Studio MX 2004, by Macromedia
Posted: 18-Mar-2005

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Macromedia Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewers: Judd Spitzer and Gordon Hamachi Class: PRODUCTIVITY

Contents



Overview
If 2004 will be known for anything in the online world, it is the year of the "Web Design Tools". Two companies upgraded their powerful web design software this year, Macromedia, providing Macromedia Studio MX 2004, a suite of four powerful design tools, Dreamweaver MX 2004, Fireworks MX 2004, Flash MX 2004, and Freehand MX 2004. Adobe also presented a group of web design tool introduced as the Creative Suite (CS), that includes Photoshop CS, Illustrator CS, InDesign CS, and GoLive CS. Today we are reviewing the Macromedia Studio MX 2004 package.

Macromedia Studio MX 2004 is a total Web Publishing Suite that includes web design, vector graphics drawing/editing, photo editing, and web based animation creation tools. Macromedia Studio MX 2004 integrates these four stand-alone software packages into one powerhouse, enabling the creation of some of the best websites possible.


System Requirements
  • 500 MHz PowerPC G3 processor
  • Mac OS X 10.2.6 and later, 10.3
  • 256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended)
  • 500 MB available disk space

Testing Systems

  • iMac 17" 800Mhz G4
  • iBook G4 14" 1.33Ghz


Installation
Installation is more flash than substance. The Studio MX installer is literally a Macromedia Flash application. It looks pretty, but doesn't provide many options. The first screen you see lists all of the products in the Studio. The only obvious control is a button labeled, "Install...". Clicking that button brings up another Macromedia Studio MX dialog that has a single control labeled "Continue...".

Feeling silly, you'll click that to get to the end user license agreement. Interestingly, you must agree that Macromedia may audit your use of the software (whatever that means) for compliance with the license terms at any time. If you are not in full compliance with the license terms, you shall reimburse Macromedia for expenses related to the audit.

After clicking to accept the license terms, you get to a Setup dialog, where you may again click an "Install" button. This time it actually installs the software! By default the software will be installed (as it should be) in your Applications folder. You may select a different installation folder, but there are no other useful options.

Once you get to this point, the software installs easily. Surprisingly, the Flash installer prompts you again to see if you want to install Flash. This is because the Flash installer is a separate application that is not very carefully integrated into the Studio installer. The Flash installer is also unique among the Studio application installers in that it tries to open a browser window onto Macromedia's web site. Of course, this fails in an inelegant manner if you are not online at installation time.

The most critical installation option missing is the ability to install the documentation. There are 62 megabytes of useful documentation (Installation, Getting Started, and User Guides) that are NOT installed with the applications. You must browse the installer CD to discover that these documents exist, and manually drag them to your hard drive. An installer option to install documentation would be helpful.

It turns out that there really are some hidden options on the top level Studio MX installer after all. If you mouse around, you'll discover that many of the text labels are actually buttons. Each of the product names is a button. You could click on the Freehand label to put the installer into a mode where the single "Install..." button only installs Freehand. Some other text labels turn out to be web links to the Macromedia web site.

The worst part of the whole installation process is the product activation. The first time you launch one of the Studio applications (I launched Dreamweaver), it asked me to enter my 21-character product activation code. If you have an Internet connection, you enter your serial number into a dialog and you're done. I didn't have an Internet connection, so I was punished by having to phone Macromedia and tediously enter a much longer string of numbers to activate the product. The instructions warned that it could take as long as 10 minutes to activate the product that way. After entering each group of numbers on my touchtone pad, I was forced to wait while the automated system slowly read the numbers back to me and asked me to confirm that it was correct. My frustration grew as the activation failed and I ended up having to talk to a woman in India who couldn't help me. The only positive in the experience was that I would only have to endure this once: a single product activation takes care of the entire Studio suite.

