Macromedia’s Fireworks is the established standard application for creating and optimizing graphics for the Web. The company has given it an overhaul as part of the Studio MX 2004 release, but we were curious as to how much Macromedia would improve the new version with added features and enhancements.
The answer? Very little in terms of the core application’s key functions and performance — that is, creating graphics for Web sites. It still handles the grunt work — creating slices, hot spots, interactive rollovers, and menus — better than any other application out there. But apart from improvements in speed, the average pixel flinger won’t find major new improvements in Fireworks MX 2004.
Improved Workflow, Enhanced Features
One thing even the most jaded user will appreciate is this version’s streamlined graphics-saving pro-cess. You used to have to save your images as PNG files before exporting them to GIF or JPEG format. Now you can open a GIF or JPEG, work with it, and then save it in the same format without having to resave it as a PNG prior to exporting. This is a real time-saver, particularly when all you want to do is open an image and shave a few pixels off the top.
The user interface has changed little, apart from the Start page, which appears when the application first opens and gives you quick access to recent documents, tutorial help, and a History palette. The latter keeps track of document changes and lets you revert back to a previously performed action. However, given that it has always been easy in Fireworks to revisit changes and undo them, the History palette isn’t totally necessary.
The application has some neat new features and enhancements — you just have to dig deep to find them. You’ll find a whole new set of vector-graphic AutoShapes beyond the standard ellipse and rectangle; these include forms such as doughnuts, rounded-edge rectangles, and polygons. All these AutoShapes have control points for editing their properties, so you can set the inner radius of a doughnut shape or the amount of rounding on a rectangle’s corners. You can also break polygon and star shapes into sectors, and apply different stroke and fill options to each segment.
There are new stroke and fill options, including a Dashed Stroke option and a Contour Gradient pattern. A nice new touch is a Preview feature for the selected stroke or fill options, which makes it easier to pick the right effect before applying it.In previous versions, Fireworks had problems with text rendering, especially with smaller font sizes. This version eliminates those problems, so you can now use the operating system’s Quartz text aliasing or specify custom options.
Fireworks MX 2004 also features some new bitmap- and photo-editing tools. The red-eye removal tool and color-replacement options let you quickly touch up digital photos. There are also new LiveEffects — Motion Blur and Add Noise. Like the existing LiveEffects, these are nondestructive filters, so you can remove them or change their properties at any time.
One of the program’s main strengths is its improved integration with the rest of the Studio MX range. Once you’ve defined a site in Dreamweaver, you can automatically launch Fireworks to edit files, and use file-management options for source-code control. This means you can check files in and out to make sure someone else can’t overwrite them while you work. Fireworks can also work with Dreamweaver’s FTP server settings to retrieve assets remotely and upload them automatically once edited. While this is a nice option, I doubt that many Web designers will want to edit the files they’ve published online. Instead, they’ll probably want to change the original source PNG document.
Unfortunately, this version’s batch-processing features don’t compare well with Adobe Photoshop’s. Fireworks’ continued omission of an Actions palette limits its automated batch processing to applying filters and simple menu commands.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Fireworks MX enjoys a well-deserved reputation as a solid tool for producing Web graphics, but this release maintains, not enhances, that status. It also introduces new features that try to compete with Photoshop in creating bitmapped graphics, but they fall short. For people who are already content with Fireworks MX, this update offers very little reason to upgrade.