Fireworks 4 Explodes onto Desktops

Adobe and Macromedia aren't exactly bosom buddies: each treats the other with a disdain found only among presidential candidates and rival collegiate football teams. That rivalry is only bound to intensify with Fireworks 4, Macromedia's Web graphics program that hits stores in December.

The new release from Macromedia sports a bevy of new features -- from automated generation of JavaScript to greater compatibility with Adobe Photoshop -- that should please novice users and graphics mavens alike.

The user interface has been redesigned to be more consistent with other Macromedia products such as Dreamweaver and Flash. Web design professionals can now maintain a similar interface and series of commands between Macromedia Flash, FreeHand, Dreamweaver, and Fireworks. Keyboard shortcuts, tool panels, color selection models, and some tools and menu items remain consistent across these applications, and a launcher bar lets users access commonly used features quickly.

In addition, Fireworks 4 includes a roundtrip table-editing environment that lets graphics pros work with HTML programmers. The feature allows designers to pass along their sliced graphics to programmers, who can add interactivity to the slices in Dreamweaver. Programmers can then pass the work back to the designer, who can further edit the image in Fireworks without overwriting custom code.

JavaScript also becomes markedly easier to implement using Fireworks 4. For users who haven't yet learned JavaScript, Fireworks gives them the ability to create simple JavaScript tasks, such as rollovers and pop-up menus, without actually having to write a script. Designers can now create pop-up menus in a special Pop-up Menu Creator, where they can define menu content and appearance, and let Fireworks produce the code. Additionally, users no longer have to create remote rollovers in the Behaviors panel but can now create and edit them by dragging and dropping images.

Another new feature geared toward graphics professionals is Fireworks' ability to import and export native Photoshop files, which have long been the graphical standard. Fireworks does a better job of exporting than it does importing. When working on collaborative projects, designers will appreciate the ability to edit text, layers, live effects, and masks in Photoshop that were created in Fireworks.

Although Flash is rapidly sending them to the same graveyard occupied by push technology, the blink tag, and Luke Perry's acting career, many designers still like to work with animated GIFs. Fireworks 4 makes creating simple animations incredibly easy with frame-by-frame controls. Users can either manipulate the image in each frame or adjust settings in the object inspector to scale, move, rotate, and fade images across a series of frames. The result can look like this:

Batch processing is also made simple in Fireworks 4. An easy-to-understand interface lets even novice users set up batch processes that include Export, Scale, Find, Replace, Rename, or Commands and can be processed in the order specified by the user. Thanks to an improved export wizard, the export controls are also remarkably easy to use in Fireworks 4. The wizard walks novice users through complex situations to create JavaScript commands and HTML files without ever needing to show them a line of code.

Last but not least, Fireworks 4 makes possible selective JPEG compression: users can now compress different parts of images at different rates. This lets focal points in images remain sharp and clear, while backgrounds can be compressed at a higher rate to reduce overall file size.

Fireworks 4 will be available in December and is priced at $299.

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