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Macromedia Fireworks 8

Web graphics and image editing tool By Dave Nagel
Summary: Fireworks is a graphics program designed primarily for Web designers, though artists who work in print and video will likely find many of the tools useful. It offers a suite of raster and vector image editing and creation tools; a built-in JPEG compression engine that's unrivaled; and several features for creating interactive content and integrating that content with applications like Dreamweaver and Flash. The latest release offers few new features, and really none that would compel and upgrade from any release since about version 4.
Publisher: Macromedia (
Platform: Mac OS X and Windows
Price: $299 for the full version; $149 for upgrades; $999 as a part of the entire Studio 8 Suite, which includes Flash, Dreamweaver, FlashPaper and Contribute.
Users: Primarily Web designers
Recommendation: Neutral

Fireworks was once the absolute ruler of the Web graphics universe. Nothing could touch it for its mix of vector and raster tools, its interactive features and even its compression engine. It's still a leader in some respects, but its rule is no longer absolute. To put it bluntly, nothing much has changed in Fireworks over the last five years. Where this program was once one of the more innovative tools out there, it hasn't been given the attention it deserves in order to continue leading a changing Web graphics marketplace.

It was November 2000 when Fireworks 4 shipped (the first native Mac OS X version of the program), and it's still pretty much the same application it was back then. There have been some minor improvements to pop-up menu creation, to its integration features and to the collection of effects included with the program. But there have also been some setbacks in that time, including problems with stability and performance, as well as interface glitches. And there have also been other issues, including a dearth of incremental updates to fix problems, and a pricing structure that has forced users to think long and hard about buying updates when they can expect virtually no support until the next time they have to pay $150 for a quote-full-version-unquote upgrade.

Now, with the release of Fireworks 8, the development trend continues--presumably until the bitter end, as the impending acquisition of Macromedia by Adobe is fast approaching. This latest release, once again, includes some changes to the interface, some integration enhancements and minor additional features.

What makes Fireworks worthwhile overall are the features that have carried over from the beginning--the integration of vector and raster graphics creation and editing tools, its animation and interactive content creation tools, it's wonderful ability to use everyday Photoshop filters as live effects that are fully editable, its great (but somewhat hidden) painting capabilities, its support for graphic styles that can even include filter effects and, of course, its selective JPEG compression.

Version 8 adds little to these core features, although at least it's not a step backward, as was Fireworks MX 2004.

Of the "major" new features in Fireworks 8, one of the more significant is the return of support for modern-day Photoshop filters as live effects in Mac OS X. (Note that this is really a fix for something that was only partially implemented in MX 2004.) This feature allows you to select a Photoshop Plug-Ins folder on your system, then use those filters either in the standard way (i.e., destructively) or as live effects, meaning that the effects can be edited at will and will even update themselves when you change the object to which the effect is applied. In addition to a fix for third-party Photoshop filters, Fireworks can also use more built-in filters as live filters, including Auto Levels, Gaussian Blur and Unsharp Mask.

Also new in version 8 are several additional compositing modes, some of which you won't even find in Photoshop. The new modes include: Average, Color Burn, Color Dodge, Inverse Color Dodge, Soft Dodge, Color Burn, Inverse Color Burn, Soft Burn, Fuzzy Light, Hard Light, Exclusion, Negation, Red, Green, Blue, Overlay, Reflect, Glow, Freeze, Heat, Additive, Subtractive (which, sadly, is not the same as blending subtractive colors as in working with natural media), Subtract, Interpolation, Stamp and XOR.

Another new feature is the ability to convert selections to paths. This function is available under the Select menu. When you make a marquee selection, you can then convert it t a path, which is then placed on a new sub-layer and filled with the currently selected fill color and stroked with the currently selected stroke. 

And then, finally, there's one new effect: Perspective Shadow. It's not a filter effect. Rather, it's a command that duplicates the selected object, then applies some weird kind of magic to it to convert it into a Smart Object, move it behind the current object and apply a gradient to it. The object is fully editable (including colors, gradients, textures, etc.) and can be adjusted for perspective, direction and depth simply by moving around the appropriate handles on the object (seen below).

That is a great little tool, far more useful than any of the Smart Objects introduced in MX 2004. Too bad more tools like this weren't put into Fireworks 8. But then, maybe when Adobe gets ahold of this technology in the coming months, they'll figure out how to do more with it.

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