announcement of Macromedia Flash MX and the Flask MX Player.

Macromedia defines its MX family as a complete suite of tool, server, and client technologies for building Rich Internet applications for multiple operating systems, platforms, and devices. The company says that the MX family “extends existing infrastructure and standards to offer a more effective user-experience at a lower cost.”

The MX range is predicated on the success of Macromedia’s Flash Player, which is already installed on 98 per cent of Internet-enabled computers, the company claims. Macromedia also offers development and server tools built to leverage Flash technologies.

The company explains that its Flash Player software is the “most widely distributed software in the history of the Internet.” With an eye to the trend toward publishing for multiple media and platforms, Macromedia has been working with other companies to introduce Flash support in wireless handhelds, interactive TV solutions, and gaming consoles.

This iteration of Macromedia’s products offers support for open standards, and works with Java (J2EE 1.3) and Microsoft’s .NET technology. Dreamweaver MX and ColdFusion MX support HTML, XHTML, and XML. Web services such as ASP, ASP.NET, JSP and PHP are also supported – as is CSS2.

Over time, Macromedia has created a valuable online information resource for its users. The extensible nature of its products means the company offers additional templates, components, and extensions for download from its site. Third-party add-ons are supported, and the company offers a fully documented set of APIs – so it’s possible to customize and enhance all the products in its range.

Dreamweaver MX Macromedia has combined two other products – UltraDev and HomeSite – into Dreamweaver MX to “provide a complete solution for the Web sites of today and the Internet applications of tomorrow,” the company says.

Macromedia’s director of Dreamweaver product management, Susan Morrow, said: “We believe developers should be able to work with the metaphors they already know, so we have evolved the application to support new standards through a familiar UI.”

Consistent user-interface elements include colour-management, drawing, and coding metaphors. The Property Inspector and panel-management features are also identical in Fireworks MX, Dreamweaver MX, and Flash MX – this simplifies movement between applications. Flash authoring code (ActionScript) is supported, and is editable from within Dreamweaver MX.

The company notes that Dreamweaver MX offers access to new and emerging dynamic standards through the familiar Dreamweaver application. NPD Intellect reports that 80 per cent of professional Web developers already use Dreamweaver.

The workspace is dockable, so it can be tailored for specific tasks or individual requirements. For example, developers can apply tabbed windows; customizable toolbars and panel-groups; toolbars for inserting common objects and file-operations; and integrated file-browsing, to their workspace. The application also offers an integrated FTP client for uploading and revising Web sites.

Dreamweaver MX ships with pre-built layouts and code, including site structures, forms, and JavaScript functions for client-side interactivity. It also offers code-hints, tag-editors, and code-validation features. Features for novice developers include site-wizards, code samples, and reference materials.

Accessibility in computing is becoming vital to software success. Macromedia has developed a host of new features to promote accessibility in Dreamweaver – not only in terms of building accessible sites, but also by revising the program itself. Each function has a keyboard shortcut, and there’s an active authoring mode. Dreamweaver also offers an accessibility compliance checker and support for large fonts.

The application integrates with assistive technologies, such as screen-reading software. Macromedia Flash 6 supports GWMicro’s Window-Eyes screen reader software, which uses MSAA (Microsoft Active Accessibility standard). Support for other screen-readers will follow.

Leveraging its application of ColdFusion technologies, Dreamweaver MX has become the primary development environment for working with ColdFusion MX. It provides tools for application development, visual prototyping, integrated debugging, and support for ColdFusion MX’s language elements and features.

ColdFusion code generated by Dreamweaver MX has been revised to become more tag-centric. In practice, this means the resultant code has become “nearly indistinguishable” from code a developer would write by hand, Macromedia claims.

Dreamweaver MX costs £299. Upgrading from a previous version costs £149.

Fireworks MX The Fireworks MX solution creates optimized Web graphics. Uses range from preparing images for the Web to creating graphical Web site interface buttons, pop-up menus, and rollover effects.

Macromedia points to Fireworks MX’s close integration with Dreamweaver and Flash (with which it shares workspaces), and its focus on the Web, saying: “Fireworks has all the bitmap-editing capabilities of traditional print-graphics tools in a less expensive environment, optimized for the Web. Now there’s no reason to ever need to switch between graphics environments.”