At least that's what the woman in India told me. Days later, after my product activation was resolved, I was successfully using Freehand and Fireworks. When I launched Dreamweaver, however, it wove me a product activation nightmare. A dialog popped up and told me that my product activation code was invalid. After going ballistic for a few moments, I quit Dreamweaver in disgust. Don't ask me why, but a few hours later I tried launching it again and this time it started up correctly. I surmise that there is a bug in Macromedia's product activation code related to a first-time failure activating one application in the Studio MX suite followed by the successful activation of a different application in the suite.

Product activation is evil. It starts off the customer relationship with suspicion, aggravation, and possibly rage. I read rumors that Adobe's new Creative Suite will require similar product activation, so there may be no getting around it.

Integration
One of the key aspects of Studio MX is the integration between the tools. Is it a collection of separate software thrown together in a box, or has Macromedia taken care to see that the tools work well together?

Macromedia Studio touts its "integrated workspace that allows seamless transition between products." To me this evokes an image of applications that share data in some mysterious yet powerful manner. Such is the power of marketing obfuscation. Reading Macromedia's documentation carefully, one discovers that it simply means that the panels, menus, and icons are similar across products.

A uniform look and feel certainly is a laudable goal, but in this version, the Studio MX applications bear only a certain family resemblance. Even at the highest level there is still much room to improve the shared look and feel. Freehand, Fireworks, and Flash display a tool palette at the left, but Dreamweaver uses a tool bar. Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Flash all display a "Welcome Mat" panel that provides easy access to various startup operations, but Freehand does not provide a Welcome Mat. Freehand, Fireworks, and Flash all display selection tools in the tool palette's first row; however each puts the Hand and Zoom tools in a different location. Flash and Fireworks share the same Hand and Zoom icons, while Freehand displays similar but different icons for those tools. Finally, a quick peek at the Preference panels in those applications will convince you that their developers work in different zip codes.

To me the real meat of application integration is in the way the Studio MX applications interoperate. Integration is accomplished by importing a file from one application to another, and this is something that the Studio MX applications seem to do quite well. In many cases one application can directly interoperate with another. When I am in Freehand, I can click a button to send a placed image file to Fireworks, where it automatically opens; when I save in Fireworks, the changes are reflected back in my Freehand document. Similarly, Fireworks has readily accessible buttons to export an EPS to Freehand, Dreamweaver, or Flash. Dreamweaver can export an image to Fireworks (albeit, this command is buried away in a menu). Flash can create various vector and image formats, but only seems to be able to write to files--I didn't see any way to send a document directly to one of the other applications.

There are some limitations to this data exchange. Still, I am quite impressed that Freehand can export vector data to a variety of different types of files, including images, Flash files, PDF, EPS, Photoshop, and Adobe Illustrator, but I don't see a way to send one of those documents directly to Fireworks or Flash. Freehand can create an HTML page that displays the Flash version of my vector art, but there I couldn't find a way to automatically open the exported page in Dreamweaver.


Dreamweaver MX 2004
by Judd Spitzer

Basics
Dreamweaver is the web design software portion of the Studio. The purpose of this software is to generate HTML from your designs and editing for use on the World Wide Web. As Internet technologies continuously become more sophisticated, it becomes important that your web design software has the power and punch to exploit those features and enhance your website. Today's web design software has to do much more than HTML these days. It needs to interface with your web-server, providing FTP access, design of Cascading Style Sheets, work with advanced technologies, such as PHP, ASP, and more. It needs to do it all in a WYSIWYG environment, so that your time spent working on design is shortened to the point that you get your website up and running in hours instead of days. These are just some of the features that Dreamweaver MX 2004 provides.

Design
Many people who design websites do not want the headaches of having to learn HTML, let alone any other variety of coding. You don't need to learn code to use Dreamweaver, but experienced web designers will appreciate the ability to edit the code. Dreamweaver uses a WYSIWYG interface, but also allows the user to change coding as necessary using a split screen style. Dreamweaver makes strong use of Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) Schemas, and implements them as WYSIWYG in this latest version of Dreamweaver. This is extremely helpful for a designer who wants to know what the page will look like in the design mode, without constantly having to refresh a browser to see how the changes to the CSS affected the entire page.

