capsule review

Fireworks MX

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At a Glance
  • Macromedia Fireworks MX

With the latest updates to its line of Web-site and graphics-creation programs, Macromedia has united Fireworks, Dreamweaver, and Flash under the MX label. For Fireworks--which has consistently been the image editor of choice for design pros--the name change has brought with it better integration with other Macromedia tools, an improved interface, and OS X compatibility.

But the latest version of Fireworks, which runs in OS 9 as well, also includes user-friendly improvements to old features, lets you use Flash to create custom commands, and eliminates specified modes for bitmap and vector editing. Add all this to the existing Find and Replace, Symbols, and automation tools for batch processing, and Fireworks MX has enough features to merit a paid upgrade or first look, from anyone who has to produce and maintain the hundreds of graphics found in a typical Web site.

Multiple Apps Cooperate

With MX, Macromedia has unified its Fireworks, Dreamweaver, and Flash interfaces (see our Dreamweaver MX review, elsewhere in this section), making it easier for someone who knows one program to pick up another. (Though existing users may need to get accustomed to the interface changes, they'll start to appreciate them in no time.) For Fireworks MX, the biggest interface change is the combination of the Fill, Stroke, Effect, Info, Options, and Object panels into a single, context-sensitive Property Inspector panel, similar to the one in Dreamweaver. The reduction in clutter is an improvement, but you can't vertically orient the Property Inspector, and it takes up a lot of screen real estate.

All the Aqua interface elements are now incorporated into Fireworks MX as well; however, the program felt a bit sluggish when we styled objects and optimized graphics in OS X, compared with performance in OS 9.

There's also improved integration between Macromedia applications. You could use Fireworks 4 (mmmmh; Reviews, April 2001) to export graphics and HTML code to and from Dreamweaver, but doing so involved clicking through a confusing array of menus and dialog boxes. The new Quick Export menu lets you launch Dreamweaver or other Macromedia apps right from the document window.

Flash in Fireworks' Interface

Fireworks MX gives users the revolutionary ability to create custom Fireworks features with Flash. Among these Flash-generated features are the new Align, Add Arrowheads, Twist And Fade, and Fade Image panels. Earlier versions of Fireworks used JavaScript commands to modify graphics and automate tasks, but these JavaScripts were limited to a primitive interface that didn't allow for on-screen panels. Now Flash SWF movies work within the Fireworks application environment. So instead of creating only simple JavaScript commands, developers can create JavaScript and ActionScript commands that use a Flash SWF panel as an on-screen interface.

Even better, if you go to the Macromedia Exchange Web site for Dreamweaver, at, you can download additional commands--new Fireworks MX features by third-party developers.

Fireworks MX's Data-Driven Graphics Wizard, created by author Joe Lowery, is a good example of just how powerful these commands can be. This Flash/JavaScript wizard uses XML variable data such as database information and different product images to quickly build multiple versions of Web pages and ad banners. Using this capability is similar to running a word-processing mail merge, but with both text and graphics automatically changed in each iteration.

No Worries about the Mode

Macromedia has also made significant improvements to the way Fireworks works with bitmap images and vector objects. Instead of making you switch between bitmap and vector mode and juggle the tools for each, as in previous versions, Fireworks MX automatically switches to the proper mode for the tool you choose, and tools are organized by function. Rather than forcing you to figure out which tools work in which modes, pixel-retouching tools such as the Vector Brush tool always work in the bitmap mode. Path-creation tools, including the Vector brush, automatically switch to the vector mode. Also new are retouching tools for bitmap editing, such as Blur, Sharpen, Dodge, and Burn.

Despite Fireworks' strengths for developing Web graphics, Web designers will still need Adobe Photoshop, for its exclusive imaging and drawing features. For instance, Photoshop 7 contains 22 blend modes; Fireworks MX, 13. In addition, the new Healing brush and filters such as Dust & Scratches are unavailable in Fireworks.

Features Get Better with Age

In Fireworks MX, you'll find refinements to existing features. You can now design pop-up menus laid out either horizontally or vertically, instead of being limited to the latter. And rather than working with a cumbersome Text Editor, you can edit and format text directly on a page, via the options in the Property Inspector panel. And there's even a spelling checker for text.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Fireworks MX's seamless integration with other Macromedia Web-development apps makes it a worthwhile upgrade if you build Web sites and applications with Dreamweaver MX--and especially if you've moved to OS X. If you're a designer who creates large volumes of Web graphics, you'll appreciate Fireworks' automation features. But if you create just a few Web graphics or if you want to generate sophisticated imaging effects, you may want to stay with Photoshop's simpler Web features and imaging tools.

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • New interface and seamless integration with other Macromedia Web-design software
    • Reduced panel clutter
    • Additional JavaScript and ActionScript extensibility commands available from third-party developers


    • Slow OS X performance when styling objects and optimizing graphics
    • Existing users may need to adjust to new interface
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