Fireworks 2.0

Before Macromedia Fireworks, Adobe ImageReady, and Adobe ImageStyler came along, Web graphics designers had to jump through hoops–usually involving Adobe Photoshop and an array of Photoshop plug-ins and shareware utilities–to prepare images for the Web. With the release of Fireworks 2.0.2, Web graphics tools have come of age. This update fills in some of the original program's gaps and adds an assortment of features nearly every Web designer will find useful. Though the program is still lacking in a few areas, it covers the basics so well that it's hard to remember how we got along without such a tool.

Like its predecessor, Fireworks 2.0 lets you export images as GIFs, JPEGs, or PNGs, the most common image-file formats on the Web. Besides transforming existing images into Web-ready formats, Fireworks offers vector-based drawing tools and pixel-based image-editing tools that let you create and modify images and export them to Web-friendly file formats.

One of Fireworks 1.0's cleverest features was its ability to apply an effect–such as a glow, bevel, or drop shadow–to any object, even editable text blocks. The problem was that you could assign only one such effect to an object. With Fireworks 2.0, you can apply all those effects to an object, and once you've created a set of characteristics you can save it as a preset style in the Style palette. Another improvement is that the program now displays a text item on the canvas as you type and style it in the Text window, so you can see how it will look in your document.

Perhaps because it's a cross between an illustration tool and an image-editing tool, Fireworks still has some interface quirks. Since the program can interpret brushes and selections as either object-based (as in Macromedia FreeHand) or pixel-based (as in Photoshop), it's easy to get confused about which mode you're in at any given time. Fireworks 2.0 offers a couple of solutions to the problem: clicking on a bitmapped-image object with the marquee, lasso, or eraser tool automatically places you in image-editing mode, and in this version you can toggle easily between the two modes. However, if you want to touch up a bitmapped-image object with the paintbrush tool, you have to double-click on the object and then select the brush tool and begin to paint. Otherwise you'll be painting in vector mode, à la FreeHand, with your strokes floating on top of the bitmapped image.

One of Fireworks 1.0's banner features was its Export window, which let you adjust GIF and JPEG settings to get the best balance of file size and image quality. Fireworks 2.0 also allows you to view four sets of image settings at once and compare the results, but this version adds the clever Export To File Size wizard. You select a target file size for your exported image, and Fireworks chooses image settings that reduce your image to the desired size. It's a great time-saver. The new version also offers much greater control over a file's color palette, a feature competitor ImageReady has always offered.

Fireworks 1.0 let you create multiframe images for rollover buttons, but version 2.0 improves the interface for doing so. The program now sports a Behaviors palette straight out of Macromedia's Dreamweaver, and it lets you create some pretty complicated actions–areas that change when you place your mouse over a different part of the image, for example. But if you're just creating simple button rollovers, Fireworks 2.0 can actually be more difficult to use than its predecessor. Previously, all you needed to do was create two versions of an image and choose Export; now you have to choose Simple Rollover from a pop-up window in the Behaviors palette and then use the Hotspot tool to create an area that overlays your image.

However, Fireworks 2.0 does correct one of the earlier version's major shortcomings: you can now section your document into multiple image files, a feature that gives designers much greater freedom and can also speed page loading. Sectioning a document is simple–just place guides at key points on your image and choose the Slice Along Guides option in the Save dialog box. You can also slice your document into bits, using the Hotspot tool to create areas you can export as individual files.

Two other new features make Fireworks more useful for Web animators. An onionskinning box in the Frames palette lets you preview the position of images in other frames of an animation, and a set of VCR-style controls at the bottom of the document window lets you quickly view animations without opening the Export window. Because the program still lacks any sort of tweening capabilities, however, you have to create even simple animations one frame at a time.

If Fireworks 1.0 won the battle of the Web graphics tools by a nose, version 2.0 is out in front by several lengths. If you buy only one Web graphics tool, Fireworks 2.0 is the one to get.

4.0 mice

July 1999 page: 38

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