the company best known for its multimedia authoring tool, Director,
is fast becoming an major player in the Web software business as
well. Their first web package was the streaming vector animation
"platform" Flash which is now being promoted by Real Networks
and others as a new standard. Then, they follow that with their
well-received HTML authoring tool Dreamweaver. And now, with Fireworks,
they have turned their considerable skills on Web graphics production.
Once again, I'm pleased to report that Macromedia has done something
unique and useful. Like Dreamweaver's much-needed approach to "round-trip
HTML," Fireworks also addresses an important need. Here's their
I can tell you (and any web developer will back me up on this),
doing web graphics "right" is a kind of specialty. Even
the web's most popular graphics formats GIF's (both animated and
still) and JPEG's each have their own unique needs. (For more on
this, I recommend Lynda Weinman's excellent book, Designing Web
Graphics.2. Fundamentally, one of the most important factors
in successful web graphic design is the technical ability to keep
the image file sizes small so that the graphics load as quickly
as possible into web browsers.
order to accomplish this goal, web graphic designers frequently
need an assortment of tools. For example, programs like Adobe Illustrator
or Macromedia's own Freehand for vector graphics and fancy text
layouts, and bitmap programs and like Adobe Photoshop and Metacreations
Painter for paint and photo-style images. And once you create your
images, you need special conversion and file size reduction programs
like Equilibrium's DeBabelizer along with other specialized programs
to turn your images into GIF animations. As a result, it's not unusual
for a sophisticated web graphic production to include as many as
a half a dozen separate software programs.
the complex stage onto which this new Macromedia program enters,
albeit with the immodest title of Fireworks. At press time, Macromedia
said that its "official" availability date for the release version
of Fireworks is "Summer 1998," and they project a street
price of $299. Prior to that you can check out the public beta for
free. It's is available online (of course) at http://www.macromedia.com.
WITH THE BOTTOM LINE
for the long set-up. Let's dive right in with the bottom line: This
is the most integrated web graphics design and production tool that
I've ever seen. There's no other graphics program out there that
has even attempted to combine Fireworks' comprehensive set of image
creation options, let alone going the extra web distance by complementing
them with one of the most complete set of web-focused and easy-to-use
output tools available anywhere. I'm impressed.
of all, designers will want to note the powerful way that Fireworks
combines bitmap and vector image editing into a single software
tool. This means that you can draw a shape and edit it using bezier
curves (including text of course) as you would in a drawing program
like Illustrator. You can even apply a basic set of natural brushes
to these lines (felt tip, crayon, water color, etc.). Then, you
can combine that image with bit-map editing tools including, for
example, soft, transparent drop shadows. And then, you can further
manipulate all of the above either in independent layers (a la Photoshop),
or in separate GIF animation frames, via an intuitive tabbed interface.
the web graphic production process, this ability to edit every attribute
of a graphic or animation at any stage of the process provides valuable
flexibility. After all, if you're using a group of software tools
instead of one package, any time you make a change, the images have
to go back through your multi-program process. I believe Macromedia's
claim that Fireworks provides a new way for web designers and developers
to create the smallest, highest quality graphics in the fewest number
of steps is both valid and worthy of your consideration.
integrated capabilities are especially valuable when applied to
one of any web designer's most common needs, the editing of text
within web graphics. Unlike in Photoshop, Fireworks' text is always
editable, including the use of multiple fonts, sizes, and styles
within a single text block
the Real Picture
nifty feature is displayed when you begin the export process using
Fireworks. This program features export modules that could be marketed
as stand alone programs. For example, Fireworks' extensive Export
Preview includes a control interface that allows you to visually
evaluate your JPEG, GIF, and PNG graphics as you optimize them for
fast download. Just like sophisticated programs like DeBabelizer,
you can edit and create color palettes, superpalettes, and set transparency;
but Fireworks also offers an easy to use Export Wizard that will
be especially valuable for new web designers.
of the most unusual and nifty of Fireworks' features is the ability
to do side-by-side comparisons with split screen displays that are
available for either 2 or 4 simultaneous versions. You use these
multiple previews to evaluate different variations of a single image.
For example, while in the process of exporting a GIF, you can do
a side-by-side preview of the same image optimized with both a palette
of 64 colors and 48 colors, and make your choice. Needless to say,
this is a way more efficient process than exporting two versions
of the same file, and then opening each of them in a web browser.
also includes web-friendly features like the ability to customize
URL links with a color hotspot preview, batch conversion of files
for format, scale and size optimization, and even the ability to
create Java script rollovers.
also like the way Fireworks can interface with other graphics programs
which may still be part of your production process. For example,
images that exist as layered files in Photoshop can be imported
with their layers intact, and FreeHand and Illustrator files may
be imported while still retaining their vector objects.
while Fireworks also includes support for third party plug-in filters,
some of the most commonly used effects such as bevel, emboss, drop
shadow and glow are readily available on one of Fireworks' floating
tool palettes. I also like some of the extra horizontal menu buttons
like the group/ungroup and move forward/move back, etc. buttons
which are located along the bottom of the program window.
found Fireworks' interface so user-friendly that I believe that
any experienced web graphic designer will experience very little
wasted learning curve time. I was up to speed almost immediately.
My only difficulty was sorting out some of the vector vs. bitmap
options, but this trouble was relatively minor and more than off-set
by this program's creative flexibility.
the end of the day, Fireworks exceeded my expectations. I think
its a valuable tool that will make a welcome addition to any web
designer's tool kit. While I'm sure it won't replace all of your
other graphic programs, I think you'll find that when you're designing
for the web, you'll need the others a lot less often. That's quite
an accomplishment for a new piece of software.
up the good work, Macromedia. Web designers need all the help we