Macromedia Studio 8 Preview
Start saving your pennies, Web designers! Macromedia today announced the upcoming release of all-new versions of its flagship products: Dreamweaver 8, Flash Professional 8, and Fireworks 8. True to form, it will also bundle these together with previously-available Contribute 3 and FlashPaper 2 in Macromedia Studio 8. Thanks to a generous upgrade pricing policy, first-time Macromedia users can get a really good deal with this release.
In Dreamweaver 8, the key focus of the new version is improved support for CSS-based design. Macromedia has revamped the CSS Styles panel to better visualize the rules and properties that have been applied to the selected element of the document, and add new properties to those existing rules. CSS-savvy designers can switch on a mode that lists each of the rules that applies to the selected element, in the order they cascade.
The WYSIWYG view has also gotten some additional attention in this release. It now clearly shows the padding and margin applied to the selected element with crosshatching, further assisting you in visualizing CSS layouts that rely heavily on these features.
Although Macromedia is touting significantly improved WYSIWYG rendering in this release, certain CSS layout features will still give it some trouble. As of Beta 2, for example, the use of CSS fixed positioning, even if hacked to work in Internet Explorer 6, screws up Dreamweaver’s display, interpreting position: fixed as position: static instead of ignoring the property definition as a browser would (or treating it as position: absolute the way IE does). This may or may not be fixed for the final release, but in general I’d say Dreamweaver 8’s WYSIWYG view is good enough to do anything CSS can do in today’s browsers without hacks.
When I asked her about the WYSIWYG rendering improvements, Dreamweaver Product Manager Jen Taylor said Macromedia “focused heavily on rendering in this release, dedicating an entire developer to nothing but rendering improvement. The goal of our rendering surface is to render to how most users will experience the page, which, until recently, has been IE. For this release, we began the process of transitioning to a more standard compliant rendering surface.” But she acknowledges that WYSIWYG rendering still isn’t perfectly compliant. “Neither we nor the browsers have gotten there. Rendering is a tricky thing because different browsers render things differently. We can’t get to pixel perfect because no browser does. But, we try.”
Dreamweaver 8 also includes visual authoring of XSLT transformations to display dynamic XML data (such as RSS feeds) either as a Web page, or embedded within another Web page. Dreamweaver 8 includes tools for both client-side and (more powerfully) server-side XSL Transformations. This is an impressive addition to the program, which risks going undiscovered by designers who are not necessarily XML-savvy.
Other nice improvements to the software include direct importing of Flash Video (FLV) files, support of updated server platforms such as ColdFusion MX 7 and PHP 5, the ability to zoom and set guides in the WYSIWYG display, a new coding toolbar, code folding support, and–my personal favourite–background file transfers.
Though Macromedia is touting this as the most significant update to Dreamweaver in the product’s history, I personally see it as just another natural evolutionary step.
Flash Professional 8 has received similarly extensive updates in this release, not least of which is authoring support for the dazzling array of new goodies supported by Flash Player 8 (which I discussed in a recent issue of the Tech Times). In addition to these many new authoring features and effects, Flash 8 sports a new, improved video codec, greatly improved performance on Mac OS X, and an optional ‘Illustrator/Freehand mode’ for its drawing tools.
Though not as extensive as the changes to its bigger brothers, the updates in Fireworks 8 are equally welcome. Better support for building CSS-based menus, as well as some fifteen new blend modes top the list.
Notably absent for the first time from this edition of Macromedia Studio is the company’s vector drawing product, Freehand. Though the company line is that Macromedia continues to support and see success with the existing version of Freehand, the product’s days are clearly numbered in the face of Macromedia’s imminent acquisition by rival Adobe, whose Illustrator product is more widely used and is considered the industry standard.
Instead of Freehand, Macromedia will bundle in Studio 8 the existing versions of its other Web design products, Contribute and FlashPaper. Contribute provides a friendly interface for non-technical users to edit the static HTML portions of a website without breaking its design. FlashPaper lets you convert any document to a Flash movie that can be embedded in a Web page for viewing and printing, like a more lightweight and Web-friendly version of Adobe PDF.
It should be noted that the bundled licenses of both these products are for use on the same computer as the rest of the Studio, so you can’t, for example, buy Studio 8 and give Contribute to your boss to update the corporate Website while you do the heavier design work in Dreamweaver. Your boss will need his own copy of Contribute to do that.
Aside from all the other nice stuff you’ll find in Studio 8, its pricing is worthy of particular note. For the first time, Macromedia is offering a single upgrade price for Studio 8 of US$399, which lets you upgrade from any prior version of the studio or one of its component products to the full Studio 8 (which now includes Flash Professional). So if you don’t already have one of these products, it would be worth checking eBay now for a cheap, legitimate copy of, say, Flash 3. You could probably find it for less than $20, but having that serial number will mean you’ll only need to pay the upgrade price of US$399 for Studio 8, not the full price of US$999.
Dreamweaver 8, Flash Professional 8, Fireworks 8 and Macromedia Studio 8 will be available in September. Contribute 3, FlashPaper 2 and Freehand MX are available now.