Macromedia Studio 8

Macromedia has worked hard on leading the way in Web applications and the new beta version of its flagship suite of development tools - Studio 8 - shows the company isn't resting on its laurels.

The first thing noticeable in Studio 8 is the absence of Freehand. Although a decent vector graphics application in its own right, it was never a match for Illustrator or CorelDraw. With Adobe's recent purchase of Macromedia, it remains to be seen what Freehand's future will be.

Dreamweaver 8

By far the most interesting addition to Dreamweaver 8 is Flash video insertion. With a couple of clicks you can add video to be played progressively or streamed from a Web site. The video needs to first be converted into the Flash Video (FLV) format - easily done with the supplied Flash 8 Video Encoder. We tested a variety of different format conversions - including .mov, .wmv and .avi - with no errors.

Dreamweaver also adds much improved support for Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), allowing the developer to add or edit CSS, both linked and internal, using a much-improved CSS side panel. Another interesting addition is code collapse, whereby particular chunks of code (such as entire tables) can be hidden from view. This can take a bit of getting used to, though - looking for that elusive code can be frustrating when you've hidden it!

Fireworks 8

Fireworks 8 receives new blend modes and can now support more than 25 image formats. There is also a variety of new panels, including image editing - a quick and easy-to-access panel of commonly used tools. An autoshape panel now allows the user to easily control shape properties, and the library has added many more templates for buttons, themes and icons.

Flash Professional 8

As with Dreamweaver, Flash 8 also makes it very easy to insert video into Flash files, and even supports alpha channels within the video. Flash 8 also has a new codec, On2 VP6, which promises better quality video at smaller file sizes.

Another addition to Flash 8 is the new font rendering engine. Text now looks crisp and clean, no matter what font size is used, and you can choose how your text will be displayed within the Flash movie - either animated or static. This allows Flash 8 to make your text look clear and easy to read. The ability to add title and description metadata to movies is also new, allowing search engines to index and search the files.

Contribute 3

One of two new additions to Studio 8, Contribute 3 allows developers to set up content management systems (CMS) for clients, who can then add or edit their own information without upsetting the look and functionality of the Web site. This has been a stand-alone product for a while now, and is definitely a welcome addition to Studio 8.

FlashPaper 2

Converting Office documents to either PDF or SWF format for Web publishing is a great idea, and that's exactly what FlashPaper 2 - the second addition to Studio 8 - allows you to do. This version doesn't give you many options for conversion, and had mixed results converting links within documents, but future updates should address these issues.

Verdict: Studio 8 has great support for mobile device content creation, and with the ability to create and work with XML and PHP5, user-friendly CSS controls and powerful Flash video creation (and insertion); you could be this month looking at the future of online content development! Macromedia will release Studio 8 this month.

Macromedia Studio 8 Beta
Price: Full version $1510; Upgrade $605
VENDOR: Macromedia
PHONE: (02) 9550 6012
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: 800MHz Pentium processor or equivalent; Windows 2000/XP; 256MB RAM; 2GB hard disk space; 1024x768 screen resolution with at least 16-bit capable video card.