Features include bitmap and vector-editing, precise text control, automation, broad support for file-formats, and support for emerging standards – including XHTML. The application offers wizards to automatically generate graphics and JavaScript code. The resultant files can be edited in Dreamweaver MX. Fireworks can also link dynamically to XML content: a designer can automate repetitive tasks by connecting a graphics file with variables to an XML file. Fireworks’ extensible automation-features mean that designers can automate certain tasks, improving efficiency, and speeding up workflow.

The application can export to other Web-authoring solutions, including Dreamweaver and Director, with a single click. As with Dreamweaver MX, accessibility features have been improved. This product costs £219, or £109 when upgrading from a previous version.

ColdFusion MX A popular Web-development solution, ColdFusion MX has been rebuilt using new Java technology architecture. This supports ColdFusion’s deployment on Java application servers. Macintosh-based Internet developers should welcome one major improvement in ColdFusion: though ColdFusion MX won’t work on Mac OS X Server, Mac-based developers can now work on ColdFusion code held on a non-Mac server.

ColdFusion MX is an entire product family, consisting of ColdFusion MX Server Professional Edition for smaller groups, with ColdFusion MX Server Enterprise Edition available for large-scale deployments. Also available is ColdFusion MX for J2EE application servers. Editions are available for Macromedia JRun, IBM WebSphere, iPlanet Application Server, and BEA WebLogic Server. Database support has also been extended and improved. XML and Flash MX support are native.

Other features include a built-in Verity search-engine for full-text searches of Web sites built using ColdFusion MX. The environment offers an embedded charting and graphing engine, as well as integrated security features. The solution ships with re-usable libraries of ColdFusion and JSP tags, with more available for download at Macromedia’s Developer Exchange.

ColdFusion’s support for Flash MX has been extended – it supports server-side ActionScript, a fast protocol for passing data from ColdFusion to Flash clients; and internal debugging in the Flash MX authoring environment.

ColdFusion MX Enterprise Editon costs £5,159 (with a two-year upgrade subscription) or £3,689 (without). The Professional Edition costs £829 with subscription, or £589 without. Special upgrade pricing is also available.

Macromedia Studio MX Macromedia is offering all its Web applications in one bundle – Macromedia Studio MX. This contains Flash MX, Dreamweaver MX, Fireworks MX, FreeHand 10, a developer edition of ColdFusion MX Server, and Macromedia Flash Player 6.

The company is stressing the common workspace and interface-elements held between its applications. It claims that 2.7 million developers and designers already use the products contained in this bundle, with Dreamweaver commanding in excess of 80 per cent market share among professional Web authoring tools.

The ColdFusion MX Server Developer Edition contained inside Studio MX is a free version of ColdFusion MX Server. It supports all the features of ColdFusion MX Server Enterprise Edition but is limited to access by a single IP address. To deploy an application built using the Developer Edition, a customer must purchase and install a commercial licence of ColdFusion MX.

As a suite, Studio MX offers an integrated toolset for tying back-end logic with Flash user-interfaces. This simplifies the process of moving content to ColdFusion applications.

The collection starts at £589 for a single-user licence. The upgrade pricing-structure is a little more complex. Registered users of any single version of Dreamweaver or Fireworks, Flash versions 2-5, or any version of FreeHand from 7, can upgrade for £439. Upgrading from two or more versions of the above applications costs £299, while upgrading from most previous versions of Macromedia Studio also costs £299.

Workflow solution Macromedia is also stressing the complementary nature of its products when used as a Web-publishing solution. For example, a developer can build a site-map in vector graphics application FreeHand 10. Once correct, the map can be exported as HTML to be edited in Dreamweaver. Wen ColdFusion servers are set up, sites can be defined through Dreamweaver MX’s Site Definition window. Webmasters can use this to set local and remote storage-locations for site-documents. Webmasters and administrators can use Dreamweaver MX to set-up a version-control system for their server-stored site assets, ensuring no two people in a workgroup work on the same file simultaneously. Clicking on any graphic in Dreamweaver instantly launches Fireworks for editing.

As a vector graphics application, FreeHand 10 also sits at the start of the process of building Flash animations. FreeHand-generated illustrations can be imported into Flash for transformation into animations, and buttons, images, and rollovers can be developed and edited from within Fireworks MX. Further information on all these products is available from Macromedia. All prices exclude VAT. Dreamweaver and Fireworks MX are set to ship at the end of May.