Task Automation
One of the reasons that people use these types of tools instead of merely using a TextWrangler type of application is the immense power of task automation. Dreamweaver really reigns supreme in this particular area. Using the Snippets, under the Code pallet, you can quickly do things that you would normally have to format and tweak. Some examples of the Snippets include pre-designed tables, buttons and layout parts. I believe that this lends itself to seeing websites created in the Dreamweaver Style. Even though I may use these, I'm not sure that I would use these shortcuts all the time.

There are some good dynamic scripts included, and they make a great starting point for your web projects. As always, more advanced scripting really is the work of a web project designer/programmer. Even with this program, it takes a bit more than these scripts to knock out dynamic webpages. Working with PHP, ASP or CGI-BIN is an undertaking that can be accomplished with Dreamweaver, but requires knowledge in the implementation and administration of a server.

Technology Integration
As companies expand their product line, they invariably create applications that play well together. Dreamweaver is no exception to the "plays well with others" category of software. Macromedia's Flash is the standard when it comes to web-based animated pictures. Dreamweaver is able to play Flash movies natively within the program, and this makes it easier do your final design work.

The Studio Suite of software also includes Fireworks and Illustrator. There are quick links that allow you to edit photos using Fireworks on the fly, then jumping right back in to complete your webpage. Dreamweaver supports a very wide variety of file formats, and specifically, it supports the newer PNG format, providing an open source license for images that it creates.


Designing a Web Page with Dreamweaver MX

Website Management
A mainstay of many webdesign programs has been built-in website management functions. Normally this is at a minimum the ability to FTP (File-Transfer-Protocol) into the webserver and place your documents online. Dreamweaver takes this a step further by allowing you to manage your website and files directly on the webserver if you wish. The advantage here is faster updates to websites. This really shines when working on a collaborative effort.

One example of this is the relation that Dreamweaver provides with a program called Contribute (a scaled down, easy to use web editor by Macromedia). A web designer works on the site using Dreamweaver, and non-designers work on drafts that get saved directly to the website. The web designer then can promote the drafts to published resources, enabling version control and content control.

Dreamweaver is smart enough to also know what type of services that the webserver is providing, whether it be PHP, ASP or cgi-bin. By taking this into account, it can help to do some management of these servers, taking the burden off the web designer's time.

Help/Tutorials
As computers get faster, inevitably the software gets more complex. Being a web designer takes much more today than it did in the early days of the web when you could punch out a website using a VI Editor type program. There are a number of great features that sets Dreamweaver apart from the competition in the online help section.

There are two specific ways to get help; one is of course your web based help option that includes a knowledge network and tutorials, and the other is actually built-in instructions from some well respected off-line publishers, such as O'Reilly. The unique advantage is besides never leaving Dreamweaver for help, you can copy and paste sample code from the online books. The explanations of HTML coding within the program is one of the best implementations of a help guide for HTML code writing I've seen within a software application.

Comparing Dreamweaver MX 2004 to GoLive 6.0
The aforementioned are considered the two powerhouse software packages in the HTML design work. My personal experience has shown that in the world of web design, there is no one piece of software that is the end all. It seems that each has those one or two very unique features that makes it a must have.

Both programs are pretty equally matched, but Dreamweaver has stronger CSS editing and design capability. But just as impressive is the Macromedia support website, providing a great place to start learning how to use the product. Adobe has strong file/web management as well as ease of design in the WYSIWYG environment. The main disappointment from both the programs is the lack of pre-designed templates and clip-art.

Summary
Dreamweaver is an outstanding program for web designers. While it does not have the capability of taking a person and making them an artist, it will allow anyone with just a little bit of work to create some fantastic websites. Dreamweaver uses the latest CSS technology as well as design for just about any server technology out there. Smooth integration with the other Studio programs makes web design a pleasure. The simple web layouts (templates) and help is also very impressive. Dreamweaver is world-class as both an all-in-one/stand-alone piece of web design software or as part of the integrated Macromedia Studio MX 2004.

