Macromedia Studio MX 2004
by Gordon Hamachi and Judd Spitzer

Recently we had th opportunity to take a good lock at Macromedia Studio MX, a web publishing suite that includes Flash, Fireworks, Freehand and Dreamweaver. You can find a discussion of the product here. If you are looking for a detailed review, check out our Studio MX review.

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.

Collaborative Summary:
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.

Click here for the complete review.

Copyright ©2005 by The Mac Guild