Studio MX 2004 fills out Web developer toolkit

Box Score

Whether you're new to Web development or an old pro, Macromedia's Studio MX 2004 suite can streamline your work.

Here's what you get in the suite:
  • Dreamweaver MX 2004 HTML editor

  • Flash MX for creating Flash content

  • Fireworks MX interactive graphics builder

  • FreeHand MX vector drawing tool

  • ColdFusion MX script server.

By far the most changes since the studio's 2002 edition are in Dreamweaver MX. The Insert bar now takes up less space, and there's a customizable Favorites category for often-used objects.
In addidion, there's a Save Desktop option that automatically reopens the last document when you restart Dreamweaver.

The well-laid-out start page lets you easily create a new file, access data already used or move to Dreamweaver options.

Capturing data from a Microsoft Excel or Word document is a simple matter of copying and pasting into Dreamweaver, which generates HTML for the Web while preserving the original format.

Table editing often caused problems in earlier Dreamweaver versions because there was no way to see the effects of column resizing. In Dreamweaver 2004, a visual feedback option saves time restructuring columns.

More security

Security is becoming a dominant factor in software, even for Web development. A secure File Transfer Protocol option now lets you encrypt all file transfers to foil unauthorized access to password, files, user names or data.

For advanced users, Dreamweaver 2004 has a code-view context menu for quick edits to selected code.

A visualization tool eases layout of cascading style sheets, which add colors, spacing or fonts to documents. Simply select content blocks from the Design view to modify the CSS properties.

Dreamweaver automatically checks documents for cross-browser, style sheet or tag conflicts; you must specify which browsers to check, however.

Dreamweaver's image-editing toolbar resembles the Fireworks MX interactive tool. The toolbar can crop, resize, adjust color or resample an image on the fly without opening a separate application.

The downside is that it lacks the sophistication of Fireworks MX 2004, which has advanced functions for removing red-eye reflections, e-mailing an image and applying a multicolor gradient to make illustrations flow better.

Fireworks MX 2004's Fit Canvas button can quickly size an image to a certain area. The Hide and Show button removes clutter from the window to free up workspace. And Fireworks MX 2004 can now save an edited image in its original format, unlike Fireworks 2002.

Like Fireworks MX, Flash MX 2004 was designed to boost productivity. Macromedia accomplished this by simplifying tasks.

Flash is a graphical enrichment language for animating pictures and building data-driven applications. With Flash MX 2004, you can add timeline effects to any image, such as fade-ins, blurs or spins.

The new Flash finally has hot-keys for navigation and interface controls, which relieves mouse dependency and makes the interface more accessible to people with limited range of motion. Large tabs for each document appear at the top of the screen for switching jobs.

In any editing field, a user familiar with hot-keys can generally get more work done faster than other people. Now a developer can import an Adobe Portable Document file or Illustrator 10 file without compromising the representation of the file. An import wizard for videos is included.

Perhaps the most-used new resource in Flash MX 2004'at least by me'will be the spell checker.

FreeHand MX, the drawing application for vector graphics, can scale and print at any resolution. It's popular for transferring custom logos or images to a Web page. The interface, which is the same as in Studio MX Plus, has panels at the right edge that can be moved, separated or combined to save space.

When editing a bitmap image, FreeHand can automatically launch Fireworks MX so that you can use its bitmap tool. Likewise, if you're importing Flash content, FreeHand will automatically launch Flash MX to edit the data.

Many of the improvements in FreeHand MX come from new editing tools. There's an eraser to remove vector lines and a blend tool, which facilitates combining two objects by dragging a line between them.

Overall, the improvements of Studio MX 2004 over the 2002 version are well worth the price.

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