Pros

  • The best help and tutorials, both on and offline
  • Outstanding web project management, from FTP to workflows
  • Excellent WYSIWYG interface, with support for Cascading Style Sheets
  • Smooth integration with the other Macromedia Studio MX 2004 package


Cons

  • No clipart included with the package
  • More pre-designed webpages/site templates would make this a finished producted

Rating

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice



Fireworks MX 2004
by Gordon Hamachi

Basics
Fireworks is the image editor portion of Studio MX. It has many of the general image editing features you'd find in Photoshop, such as a layers and transparency. There are plenty of image editing tools, such as a magic wand tool, a smudge tool, a rubber stamp (similar to the Photoshop clone tool), a very versatile brush tool. Surprisingly, there are also vector tools such as a line tool, a bezier tool, and various vector object generators for polygons, ellipses, stars, spirals, and donuts. Finally, there are web tools for creating HTML hot spots and attaching behaviors to them such as links, rollovers, image swaps, and popup menus.

Features
It is quite perplexing to see the vector and web tools incorporated into an image editor. While these are certainly useful, one wonders why they are in Fireworks rather than in Freehand and Dreamweaver where they more logically belong. Depending on how you see things, Fireworks is either a brilliant amalgamation of the useful bits of these other tools, or an image editor with a bunch of extraneous parts grafted on. Perhaps they make more sense for those who buy Fireworks as a standalone product rather than as part of an integrated product Suite.

The Export Preview feature is nicely done and a good example of a useful web-oriented feature that really belongs in the product. Use it to experiment with various output settings and see their effects upon the size of the resulting image file. It reports the file size in bytes, the download time at 56Kbps, and displays a preview of the image. For example, I saw that the GIF version of one image would take 192 seconds to download, while the same image as a JPEG with 19% quality would only take 10 seconds to download but look very pixellated.


Example of Fireworks MX Interface

One of the more intriguing features is batch processing. You can select a group of files and perform the same set of operations on each file. For example, you can generate thumbnail images by scaling all of the images to fit in 72 x 72 pixels. The set of batch commands is fairly limited, so I hope that it can be expanded in the next release of Fireworks.

The one irritating feature of Fireworks is that it can be very hard to open a file in one image format and save it in another image format, unless that format is PNG. For example, Fireworks will open a Tiff file and let you modify it, but the "Save As..." command can only saves it as a PNG. If you want to save your file as a Photoshop, Illustrator 7 or Flash SWF, you must use the Export command. If you want to save a file as a GIF, Jpeg, Tiff, Pict, or BMP you must use the Export Preview command.

In the course of casual exploration, I found a troubling number of minor bugs. The "Find Source for Editing" dialog cuts off the descenders on a dropdown list. There is a similar redisplay problem in the Swap Image Behavior dialog. In the Batch Process dialog, if the export file path is longer than about 41 characters, only the top pixel of each subsequent characters is visible. There is a lot of annoying flashing behind the Batch Progress dialog. The Export Preview window appears to hang when changing a setting such as the JPEG quality, because there is no wait cursor to let you know that something is happening. In the Export dialog, when I cancelled out of a Save As Dreamweaver Library, five Japanese Kanji characters mysteriously appended themselves to a file name. PNG files are created with preview images, but JPEG files are not. None of these problems is fatal, but it does indicate that Macromedia may have rushed this release of Fireworks for the Mac.

Summary
Fireworks is a very capable image editor with some very nice features and one bizarre misfeature: you have to work too hard to use Fireworks as a general tool to convert images from one format to another. Users who care about that should use Photoshop or Photoshop Elements instead, but those who are purely web-focused will be fine using Fireworks.

