Until the recent release of Flash MX, things had been rather quiet from the Macromedia stable. Now all three releases of Dreamweaver, Fireworks and ColdFusion boast the new MX tag, which brings design, server and client technologies all under one roof.
Dreamweaver is probably the most drastically changed of the three, but Fireworks and ColdFusion also have new features of their own.
Dreamweaver, Macromedia's Web design package, used to be available in two versions - standard and UltraDev. Standard allowed you to create static Web pages, while UltraDev was for those wanting to produce dynamic data-driven sites. With Dreamweaver MX, you effectively get both versions rolled into one, plus HomeSite, Macromedia's stand-alone HTML editor.
Depending on where you approach Web design from - be it a design or programming background - you're going to want specific features from the application. On first launch, Dreamweaver offers three layout options: design, coding, or, for the nostalgic user with a big screen, Dreamweaver 4.0. The design interface, with its dockable panels that you can expand and shrink, makes for a more workable design than the original, while the coding view resembles HomeSite's layout. There's a full set of templates you can choose from to get your project off the ground, ranging from basic Web page layouts, sensibly categorised, to CSS (cascading style sheets) to control layout and styles.
On the programming side, Dreamweaver now offers support for many development languages, most notably the addition of PHP (a script language used primarily on Linux Web servers). Code completion greatly speeds up development: as soon as you start typing a tag it knows, the program offers possible options and will also add closing tags for you.
The object palette has been replaced by a more comprehensive insert panel. The tabbed layout provides easy access to frequently used elements, such as tables and text. It's also file type sensitive, so if you're working on an ASP (active server page), for example, options specific to ASP will be available.
Finally, there's accessibility - making technology usable for people with visual, auditory or other disabilities. Once it's enabled, if you insert an image you'll be prompted for a description of it so a screen reader (a program that reads out what is on screen) can tell a user what the picture represents. The application also offers the ability to use large fonts and keyboard shortcuts, and is compatible with screen readers.
Fireworks, a Web graphics program, has also received an MX interface overhaul. The floating palettes have been replaced with dockable panels and there's now a properties inspector (docked by default at the bottom of the screen), familiar to Dreamweaver users. This adjusts depending on the object you have selected at the time and allows you to edit it quickly.
Fireworks, as you would expect, integrates well with Dreamweaver. Support has now been extended to FrontPage, so if you must use Microsoft's application, you can still benefit.
The slicing tool is useful, allowing you to divide an image into a number of sections to be reassembled in an HTML table. However, if you lose the original source file, rebuilding it from its parts is time-consuming. The new Reconstitute Table command means Fireworks will do the hard work for you, leaving you more time to be creative.
Last up is ColdFusion MX, a server-based application for generating dynamic Web content. One of ColdFusion's major strengths is the ability to develop Web applications rapidly. Its tag-based language CFML (ColdFusion markup language) now offers native XML and Web services support, as well as connectivity to Flash MX. The server is managed through a Web browser, with all the settings configured via a simple interface. ColdFusion will happily integrate with Java or Microsoft's .NET platforms, linking to database sources such as Microsoft SQL, Oracle, MySQL and even Access.
Flash support means it's simple to add interactivity to a dynamic site; only the content required to build a page is sent from the ColdFusion server. The benefit to the user is faster access to information. For a Web site publisher, this method reduces the load on systems and processing time to build dynamic pages, as well as the bandwidth required. ActionScript (Flash's internal language) is now also supported.
ColdFusion MX comes in two editions - Professional and Enterprise. On the surface offering the same functionality, Professional meets the requirements of advanced sites, while Enterprise is for larger sites that require maximum performance.
In brief: Macromedia Dreamweaver MX, Fireworks MX, ColdFusion MX Dreamweaver MX stands out here - effectively offering three applications for the price of one. ColdFusion MX offers some powerful features, most notably its connectivity to Flash MX. Fireworks has some extra tweaks, but is only worth the money if you opt for the Studio bundle (priced $1999), which includes Dreamweaver MX, Flash MX, Fireworks MX, Freehand 10.0 and ColdFusion MX Developers Edition.
Price: Dreamweaver MX $999; Fireworks MX $749; ColdFusion MX Professional Edition $1695; Macromedia Studio MX (includes all three products) $1999.
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