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Fireworks, Flash, and Integration: Is Macromedia MX Worth the Upgrade?

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In Part 2 of his evaluation of the updated Macromedia MX series, David deBoer scrutinizes Flash MX and Fireworks MX to see if it's worth upgrading to the latest technology.
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In this second part of the series, I review the new and improved features of Macromedia's Fireworks MX and Flash MX. I also have a look at the integration of the series as a whole, as well as in the individual products.

To me, the improvements and new features in Dreamweaver MX seem much more plentiful than those in Fireworks. Flash MX has some very strong new features, however. The upgrade prices for all these programs individually are almost the same, so you have to wonder whether Fireworks MX really is worth the upgrade. Read on and judge for yourself!

Fireworks MX

Ah, Fireworks! Although many will argue that it does not compete with Adobe's image-editing program, PhotoShop, Fireworks remains a very useful tool. In my opinion, it is easier to use and has a nicer interface than the competition—when working with Web graphics, I prefer it over other image-editing programs exactly for this reason. If you're familiar with the Macromedia interface in other programs such as Dreamweaver, you'll find that Fireworks is a quick and easy way to modify or create images for your Web projects.

I do most of my graphics work in this program, and I have only occasionally found myself switching to PhotoShop for my Web projects. Although PhotoShop has more features and is arguably the more "professional" editor, my experience is that the features in Fireworks are sufficient for your Web graphic production and editing.

So What's New?

While downloading Fireworks MX a few months back without reading any reviews or new feature lists (don't worry, it was a trial version!), I was wondering what Macromedia could have changed in this new version to make it a better program. Not just better—much better. The one thing I had seen was the price for upgrading from 4.0 to MX: $149 USD. That's a lot of money, but I was sure that the new features would be worth the money (I had already updated Dreamweaver to the MX version, which exceeded my expectations).

Here is what I found to be the most important features (new or improved):

  • Interface in general: The interface in Fireworks MX remains pleasant to look at and work with. The property inspector has been given a face-lift to include more options, which can now be accessed with the click of a mouse. Many windows and tabs that were separated in 4.0 have been put together in only a couple of windows, to make them more accessible to the user.

  • Still Web focused: Fireworks remains the top editing tool for Web graphics. The speed and productivity that this program achieves beats the competition by a mile. The export feature is fast and practical, and many compression modes are available.

  • Fireworks' ability to create HTML drop-down menu's and navigation bars with ease, and the good integration with other MX products (discussed later), make it my first choice for Web graphic editing.

  • The vector/bitmap switch: Remember how in Fireworks 4.0 you had to keep switching between vector and bitmap editing when working images? Not anymore! You can simply select a tool or layer, and Fireworks automatically switches to the desired mode. Another time saver.

  • Working with text: Another thing I really missed in Fireworks 4.0 was the ability to add text directly onto the image. In previous versions, a new window would pop up in which you could edit your text, but now you can type directly "onto" the image. This might seem like a minor change, especially because in the previous versions the text on the image updated in real time if you changed it in the pop-up window, but it just looks a lot nicer and saves you time this way. This feature also gives you a better look at your image while you're adding or changing the text because there is no other window in front of you.

Working with the competition: For the first time in Fireworks' history, it is possible to import PhotoShop images while keeping layers, fonts, and other items intact. That's a smart way of getting even more users to use Fireworks for their Web graphics editing, but it's also a useful new feature for designers working in groups. In many cases, Web designers and graphic designers work together on one project; now it is possible for the graphics people to use PhotoShop to make images and for the Web designers to slightly modify or enhance them for Web use in Fireworks.

Worth It?

Sure, some of these features are useful, and many of them will save you time. Are these improvements worth your $150? Well, I must say that, for the price, the number and quality of improvements and new features is rather disappointing. While the program has become more pleasant to work with and I found myself saving quite some time thanks to the interface and new features, I don't recommend upgrading to MX unless you will use it very frequently. Studio MX still seems the best option, though. The upgrade is useful but a little overpriced.

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