It would not be surprising if Macromedia Inc., whose Web development and authoring tools are dominant products in their respective markets, decided to rest on its laurels and provide minor upgrades. However, with Studio MX 2004, that is clearly not the case. The new releases of several products in the Web development suite are worthwhile upgrades that increase the power of the tools while lowering their complexity.
Studio MX 2004, released last month, also carries on the cross-product integration that began with the previous Studio MX release: Even tighter integration between products and core features is carried across multiple products in the suite.
Studio MX 2004s upgraded products are Dreamweaver, Macromedias market-leading Web development application; Flash, the popular platform for rich media Web applications; and the Web-oriented image editing tool Fireworks. Also included in Studio MX 2004 are Freehand MX and the developer edition of ColdFusion MX 6.1.
Studio MX with Flash MX 2004 Professional—the version eWEEK Labs tested—is priced at $999; with standard Flash MX 2004, it is priced at $899. (Upgrade pricing is also available.) All the suites components are also available as stand-alone products.
Studio MX 2004
Macromedias Studio MX 2004 provides a complete, very affordable environment for building everything from complex Web applications to dynamic images to high-volume Web sites. The suite leverages the strengths of each product throughout each component and provides broad support for nearly any Web development method a company chooses. Studio MX with standard Flash MX 2004 is priced at $899; with Flash MX 2004 Professional, Studio MX is priced at $999.
EVALUATION SHORT LIST
One of the main forces behind Dreamweavers popularity has been its ability to combine powerful development capabilities with an easy-to-use, intuitive interface. Dreamweaver MX 2004 continues this trend by adding to the products already-broad development support while improving its usability.
One of the biggest new features in Dreamweaver MX 2004 is its enhanced ability to create, edit and manage CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). With the new CSS properties and inspectors, it was simple to apply CSS to our Web content to define our layout and style.
In fact, these new capabilities make it so easy to apply CSS that it could prove to be a problem for some developers because it might make it more likely that less experienced developers will apply CSS in ways they shouldnt, such as applying it to blocks of text as they might in a word processor.
The cross-browser validation capability is a great new usability feature. Using this, we could quickly test our pages against a host of browsers and see reports on potential problem spots (see screen). This proved especially useful when developing pages on the Macintosh because it let us test against popular Windows-only browsers without having to leave the Mac system.
Another nice usability feature is the ability to cut and paste directly from Microsoft Corp.s Word or Excel and preserve the styles from these formats as CSS. We also liked the improved inline image editing, which let us do simple edits such as resizing without having to launch a separate application such as Fireworks.
Editing and managing tables is also much easier now, and we especially appreciated the visual feedback we received while working on tables. In addition, Dreamweaver MX 2004 supports Secure FTP for transferring content to Web sites.
With the release of Flash MX 2004 Professional, the Web application platform continues its transformation from a media-oriented application creation tool to a fully integrated development environment for applications.
However, Flash MX 2004 Professional also includes features that address some long-standing weaknesses, making many common tasks in Flash much easier and quicker to perform.
One of our favorite new features in Flash MX 2004 Professional is the forms development environment. This made it possible for us to create forms-based applications in a traditional drag-and-drop development environment, rather than using the timeline and frame metaphor, which never felt right for this type of application (although those who prefer it can still develop forms in this way).
The scripting environment in Flash has been updated to ActionScript 2.0, which complies with the standard ECMAScript used by many Web applications. The updated ActionScript editor made it much easier to copy scripts into the environment and receive context-sensitive help.
Strangely, Macromedia decided to get rid of the normal mode for the editor, leaving only the expert command-oriented mode, which could be confusing to those used to developing in normal mode.
Weve always thought Flash was an excellent environment for delivering presentations and slide shows, but Flash made doing this much harder than necessary. Fortunately, Flash MX 2004 makes it easy to create slide shows and presentations, with templates and options making it about as simple as using Microsofts PowerPoint.
The new project features make it possible to create central views for projects that multiple developers might be working on.
Fireworks MX 2004 has inherited strong features from its suite mates. Among the most welcome is support for Dreamweavers check-in/check-out features. This means graphics teams can participate in the same site controls and workflow that the rest of the site developers use.
Fireworks MX 2004 is aware of the scripts used in Web applications, making it possible to tie dynamic graphics more effectively to applications and site content.
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eWEEK Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_ [email protected]