Pros

  • A very capable image editor
  • Export Prevew command lets you tune image size and quality
  • Batch processing automates certain repeated operations

Cons

  • Features from Freehand and Dreamweaver have crept into Fireworks
  • Lots of little bugs
  • Hard to save a file in a different file format

Rating

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice




Flash MX 2004 (Professional)
by Judd Spitzer


Basics
The sign said, "Welcome to the Internet, now let's go!" Flash is the software in most browsers that most people experience all over the Internet. You can see the results of those Flash enabled pages in many of the pop-ups and animated based web pages. Flash MX 2004 allows the designer the ability to mix graphics and text into an interactive presentation. It can smoothly integrate animation, sound, and the familiar browser style interface to build everything from advertisements that get your attention to online computer based testing.

Since Flash Players are built into about 98% of all browsers deployed on desktops world-wide (according to Macromedia), you can be sure that your Flash projects are able to be seen in a consistent manner, no matter what operating system or web browser your project is viewed in. Let's get to the features.

Features
This software package is jammed full of goodies to make a designers life just a bit easier. Since this really is the holy grail of web presentation software, let's go over some of the major features in more depth.

From the Welcome Mat!
Just as mentioned in other reviews, Flash employs the welcome mat approach to the start up of the software. Here you can Open a Recent Item, Create New, or Create from Templates. The starting points really give you, the designer, an excellent launching point from where to go with your project. The welcome mat, as with all the programs, would be nice if it had a toggle feature (an F-Key), rather than merely turning it on and off via the control panel.

Creating your Flash Document
When creating a Flash document, I would recommend starting with a template. This makes it easy for adding to your web projects in Dreamweaver, or whatever other software package you choose. In my case, I like to make banners for the websites that I work on. You can visit
http://www.titusvilletoastmasters.org to see banners created using Flash. Keep in mind that your Flash Document is a graphic file with changes set to a timeline. The Flash page is laid out with a timeline on top of the design area, a typical tools pallet that includes some basic drawing tools, and finally an entire side of panels that can be added to help aid in your design.


Sample Flash document

If you have some experience with programs like Adobe's Photoshop, then some of the features here will seem to have an intuitive nature, such as layers. The key to ease of developing animation with Flash is using the power of your Mac to have Flash "Tween" or draw the animation frames between your start and finish points.


Example of Flash MX Interface


Why Tween?
One interesting aspect of Flash files, as opposed to other forms of web-based animation, ie, animated gifs, is that Flash files traditionally produces smaller sized files with incredible graphical presentation. What are they doing differently? Basically, it comes down to the idea that everything within the Flash file is an object, and the file gives descriptors to tell the Flash player how to deal with them. In an animated gif, every frame must be drawn, so it uses more memory. You can have every frame drawn in Flash, but there is really no need to expend the extra memory, unless you have some very sophisticated animations that you are producing (see below).

With just one or two tutorials under your belt, you will figure out how to bring your text and graphics into your workspace, and have it dancing around placing your web audience at awe. Flash does require some patience and a small learning curve, but don't worry, because help IS on the way.

Help
One of the main panels that initially is in view from the moment you create a new Flash Document is Help. There are links to various resources for help designing Flash documents. The web based tutorials are excellent in providing some video instruction on how to develop your own animated flash documents. I was impressed that the video based instruction didn't come as an extra charge.

Ready to go
Flash is ready to go, out of the box, with plenty of features that will allow someone to build some excellent looking Flash documents. The basic tools that you get from the tools side panel are a text tool, a graphic shape tool (so you can draw squares and other items), graphic fill tools, selection tools, and more. As a designer, mixing text graphics and sound can be pretty intuitive with just a little knowledge.

You know that Flash makes some nifty looking webpage graphics, but what else can it do? Flash makes it possible to incorporate HTML and javascript right into the Flash document. The advantage here is that the Flash document stands on its own when incorporated within your website, and won't disturb existing code.

One of the great online demonstrations that shows how to integrate your HTML is an example used to sell Gulfstream Jet Aircrafts. The demonstration shows how an entire site can be designed and deployed using Flash. In the demonstration, the Flash document contains links to other pages with the Flash document, so you can view further information about the product. Instead of a static webpage, Flash brings your webpages alive. You can see how it's done at http://www.macromedia.com/software/flash/evaluation/ or see the finished Flash enabled site at http://www.gulfstream.com.

