First Look: Macromedia's Revamped Web Suite

Macromedia has overhauled its Studio 8 Web suite, but many of the changes are not to its individual apps. Overall, the $999 suite features tighter integration and improved links to databases and other Web resources; but if you work primarily in only one of the suite's big-name apps (Dreamweaver, Flash, or Fireworks), you may find few reasons to pay $399 to upgrade from Studio MX 2004.

Studio 8's rejiggered lineup adds Contribute 3 for updating site content and FlashPaper 2 for converting files to Flash or PDF. (The company released both programs individually earlier this year.) Absent from the suite is the Freehand drawing program, which was part of the two previous Studio releases. All three of the updated suite members--Fireworks 8, Flash 8 Professional, and Dreamweaver 8--work together more closely than ever. In fact, in the beta version I reviewed, I found that their look and features overlap so much that it's easy to forget which program you're working in at any given point.

Macromedia makes the biggest changes to Flash Professional 8. The vector-graphics program adds a new video encoder plug-in that provides more ways to control how video plays. The encoder lets you export finished videos directly from Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro, and other video-editing apps. The free Flash Player 8 also gets a video upgrade via On2 Technologies' new VP6 video codec, which promises improved playback and faster downloads of Flash files. The new FlashType text engine makes small fonts easier to read, and the drop shadow and other added filters give simple animations more pizzazz.

Fireworks 8, the suite's Web image editor, adds 25 new blend modes, CSS support, and batch processing of files, but more important for Web teams is the program's tighter hooks to Dreamweaver and Flash. For example, Fireworks now imports Flash vector objects with their colors, blends, and other attributes intact. Also, Fireworks more closely resembles its two stablemates via the new image-editing and AutoShape panels.

Dreamweaver 8 features a new unified CSS panel and CSS layout visualization that make it much easier to design and use Cascading Style Sheets, but this Web-design program doesn't offer anything like Adobe GoLive CS2's CSS page templates, which let you drag and drop prefabricated CSS layouts. You can drag and drop XML feeds onto pages in Dreamweaver, and make changes to the XML in the program's code view (a new XML and XSLT reference guide is included). As you might expect, moving files from Flash to Dreamweaver's layout view is another drag-and-drop affair.

Despite many useful new features in Fireworks 8 and Dreamweaver 8, both feel more like point releases than a major update. However, tighter links between the apps themselves, better integration with other Web technologies, and the addition of the Contribute and FlashPaper apps could be sufficient reason for Web shops large and small to find the new suite worth the price.

Macromedia Studio 8

Flash Pro 8's new video features are the biggest change, but the lack of knockout new tools in Fireworks 8 and Dreamweaver 8 may leave you with few reasons to upgrade.
$999; $399 upgrade
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