Following Adobe’s lead of perfecting product integration in one box, Macromedia offers the most comprehensive design-for-the-screen product set on the market. Drew Turney discovers whether it’s worth it.
You couldn’t talk about Macromedia’s latest toolkit without mentioning the acquisition of the company by Adobe, a takeover that happened concurrently with Studio 8’s arrival, shareholders approving the acquisition only days after it was released.
So this may well be Macromedia’s last hurrah. With two HTML tools now under Adobe’s belt (GoLive and Dreamweaver), and graphics packages for vector, pixel and both at once (Illustrator, Photoshop and Fireworks respectively), what might a future release comprise? Might we see a single massive print and web workflow tool that does it all?
For now, Macromedia are content to offer that experience simply for the online world, and it’s got twice the challenge to live up to. First, print is print. Online can mean a computer, a mobile, it might even end up on a movie screen. There’s so much more to consider in your output options.
And secondly, whereas the print world is subject to tweaks here and there, the foundations of the print process haven’t changed in the 20 years since postscript first changed printing. In the world of the web, everyone from the W3 to millions of bloggers are changing the way web design works all the time.
Dreamweaver MX allowed for CSS design, for example, but it was little more than a text editor. Dreamweaver 8 puts more power in your hands to work with CSS. It’s those sort of changes Studio 8 must not only get right, it must future proof them for as long as possible. You never know when a 19-year-old computer sciences graduate somewhere will launch something that’ll render HTML itself completely obsolete.
The biggest changes on the surface are the dropping of Freehand and the addition of Contribute. Most major vector tools are now incorporated into Fireworks, but it also makes you wonder how sure Adobe was about getting their hands on Macromedia — maybe they didn’t want any competition for Illustrator.
Contribute is a welcome addition, a cool and easy to use content updating tool that allows other staff to update your site without destroying the code. Now CMS tools are all the rage, Contribute is going to become a more essential part of the online workflow to an organisation.
Another big change is that — somewhat following Adobe’s lead with the latest GoLive — Studio 8 is mobile ready. There’s a full suite of tools in Flash to prepare graphics for mobile use, and you can test your designs on mobile browsers, a very handy resource.
In the graphics department, Fireworks offers little change from older versions. There are 25 new effects, but it still has a way to go to catch up to everything you can do in Photoshop and Illustrator, and has the added challenge of being the lesser used of the major graphics packages, so it still has something of a learning curve counting against it.
When Studio MX came out, people used IE or Netscape, apart from the few on Opera. With Firefox gaining more ground all the time and Safari the new preferred browser of at least one bloc of users, browser testing is a whole new ball game, and Dreamweaver 8 offers you the choice of four browsers to test in.
That’s just one example of an expanded knowledge of the world around them that Macromedia have used to build Studio 8 (although simply hitting F12 gets you nowhere anymore, and it takes awhile to get used to hitting Opt+ or Cmd+F12 instead).
CSS is handled in a much more interactive way, allowing you to change and apply styles in a floating palette instead of going back and forth between files. It also offers you much more information about parent tags and incorrect attributes that makes life much easier if you don’t have every selector or property committed to memory).
The rest of the big changes have been made to Flash. Long the standard tool for animation and rich graphics, it’s always been such a features-rich program and had so many uses there was bound to be a big features wishlist among users.
First of all, the Flash player has been reprogrammed from the ground up, and Macromedia promise much better performance. Flash now has a standalone video codec and you can work with just about every other major format there is. And the new text- rendering engine delivers clearer, sharper anti-aliasing, a welcome change.
It’s no easy task producing such a comprehensive tool while you’re under takeover duress, but Macromedia have managed it. Apart from a few issues with new shortcuts and ways of working that will take some getting used to, Studio 8 is as much the essential web workflow tool you hope it’ll be.
Availability;Macromedia Studio 8
Price: $1499 RRP
Macromedia Australia: 1800 001 014