You can also edit flash documents created by other programs, such as Keynote 2. I recently purchased Keynote, and had a small presentation that I wanted to make available for the web. Exporting that document as a Flash document proved to contain too much overhead, and expanded my presentation to well over 4 MB. Importing that document into Flash MX 2004, however, you can edit and recompress your file saving you and extraordinary amount of space. In my case, creating a file of only 340 KB. That's a big savings in overhead.

Flash can also do data manipulation by connecting to an application server. For example, this would be an advantage to a developer who is looking for an easy way to do user logins. Imagine creating the entire user experience within the Flash environment, and saving aspects of the work on the server side. Flash not only builds in the technology to do it, they provide gadgets that aid in developing that user experience. Pre-designed buttons, sliders, menus, fields and a variety of other objects are all part of this development package (in Flash MX 2004 Professional).

I was currently unable to try out some of the application services that are built-in to Flash. Some of those include PHP and SQL servers, To fully explore the more advanced features seemed to require a Server-Client environment. Having this capability even if you don't initially use it can allow the opportunity for future website enhancements using Flash.

Summary
Flash is the bling-bling of the Macromedia Studio MX 2004 package. It combines the power web-based animation, sound, and video into a truly unique multi-media experience on the web. Using the professional edition, you can expand your web development by creating Flash-based applications that use the power of application servers and data manipulation. It does all this without eating away at your bandwidth.

Flash is not for the beginner user. If you are willing to go through the training and tutorials, then you could be well on your way to creating some fantastic websites with this application. It also will not design anything for you, at least from a creative standpoint. Sure it comes with many great templates to get you started, but there are not enough templates to satisfy most people's tastes.

When you are ready to move your website into the future of web design, Flash will take you there as no other product can... in a Flash.

Pros

  • Consistent look and feel with the other Studio Applications
  • Creates low bandwidth presentations while maximizing a quality output.
  • Plenty of online help and templates to assist an aggressive user to become productive with the software.
  • Ability to incorporate many web technologies with the Flash Document, including javascript and html.


Cons

  • Time consumptive to learn
  • More shortcuts, clip art and templates would enhance this product for the casual user.


Rating

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice




Freehand MX 2004
by Gordon Hamachi


Basics
Macromedia Freehand is a vector artwork drawing tool aimed at professional graphic artists. These are the power users who design full color product brochures, commercial advertising layouts, posters, company logos and product packaging. It isn't really aimed at casual users. Experts want maximum efficiency and are willing to tolerate a steeper learning curve in exchange for power. This is immediately evident in the tool palette, which provides access to a bewildering array of 48 different tools.

Features
Freehand is considered a worthy rival to Adobe Illustrator, which is the other high-end vector drawing program used by professional graphic artists. At one point in time, Adobe attempted to purchase the company that owned Freehand, but Federal regulators forced Adobe to divest itself of Freehand in order to maintain a competitive market. This seems to have worked well, as new features in one of these products are soon matched or bettered in the next release of the competing product.

Macromedia makes a weak case for why Freehand is included as part of Studio MX. The Studio MX introductory document offers up a scenario where the user builds a site navigation chart using Freehand, to be used solely in a presentation to a web site customer. It is difficult to understand why they donít use a more compelling story. As an amateur web designer, even I have come to understand the value in having a vector artwork drawing tool to generate complex web graphics. An even more compelling case can be made for using Freehand in conjunction with Flash.

One basic yet demanding task for a vector drawing program is to import a low resolution scanned photo, trace its outlines, and save the resulting vectors as an alternate representation of the original photo. In vector form the artwork may be output to high resolution output devices with good results or used as a generator for web graphics of varying sizes.


The Freehand MX Interface

My test of Freehand on this task had mixed results. When I imported my TIFF test image into Freehand I was unpleasantly surprised to see it rendered it as a solid black rectangle. You can't trace what you can't see!

