Macromedia Studio MX 2004 Review

Macromedia Studio MX 2004
Tyler Rucker
12/18/2003
Web and PC application designer / developer
Owner of One Dog Town Productions and tyBuilt.com

Before buying a new piece of software there are two questions everyone asks: 1. “Does my current system meet the minimum requirements to run this software?” and 2. “Will I (or my employees) be able to use this package effectively and efficiently with little or no training?”. Whether you’re brand new to the tools and ideas of modern web development or a seasoned web application “scripter”, you still need to answer both of these questions. I hope to shed some light on those questions as they pertain to Macromedia Studio MX 2004 by the end of this review. If nothing else, you should have some good questions for your software retailer if and when you are ready to buy.

Let’s start by answering the first question so we can get on to the really interesting stuff. After all, it really doesn’t matter how easily one can slip in to using a new suite or how powerfully and intuitively a tool helps you to complete projects if your system doesn’t meet the minimum requirements of the software you’re investigating. You should be able to get your PC’s hardware configuration fairly easily to compare with the following lists. For example, if you’re using a Microsoft Windows operating system you can simply right click the My Computer icon and select “Properties” to view your CPU and RAM information.

System Requirements:
For Windows
600 MHz Intel Pentium III processor or equivalent
Windows 98 SE (4.10.2222 A), Windows 2000, or Windows XP
256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended)
800 MB available disk space
For Macintosh
500 MHz PowerPC G3 processor
Mac OS X 10.2.6 and later, 10.3
256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended)
500 MB available disk space

By modern standards, these are relatively low requirements, a feather in Macromedia’s cap for all of us that despair at the idea of hardware upgrades. If you would find yourself needing an upgrade in order to use this Studio, you’d be pleasantly surprised at how affordable it really is to match these requirements.

So now that our system requirements question has been answered, on to the good stuff! What can this baby do when we fire it up. Well, with that segue I’d like to start with a very impressive management system that doesn’t limit Macromedia tools to what they can do at the first run. This small application is something you won’t even think about most of the time. You’ll probably forget that it’s even there until you need it. And when you need it you’ll be glad you have it. I’m talking about the Macromedia Extension Manager.
Extensions are add-ons that allow the capabilities of your Macromedia tools to continue to grow. Extensions are downloadable from Macromedia’s Exchange site and best of all you can add and remove them from the Extension Manager in just a few clicks. Because you choose the add-ons or Extensions that you want to include with you software, you don’t get a bunch of junk that you didn’t want. It’s up to you, download it, try it out, and get rid of it if it’s not what you were looking for. Most Extensions are free and, to use the web editor tool Dreamweaver MX 2004 as an example, range from dynamic shopping cart systems to simple page counters. And though it never hurts to know the scripting or formatting language that you are working with on your site, these tools add the necessary code to your page with the click of a button. In a lot of cases the most you have to do is fill in some values in a pop up window and click “OK”.

I just mentioned Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 2004 above and now I’d like to talk about this tool. With Dreamweaver, you really get a great idea of what Macromedia is all about. I first fell in love with Dreamweaver a few years ago and have continued with the newest versions since.

Regardless of what language my geeky friends and I may be discussing at any given time, whenever the term “intuitive software” comes up I always think of the Dreamweaver web editor. I believe it was Microsoft that started using what they labeled “Intelli-Sense” but one thing that I never understood is why they forgot to include this technology in their own web editing software. No worries though, this same principal is used in Dreamweaver MX 2004 and then some!

One could literally sit down with an HTML book and begin learning all the elements of the most common HTML tags quickly and on your own with the help of these remarkable drop-down boxes. As you begin to write a tag, a list of possible tag elements will appear in front of your cursor. So if your just learning HTML it’s like having a private “hint tutor” and if you’re an old pro you’ll begin to see your work efficiency increase as the time it takes to create a page decreases. Many intuitive code possibilities for scripting languages such as PHP are provided as well.

“Well, that’s all fine and good!” you say? “But what if I don’t know HTML, CSS, PHP, ASP or any of that other gobbly-gook? And what is more, I don’t want to know.” In this regard, I think Macromedia has endeavored to make everyone happy and lose nothing in the process. When you first install and run this software, you’ll be asked which “View” you prefer. And even if you choose the professional view, with simple button clicks you’ll be able to view the page in all code, just the displayed result of the code as it would appear in the browser, or both at the same time in a split screen. You can build professional looking pages in design view and never know or understand HTML.

Two new features in Dreamweaver MX 2004 are built in Rich CSS Support and Cross-Browser Validation. CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, have become the standard with web developers all over the world. Answering the call from this strong and growing trend in Internet technology, Macromedia has added enhanced features for CSS that can be used and manipulated in both Code and Design Views. And finally, with the Cross-Browser Validation you can instantly check to see if your CSS or HTML tags are supported by the industry leading browsers.

