logo

Features - Adobe's Macromedia Studio 8 -- What's New in the Upgrade?

By Roger V. Skalbeck, Published on June 10, 2006
Roger V. Skalbeck is the Technology Librarian at George Mason School of Law in Arlington Virginia. He manages websites for GMU School of Law, The Critical Infrastructure Protection Program and a few other web-based projects. He has worked in law libraries for over a decade, and he recently received a law degree. Though he is now a lawyer, he doesn't have plans to play one on television. This article is 100% free of legal advice.

Adobe Systems has a new version of the Macromedia-branded web publishing suite, now available as Macromedia Studio 8 ("Studio 8"). If you manage websites regularly, or if you frequently use an earlier version of Dreamweaver, this is an upgrade worth considering. Moreover, if acronyms such as CSS, XML, PHP, ASP, RSS or SQL are a part of your web development vocabulary, then Studio 8 will provide dozens of ways to make your life easier.

Adobe's Macromedia Studio 8 includes new versions of Dreamweaver (for developing web sites and applications), Fireworks (for image editing and graphic effects) and Flash Professional (for creating interactive websites). With this release, Macromedia no longer bundles its vector-based drawing program, Freehand, instead including Contribute, a sophisticated but simple web editing system. In addition, the release includes Flash Paper, which is used to create PDF documents and Flash-based equivalents to PDF.

I previously reviewed Macromedia Studio MX and Macromedia Contribute 3 here on LLRX.com. In the current review, I focus on improvements since those reviews were published. I don't review Flash at all because none of the sites I manage use it. Both Dreamweaver 8 and Fireworks 8 contain great time-saving features, and Contribute continues to be a great tool to enable content experts of all types to manage websites.

Before proceeding to the review, it's worth noting that this is Adobe's Macromedia Studio because Adobe just finalized the acquisition of Macromedia. The new company name is Adobe Systems, Inc.

Dreamweaver 8

For casual users, Dreamweaver has a higher learning curve than something like Microsoft's FrontPage, but once you learn it, the effort pays off tremendously. If you manage a website with almost any kind of database connectivity, Dreamweaver has countless ways to help you create that dynamic content. The latest version has all kinds of bells and whistles to simplify the development process.

Making life easier for programmers and designers alike

One of the beauties of Dreamweaver is that it's just as well suited for designers as it is for programmers. The latest version includes improvements for both left- and right-brain needs. Irrespective of how you create websites, one very welcome change is that Dreamweaver now separates file transfer and editing operations. This means you can edit files locally while posting any number of updates to a live site. Here is a selection of new features for designers and programmers:

Improvements for Designers

Page ZoomYou can now zoom in and out on page designs. This screen also shows a improved table editing tools (33% width cell, 194 pixel width), a feature introduced in MX 2004.

CSS Color Backgrounds

There are options to highlight CSS components in color or outline block elements without changing your stylesheet.

CSS Panel Information

You can view and edit properties of each element in your CSS file in a context-sensitive menu.

Improvements for Programmers
Code Collapse

In code view, you can collapse tags, limit view to specific lines of code and isolate elements one parent tag at a time.

Apply comment

Other functions added to the code gutter (left column) allow you to apply/remove comments, add line numbers and highlight invalid code.

Code format

Coding options allow you to adjust automatic format options (shown here), determine when and how the program suggests code hints and set coloring schemes.

Better support for CSS, XML, RSS, etc.

Some of the best updates in Dreamweaver 8 are the improvements in support for CSS (cascading style sheets) and other web standards such as XML and RSS integration. For one simple illustration, when you attach a stylesheet, it prompts you to set the media type. This is useful if you want to set a different style for print, screen or mobile device viewing. Once you've set these, you can view an approximation on the screen by using the Style Rendering toolbar: Render style view.

Still Room for Improvement

Though Dreamweaver 8 is a great improvement over earlier versions, there is still room for improvement. First of all, though the CSS editing is greatly improved, it is nowhere as robust and flexible as an editing tool such as TopStyle (developed by the person who created HomeSite, which is still included in Studio 8). In addition, code lookup options don't seem to respond as well when editing CSS files directly as they do for editing web pages.

Beyond that, it is curious to see that Dreamweaver now includes numerous attractive new starter page designs but not a single CSS-based design has been added. All of the new designs are table-based. In addition, though there are several sample stylesheets, none are configured specifically for mobile devices or print, and none are intended to work in tandem with each other.

As with all of the earlier versions, important application shortcomings or oversights will probably be addressed by people who design Extensions. These are program add-ons that do everything from inserting filler text to helping you create vastly complex applications. Because the best extensions are not free, any critical functions they provide will increase your software costs accordingly.

Fireworks 8

Much More than 'Just' a Graphics Program

Fireworks is much more than 'just' a graphics application. Yes, it a great way to manipulate buttons, banners, pictures and pixels. However, the true power of Fireworks is that it also allows you to create image maps, GIF animation, image rollover effects and other dynamic image elements. More importantly, Fireworks generates the underlying HTML code when necessary, and you can import this directly into Dreamweaver. Fireworks 8 does a better job allowing you to edit elements in either program, while preserving your access to edit graphical aspects again and again.

A noticeable improvement with Fireworks 8 over any prior version is that it now allows you to create CSS-based rollover menus. The previous rollover menu functions hadn't been changed in years, they were based on Javascript, and they didn't work in the Opera browser.

Better Ways to Save Time

One of the most useful, yet also most surprising, updates to Fireworks 8 is that the program now allows you to open a JPG file and save it directly in the same format. Previously, any JPG you opened had to be saved as a PNG (portable network graphic) file or exported as a JPG file. For some strange reason, earlier versions wouldn't allow you to open a JPG file, change it and close it in the normal workflow. Below are some highlights of changes in Fireworks 8. Some "updates" are not new at all, as they just provide better access to already-existing program options. Nonetheless, it's nice to see they have made them easier to control.

Selected Changes in Fireworks 8
Special Characters

There's now an application window for inserting special characters such as §, ¶ or ®.

Autoshape Properties

An improved auto shape property inspector, lets you fix your polygons, doughnuts, pies and spirals with better precision.

Image Edting Menu

An image editing menu consolidates the most common existing features in a single location.

Tabs, tubes, timestamps and talking balloons
New auto shapes include tabs, tubes, timestamps and talking balloons.

Cost and Integration: Fireworks' Best Assets

Two aspects of Fireworks that haven't changed are also its strongest assets: cost and integration. In the market for image editing software, Photoshop is certainly more widely-recognized than Fireworks. Photoshop is a better tool for photo editing, and many professional designers know its functions by heart. Fireworks has two advantages over Photoshop: It is tightly integrated with Dreamweaver, where both share an identical functional layout (it's the same as the earlier version). The second big advantage over Photoshop is that it's cheaper.

Now that Adobe has acquired Macromedia, the best functions of the two programs might be combined, and it's almost certain that the interface of all products will migrate to a uniform layout some day. For now though, I suspect most non-designers will be very satisfied with Fireworks. If you're on a budget, consider sticking with Fireworks 8 for now.

Contribute 3

Contribute is a very powerful tool that enables web managers to give editing control to others, while still providing significant control of layout and design. With a product like Contribute, you can grant somebody complete control of selective files on a website in a matter of minutes. There is no need to explain FTP, HTML or anything technical. If you also use Dreamweaver templates, you can lock down menus, navigation and any part of the page design to prevent aesthetic problems. In short, it is a very natural addition to the Studio 8.

Though it's new to the Studio suite, Contribute 3 has not been upgraded for this release. In fact, it hasn't changed much in more than a year. In November 2004, my review of Contribute highlighted four and a half flaws with Contribute. A subsequent update (Contribute 3.1) fixed the two most important flaws. This updated program now allows you to create more than one Contribute site within a single URL path, and it allows you to replace non-HTML files when uploading documents.

However, access rights are still such that you grant/deny permissions to users on a per-directory basis. In addition, you can't assume more than one role for the same website. Finally, Contribute is a great product for what it is. A database-driven website will give you more control and flexibility over your site, but this requires developer skills and sophistication that is often unavailable and possibly unnecessary in many situations.

Pricing and Conclusions

If you are in the market for a unified web publishing system, Studio 8 provides a lot of power and functionality. If you have held off on upgrading from an earlier version, there are enough bells and whistles in Dreamweaver 8 alone to warrant downloading a trial copy.

Now the bottom line: A new copy of Studio 8 is $999, and academic pricing is around $300. Details on the current upgrade policy may effect your cost, so check them out.

One of the first new products from the combined Adobe/Macromedia company is the "Adobe Web Bundle". This includes Studio 8 and all of Creative Suite 2 ("CS2"). CS2 includes Acrobat, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and GoLive (the web publishing program). It's not clear how the separately-developed suites will work together in the near future. One interesting thing to note is that there is significant overlap in products, as you get two web publishing programs (Dreamweaver and GoLive) and two image editors (Photoshop and Fireworks). Illustrator 'won out' as the only vector-based graphics program, but FlashPaper and Acrobat can both create PDF documents. All of this comes at a pretty hefty price tag of $1899.

Copyright © 2005, Roger V. Skalbeck. All Rights Reserved.