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Macromedia FreeHand 10

Vector illustration suite (Mac/OS X/Win) By Jeff Bolkan
Macromedia is nearly as dominant in certain areas of graphic creation as Adobe is in others. Although the two graphics giants do clash in many areas, nowhere is the battle as fierce, or relatively unsettled, as in the vector drawing arena. Macromedia's FreeHand 10 is the latest version going against Adobe's Illustrator 9.

Not surprisingly, both behemoths leverage their claims for ultimate vector victory on how "familiar" their product will be to the throngs already using their flagship products. In Adobe's case, many of the new tweaks and features in Illustrator 9 were designed to make Photoshop users feel comfortable. Likewise, Macromedia is linking to its strengths?Flash, Fireworks and Dreamweaver.

Does this really make a difference? Probably. Is the advantage (one way or the other) enough to be the sole determining factor when choosing between the two? Probably not.

The truth is that illustration/drawing applications are not casual, "I think I'll load the program and have it mastered after lunch" type programs. Rather, they are powerful, and therefore complex, professional tools that are inherently different from photo-editing, paint and layout programs. After a late night working (or playing), it might make a difference in how easily you remember the shortcuts, but most of the time, it's a tossup.

Innovations in 10
Fortunately, Macromedia hasn't sold the entire farm to fulfill the singular goal of making FreeHand 10 work just like every other Macromedia product. There are a few truly innovative and cool features in this release. Yet, it wouldn't do the product justice to simply gloss over the fact that Macromedia Web tools are dominant (especially Flash) and FreeHand 10 not only works more "like" Flash 5, but works better with it. Adobe's Illustrator does allow you to export Flash animations (and Adobe's own vector Web format), but FreeHand 10 works much more closely with Flash content.

FreeHand 10 running under Mac OS X

Flash animations can be previewed inside a Flash panel within FreeHand. As with Illustrator, FreeHand pages can also be exported directly into Web pages. Overall, the combination of common interface design and Flash preview does give FreeHand an edge over Illustrator for Web-centric designers.

Much is made of multi-purposing of content?the ability to create once and easily publish to print, the Web and other delivery mediums. Illustrator does this well; FreeHand does it well. In fact, it's increasingly difficult to find any application that doesn't do this well. Despite what marketing people want us to believe, it isn't that hard to ramp content down for bandwidth-constricted use. The challenge is in enabling quality-sensitive, high-bandwidth content to be created as easily and intuitively as possible and then not totally mucking it up when it is repurposed.

Macromedia hasn't forgotten the core market for vector graphics creation. Although this is a mature market (version 10!), there are still a few new wrinkles and goodies for print designers, and some even work real well for Web folk too.

The biggest and best new feature is the Master Page feature than enables you to modify elements automatically across large multi-page projects. You can also now specify print areas, including elements in the work area, but not necessarily in the document. This can be handy for zooming in on a particular area for a highly detailed printout, or for showing alternative designs. For example, you might have two versions of a small logo within a complex graphic page; rather than redesign the page with the alternate, you could simply include it in the printout.

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