Fortunately, the Studio MX application integration came to my rescue. Although my first choice would be for Freehand to correctly render scanned images in all of the popular file formats, the next best thing is for there to be an easy way to convert scanned images into a form that Freehand will digest. In this case, I was pleased and impressed to see that sending my TIFF test image from Freehand to Fireworks was as easy as clicking a button on Freehandís Object Properties tab. My test image automatically opened in Fireworks. Since it looked okay in Fireworks, I saved it in the suggested PNG format. Then when I switched back to Freehand the image updated itself and rendered correctly.

Once I could finally view the image, I found the task of converting the image to vector form to be easy and intuitive. I used the bezier tool and the pencil to trace the outlines. This type of work is somewhat tedious, but I felt every bit as productive as I would have using Illustrator. I especially liked Freehand's translucent fill feature, which I used to good effect in representing various levels of shadows in my artwork.

Freehand MX may well be easier to use than the ancient Adobe Illustrator 7.0 that I have for comparison. One of my pet peeves with Adobe Illustrator is the convoluted way rectangles are resized. Freehand deserves special note for doing this the right way: you can resize a rectangle by dragging any corner.

Freehand also includes some more finely crafted user interface advantages over Illustrator. For example, Freehand lets you use a single click and drag gesture to set the scale origin and drag to resize. To do the same thing in Illustrator, you must position the scale origin with a click and drag, and then use another click and drag to rescale an object.

Without trying very hard, I did encounter several minor bugs in Freehand. For example, after creating a rectangle I observed that its lines appear to have slightly different colors depending on the direction (e.g. from top left to bottom right) I dragged when creating the rectangle. As another example, the closed path indicator on the pencil tool can get lost on a black background because it isnít drawn with a white halo. These minor bugs reminded me of similar quality problems I have noted in Macromedia Fireworks.

I also found one much more serious bug in Freehand. While investigating its support for Pantone colors, I discovered that Freehand requires that you individually select and import each Pantone color you wish to use in your current artwork document; the imported colors show up on a swatches tab, so you can easily apply them to the graphics within Freehand. After manually adding a few colors I then decided to open an Adobe Illustrator document (which Freehand is supposed to be able to do) that contained a few hundred Pantone colors. It took much too long to open: 89 seconds. Following this, Freehand's swatches tab did not display any Pantone colors at all. Thinking it was a redisplay problem, I switched away from the swatches tab and then back again. This time it took 41 seconds for the "spinning pizza cutter" wait cursor to go away, and after that Freehand's entire tabbed palette mechanism turned completely blank and refused to refresh at all.


Summary
On the whole, Freehand is easy to use. It has some powerful drawing tools that are lacking in my outdated Adobe Illustrator 7.0. A few bugs detracted from my overall positive impression of the product. Freehand performed well in my basic test, and was especially impressive on that test in the way that it interoperated with Fireworks.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Good interoperability with Fireworks
  • Powerful drawing tools


Cons

  • Not well integrated with Dreamweaver and Flash
  • Several bugs

Rating

4 out of 5 Mice



Discussion

Gordon:
My favorite product in the Studio MX suite was Freehand. As an Adobe Illustrator user, it was fairly easy to make the transition to Freehand. In some ways the Freehand user interface was easier to use.

Judd: Simply put, Dreamweaver MX 2004 was my favorite product. While they all have different strengths and weaknesses, Dreamweaver allows even the moderately able person to create some nice static webpages. I also see Dreamweaver as the product that I would most naturally use out of the entire suite.

Gordon: In terms of productivity, Fireworks' batch processing feature is a wonderful feature. It is fairly easy to specify a sequence of operations and apply them to a set of files. This frees the user from much tedium and leaves more energy available for creative work.

Judd: I believe that Dreamweaver makes people the most productive, since there is a shorter learning curve. Dreamweaver comes with a lot of same templates to get you started as well as a wealth of online templates that can be accessed at Macromedia Exchange services. Getting access to help and fellow users makes this product the most productive. One other aspect of this product is that it is the only product that really allows for collaborative efforts. You can set up drafts and real controls on what gets published. That too can be great in an office or where co-located people are.

