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Software Review: Adobe Master Collection – Fireworks CS4 from Adobe Systems

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This is the seventh in a series of reviews that will cover what is contained in the Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4) Master Collection. When Adobe released CS4 this past fall, they not only released single version products, but also six separate suites of products. They are Design Premium, Design Standard, Web Premium, Web Standard, Production Premium, and Master Collection. You can go online to compare what is contained in each version. The goal of this series it to define what each product does and provide information of what the new version brings to the table.

What do you need to run Fireworks CS4? On PCs you need a 1 GHz or faster processor, Windows XP SP2 or Vista; on Macs, a PowerPC G5 or multi-core Intel processor, Mac OS X v10.4.11 – 10.5.4 (Leopard); on both you need 1GB RAM, a 1280×800 display with a 16-bit video card, 4 GB hard drive space for installation, and a DVD-ROM drive.

Fireworks CS4Adobe Fireworks CS4 is a bitmap and vector graphics editor that was originally developed and distributed by Macromedia. Adobe Fireworks CS4 is now the second version released under the Adobe banner and as such has now become more integrated within the Creative Suite, but is taking on more of the Adobe product personality.

Macromedia Fireworks was first introduced in March of 1998 and later that year was released in an integrated studio with Dreamweaver. Many people thought that, with the purchase by Adobe, Fireworks would suffer the same fate as Macromedia Freehand and fall by the wayside. After all, there is Photoshop, which incorporated much of ImageReady and Illustrator, so what would be the need of Fireworks?

Being positioned as the tool to prototype Web site and Web applications, now you can use it to do the graphic design and layout that goes into creating a Web site before it gets into Dreamweaver. Since Dreamweaver and Fireworks have really been together from the start, this move was a natural.

So what is new with Fireworks CS4?

• Improved performance will help improve your productivity with faster-loading files and more space available for a greater number of pages, states, layers, and symbols. Since file saving is an asynchronous operation, you can get back to work while storing a large file. Fireworks boasts more robust symbol updating, as well as faster bitmap and vector operations so that you can deliver your projects faster than ever before.

• Revamped user interface now brings it in alignment with the other Creative Suite products. Now, whether you are in Fireworks, Dreamweaver, Flash, or one of the other products in the Creative Suite, you can feel at home knowing where everything is.

• CSS- and images-based export will let you design complete Web pages in the graphic environment of Fireworks, and then export Web-standards compliant, CSS-based-layouts. They even come complete with external style sheets without any extra steps. You can integrate the foreground and background graphics with the new slice types where you can set your background slices to repeat along the X or Y coordinates, or even not repeat at all.

• PDF export gives you the ability to deliver your Fireworks CS4 design comps to your clients by exporting any range of pages in your document with a single command. The PDF document maintains hotspot-linked pages creating interactive electronic comps that are viewable by anyone with Adobe Reader or Acrobat software. You can protect your designs with passwords even to the extent of separate passwords for viewing, copying, commenting, as well as other tasks.

• Adobe text engine brings the enhanced typographical capabilities that users of Photoshop and Illustrator are familiar with, into use within the Fireworks text engine. Now you can set type and get the same results whether you start from scratch or import text. Not only can you bring in double-byte characters from InDesign, but you can bring Photoshop PSD files into Fireworks with fully editable text.

• Style improvements takes the style capabilities to new levels in Fireworks. Now when you modify a style, all elements that have had the style applied are updated. Fireworks now also supports multiple style sets that let you switch between them whether custom or standard.

• Symbol enhancements have been improved with in-place editing. That is modifying the symbol without having to jump to a separate window. This will let you refine your symbol while keeping an eye on the larger picture of your canvas. Add to that the ability of 9-slice scaling for any type of object. You can even nest symbols; that is having one symbol inside another.

• Workspace improvements include the ability to use Smart Guides for faster, more accurate positioning and measurement of guides and element on a canvas. These Smart Guides allow you to see where you are in relation to other objects as you drag guides into position.

• Adobe Kuler is the Web hosted application and online color community where designers can create and store color sets to share or keep available for their own use. Here you can find, sample, and apply the latest color schemes to craft color harmonies for your own use or to share with others.

• Adobe ConnectNow is a service that you can use to discuss and iron out details with your clients without having to do face-to-face, or deal with the cumbersomeness of e-mail. With ConnectNow, you can do real-time, online meetings to get things done faster.

• Adobe AIR authoring will let you preview and package your AIR interactive prototype from within Fireworks and have you ready to deliver it to HTML and CSS, Flex, or Flash. Pages and states can map directly to an interactive Adobe AIR application so you can cover your click-through mockup to a fully designed prototype.

 Fireworks CS4Overall, I like the changes that Adobe has been making with Fireworks. The new interface is not only being brought more in line with the other CS4 products, but they have done it in a very non-intrusive way. You can customize your workspace by rearranging panels and saving as your own. The Smart Guides make aligning new objects a snap.

The Color Palette panel has replaced the color mixer which now incorporates the Kuler technology. Now the selection of colors is much easier and with the blender tool, you can pick two colors and make up to 36 blends. The 9-Slice Scaling tool gives you more control to scaling an object while protecting selected areas. The Type enhancements really enhance your ability to work with Photoshop and Illustrator.

In addition, the improved Path panel, the real-time gradient controls, the styles panels updates, the export CSS, and collaborate abilities really make Adobe Fireworks CS4 a very significant upgrade and one I very highly recommend.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.