Suite success

Macromedia's release of Studio 8.0 has assumed huge relevance after Adobe's purchase of its multimedia rival. Anyone involved in multimedia is desperate to know what Adobe will do with its newly-acquired riches, and the contents of this suite offer the first inkling of that future.

Judging by the enhancements to Dreamweaver, Macromedia's Web design program, and the important changes to flagship Web animation tool Flash Pro, it's likely that those programs will continue to thrive under new management.

Grabbing attention

Even though it offers surprisingly little new for animators, Flash Pro 8.0 is bound to grab the most attention, mainly because it comes with a couple of features that boost the program's appeal beyond Web animation. For example, Microsoft and Real will be sitting uncomfortably following Flash's adoption of a video codec that massively improves performance and introduces alpha transparency. You can now add overlays such as text or Flash animation and even traditional blending modes to video.

I can't see Flash overtaking Windows Media on the desktop - crucially it doesn't support any DRM (digital rights management) - but it's a great choice for creating video for the Web. Flash has such huge support that creating your video content in Flash Pro not only allows you to embed it seamlessly on a Web page, but it also means you can almost guarantee that anyone visiting the site will be able to view it - assuming that they download the latest Flash player - which isn't the case with Real or Windows Media-based video.

But what about Fireworks, Macro­media's Web graphics application? At first glance, it looks like little has changed. But after using it for a while, I've come to the conclusion that of all the Studio applications, this might have the biggest impact on the way I work. What I love about it is the way I can use it to quickly create drop-down menus using CSS (cascading style sheets).

Although I'm not a Web designer, CSS is something I'm keen to learn more about, because it makes it easier to control the appearance of my Web site. Even more importantly, most Web sites are CSS-based, so multimedia developers whose work includes the Web need to adjust their workflow to cope. The drawback is that CSS tools are fiddly, so this ability to create CSS elements visually is fantastic.

Simple menus

In Fireworks 8.0, you create a menu by selecting a hotspot or slice in your image, and choosing the Pop-up Menu Editor. Then you just enter the menu item's name, add a URL, select the target behaviour and use other tabs to further define the menu's appearance. Fireworks builds the menu and you can export it straight to Dreamweaver or to any HTML document. Simple.

I admit that Fireworks' drop-down menu creation tool isn't new - a near-identical procedure creates JavaScript menus in Fireworks MX - but the way it works so reliably with CSS is astounding. The only problem I have is with Fireworks' automatic creation of style names - I couldn't create my own - which might make managing multiple styles more difficult when it comes to creating the rest of the site.

No one can guess the future of Studio's apps - the absence from the suite of Freehand, Macromedia's illustration program, is ominous. But Fireworks fans can breathe a little easier: judging by Studio 8.0, this program clearly has a future.

Click here to see how Flash Pro's new video encoder makes Flash a great option for Web-based video.

Creating Flash content for phones? Flash Pro lets you emulate leading models (Click here to view a screenshot).

Click here to see how tables in the Pop-Up Menu Editor make it easy to add items to the menu.

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Tom Gorham

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