Gordon: My least favorite in terms of what it is designed to do is Fireworks. As a seasoned Photoshop user, I found it too difficult to use Fireworks to convert files from one file format to another. One might argue that this task is not something that Fireworks was designed to address, but I would counter that this is too important a task for any image editing application to ignore.

Judd: Fireworks is also my least favorite. I just think that between Freehand and Fireworks, they would have been better off to combine the two programs. They are basically two graphics art programs, one for drawing and the other for photos. I suppose I see Photoshop as still the standard for computer Photo editing.

Gordon: In terms of what I would like to see improved, Freehand has the farthest to go to match the integrated look and feel of the other Studio MX applications. Also, the best thing Macromedia could do to improve the Studio MX product overall would be to abandon product activation (or change it dramatically). It was cumbersome, buggy, and extremely irritating. Another area for improvement is overall product quality. In a few hours of casual use, I found too many small but irritating bugs in the user interface, as well as one major problem. These detract from the user experience and raise a level of uneasiness in relying upon the software for serious production work under tight deadlines. The lack of quality may indicate a lack of Macintosh OS X developer expertise at Macromedia, a lack of QA resources, too-aggressive product release schedules, or a lack of commitment to the Macintosh platform. The "integrated workspace" is a nice concept, but there is much room for improvement in this area too. Tool palettes should become more uniform. Freehand needs to implement the "welcome mat." The user interfaces in general need to be more uniform. Finally, although Studio MX is nominally a cross platform product, some of the Windows features are not available in the Macintosh version. I'd like to see a version available on the Macintosh that includes all capabilities that are available on Windows.

Judd: I think Fireworks is in need of the most work. While it has lots of nice features, I don't believe that it competes with Photoshop. Photoshop also comes with ImageReady to produce web optimized art. I'd like to see Fireworks expanded quite significantly. Particularly, it needs more wizards to help design graphics for use with Dreamweaver. To improve Studio MX overall, it should include a lot more art and templates. The most important element to a successful creative software program is providing good art and good examples. All of these programs come with some templates and tutorials, but no art. Art is the key to taking a decent website, and making it a fantastic website.

Gordon: Looking at Studio MX overall, I like the general ability of the applications to interoperate. It is wonderful when a file opened in one Studio MX application can easily be edited in another application, and the results passed back to the original application.

Judd: The most exciting feature to me in Studio MX is the ability to create Flash Enabled websites.  Of course doing anything graphically takes much more design talent than many people have the capability to muster up. I see Flash-based websites taking off more and more. As the power of this product is shown in the market place, it will clearly become adopted by smaller web developers. I also believe that this is where the money will be for websites of the future.




Final Words
Macromedia has taken four programs and united them for one purpose, becoming the de facto standard of web design. The powerhouse of web-design includes an HTML WYSIWYG editor, a Photo Editor, a web based Animation tool, and a Vector Graphics editing/design program into one suite. Macromedia's Studio MX 2004 comes through with a smartly designed suite of software that will maximize any web designer's potential.

All the programs come with excellent online help or are supported by an equally able website. The learning curve on some of these applications can be overwhelming for some users, so try before you buy. Macromedia provides trial software available at their website for free.

While each program functions well as stand alone software, they all work well as an integrated package, seamlessly moving multi-media files between programs. Flash MX 2004 has a special advantage for webdesigners, since free Flash players are installed on over 98% of web browsers world wide. Flash's installed base of users make it a reasonable design alternative to traditional HTML designed websites. While it is true that many other programs can export files to the Flash player/shockwave format, no other software is better for producing Flash documents than Macromedia's Flash Professional MX 2004.

All and all, a web designer would be happy to have all these tools at the ready to start making their websites. Adding more templates, clip art, and built-in macros to automate some functions not already built-in, such as one touch tweening in Flash, or automated table design in Dreamweaver would make this software even better.

If you are looking to get one webdesign package, then you can't go wrong with Macromedia Studio MX 2004.


Overall Rating

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice