Macromedia Fireworks MX 2004

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New pop-up previews, drawing tools, formatting options, workflow enhancements and an overall boost to speed.

Fireworks might be the least-recognized application in Macromedia's all-encompassing Studio suite, but in many ways it is the most central. After all, whether you're working with Flash, Dreamweaver or FreeHand, you'll almost certainly turn to Fireworks to add some bitmap-based graphical flair.

As well as the new shared colour scheme and Start panel, the Fireworks 2004 interface has been given a number of tweaks to boost productivity. You can now swap between open files using document tabs and quickly maximize your work area with the Hide/Show Panels command. The new options for interactively scaling objects from their centre and for trimming the canvas to fit its contents are also handy. Much the biggest difference though comes from the new graphical pop-up previews that appear when you're choosing a fill, line style or font from the Properties panel.

In terms of creative power there are two new bitmap tools, Replace Colour and its associated variation, Red Eye Removal for touching up photos. Generally though, Fireworks shouldn't be seen as a photo editor. In particular, although the program's final output is in the form of bitmaps, you're usually much better off producing your artwork with Fireworks' impressive vector-based object and stroke handling. There are a whole range of new vector Auto Shape tools for adding common shapes such as spirals, stars, arrows and connector lines and there's a new Smart Shape panel which lets you drag on special cases such as cubes. Each shape has intelligent editability built in so that with the Bent Arrow tool, for example, you can adjust the curve of the bend and the shape of the arrowhead.

Features such as auto shapes and previews make life easier.

Another advantage of vector handling is that formatting is non-destructive and so remains editable - particularly important for setting up different image states for rollovers. New formatting options imported from FreeHand include contour gradients which follow a shape's outline and the ability to set up dashed line strokes. Thanks to its Live Effects technology Fireworks isn't limited to vector-only formatting. New bitmap-based options include a range of Linear, Radial and Zoom Blur effects and the ability to add pixel-based Noise.

Of course where Fireworks really shines is in producing optimized JPEG and GIF graphics for web use. As such the program has to work alongside other web authoring apps, most obviously Dreamweaver. Integration here has been enhanced with the new ability to check files in and out of a Dreamweaver web site directly. Fireworks 2004 also now provides round-tripping support for server-side code as well as for HTML. The most useful workflow improvement is the simplest. Now when you open a GIF or JPEG and edit it you can save it directly back to its original format without first having to save to Fireworks' own PNG format and exporting from there.

Fireworks 2004 has one final ace up its sleeve - it's much quicker. Macromedia has put a lot of effort into speeding up Fireworks core operations by as much as 85%. This means that the program feels much more responsive all round, especially when working on larger files. The end result is that Fireworks MX 2004 makes a more convincing standalone creative application and one that deserves wider recognition. Where it really comes into its own though is working as the natural partner to the other members of the Studio suite.

Features
5
Ease of Use
5
Value for Money
5
Overall
5

ratings out of 6

System requirements: Pentium III 600MHz, 128Mb of RAM, 150Mb of hard disk space, Windows 98SE, 2000 or XP, CD-ROM.

Tom Arah

October 2003


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