I could easily go on for days about this one tool so I will just make a simple list of the things that I found to be high-points before I move on. Some of the features that get two thumbs up from me are: it’s easy to add sites and manage multiple sites from a simple drop-down box, you can create template pages to reuse the basic style of your pages over and over again with a few clicks, new central navigation window that lists the last pages you worked on as well as other helpful tools when you open Dreamweaver, instead of tabs being used to separate the more common “Click to Add Code” buttons a drop-down box is used to give a cleaner interface, color coded text in your page code makes debugging much simpler, much more appealing and all around easy to use interface, and last but certainly not least the connection and online save to a web-server time is much faster than the previous versions. Yes, I love this tool because it makes my work faster and easier. Since I quit using Notepad to write my web pages, I’ve personally used this tool everyday that my wife has not barred me from my PC. It’s just that good.

Now another important part of modern web design is of course image editing and I have to say again that Macromedia has really out done themselves in this department. Included in Macromedia Studio MX 2004 is Fireworks. Fireworks MX 2004 is the real deal when it comes to image editing for the web because of that extra mile traveled.

I’m no artist when it comes to drawing pretty pictures so I, like many web developers, depend a great deal on the graphic editing software I use. I’ve used some decent packages before Fireworks, including the favorites of many; Photo Shop and Paint Shop Pro. I used Paint Shop Pro for a few years and really enjoyed the features there but when I made the move to Fireworks I realized that I was in a whole new realm of image editing.

The thing is, it really didn’t have a huge “learning curve”. This tool, in of it self, is a great example of “intuitive” software. By that I mean that the Fireworks MX 2004 interface is easy to use and familiar the very first time you sit down with it. So you can sit down and begin editing your pictures right away. As soon as your ready to save your edited image is when you’ll see how this tool stands out.

An on going problem with web page design is page load time and the most common item to increase load time is of course images. In the past I used many tricks to lower the file size of images, everything from resizing to lowering the quality. Fireworks MX 2004 has simplified and improved this procedure. First you save the image that you have edited as a Fireworks png. A png (Portable Network Graphics) file allows the objects in an image to be saved in the editing state. So you can come back and reuse those old banners just by changing the text! After saving your png, you can use the Optimization Panel to try out different filters and qualities on your image while observing the original png and the final optimized image for a visual comparison. Below the optimized image it shows the file size as well as an approximate browser load time for the image if the user is connected via 56k modem. When you have the image optimized to meet your needs, go to the “File” menu and “Export” the image. This asset alone is a big selling point for me but there’s plenty more.

With Fireworks MX 2004 you can actually build whole sites with this one tool. You can build menu systems that utilize HTML and JavaScript without knowing either language. When you export buttons or menus created in Fireworks, you’re exporting the HTML, JavaScript, and your edited image in slices. This allows you create your whole site by simply using code that is created for you on each of your pages. And by “slicing” the image it allows it to be loaded in pieces, giving the user the illusion of a faster page load… which is good.

As I said, you can create entire sites from either Fireworks or Dreamweaver but when you put the power of Dreamweaver MX 2004, Fireworks MX 2004, Flash MX 2004, FreeHand MX, and ColdFusion MX 6.1 Developer Edition together you have everything you need to build any site. But how do you pull all of this together if your new to the Macromedia tools or even new to web development? You use one of the best tutorial systems I have ever seen. And this will hopefully help you to answer question number 2, “Will I be able to use this package effectively and efficiently with little or no training?”.

Macromedia Flash is meant to be the simplest animation tool in its class and to be honest I haven’t used any others so I can’t verify that. However, by walking through one tutorial on Flash the interface quickly went from looking complex to seeming quite logical. After completing that first tutorial the Flash system not only seemed to make more sense to me but I was utterly surprised at what I was able to create in the final result. Then I was amazed once again when I took my first Fireworks tutorial about creating buttons. All of the tutorials seem to have had a great deal of time spent writing them, a lesson some other developers should take a page from, and for the user it really has “paid off”.

Besides the tutorials, you can draw from a wealth of information online for “tips and tricks” of various Macromedia tools. A huge Internet community full of people sharing advice, tools, and essays from all over the world make it easy to find answers when you need them with simple search engine queries.

Well, I hope this review helps. This is the tool set I use and like many users I’m fickle, if I find a better studio than this I will use it. Until then, in my honest opinion, this is the best suite out there.

The Macromedia Studio MX 2004 includes:

Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 2004 – Customizable HTML, CSS, and script editing tool and site management software.
Macromedia Flash MX 2004 – CNET’s Editor's Choice Award August 2003 and considered the easiest rich content software in the market today.
Macromedia Fireworks MX 2004 – A great and powerful image editing tool that enhances your Dreamweaver and Flash projects.
Macromedia Freehand MX – A tool that helps anyone feel like a real artist and CNET rating 8 out of 10 March 2000.
Macromedia ColdFusion MX 6.1 – Billed as a rapid scripting tool that is easier to learn and does all the work of ASP, PHP, and JSP in far fewer lines of code as well as the winner of a Productivity Award at the 13th Annual Software Development Excellence and Productivity Awards in March of 2003.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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