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Macromedia Retools MX Line

San Francisco-based software and platform provider Macromedia today announced an overhaul of its MX family with the release of its 2004 line. The new line -- which includes enhanced versions of Dreamweaver, Flash and Fireworks -- also marks the debut of Flash MX Professional 2004.

In addition to spiffing up its product line, Macromedia is also looking to better tie its applications together through the launch of Halo and MX Elements. Susan Morrow, senior director, product management and marketing at Macromedia, described Halo as a consistent new look and feel for Macromedia software. "It's much like Aqua for the Macintosh," she said. MX Elements, according to Macromedia, are pre-built HTML or Flash components, templates, style sheets and behaviors designed to make it faster for users to tap the company's technology.

Flash Like a Pro
In a move designed to appeal to the large community of Visual Basic programmers, Macromedia Flash MX Professional 2004 is built to offer a forms-based development environment. According to Morrow, the new version of Flash MX features video-editing controls as well as a programming metaphor that is "more like VB."

According to Macromedia, developers who have experience using tools such as Microsoft Visual Basic will appreciate the capability to design a form, add components, integrate with data, and build in application logic and navigation using a familar interface.

Flash MX Professional 2004 is also designed to offer connectivity to server data with scriptable data-binding that supports Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) Web services, XML and Macromedia Flash Remoting. (Remoting is a communication layer designed to integrate Macromedia Flash applications with ColdFusion MX, Microsoft .NET and Java applications servers and SOAP-based Web services.)

New video capabilities in Macromedia Flash MX Professional 2004 will help developers and designers produce video with interactive and custom interfaces. The company reports that video playback quality is improved through performance optimizations in Flash Player 7, which allow full frame rate, full-size video.

Morrow described the benefits of Flash Player 7 as "performance, performance and performance." Overall, Flash Player 7 doubles the performance for many operations with some performing up to eight times faster, she said. Macromedia reports that while the original focus of Flash Player was graphics rendering, version 7 focuses on the performance of business application functions such as filling arrays, sorting arrays and optimized connections with back-end servers.

To help developers tap the increasing demand for applications that run on phones, PDAs and other mobile device platforms, developers can use emulators to preview content and applications for targeted devices.

Dreamweaver Cascades With Style
DreamWeaver MX 2004 is "a completely rearchitected" version of Macromedia's popular Web design application, Morrow said. In the new version, the company throws its support behind Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). "We want to help make CSS the standard it should be."

CSS separates the presentation of Web content from the content itself, which makes pages faster to download and easier to maintain.

Dreamweaver MX 2004 also features on-the-fly cross-platform validation. "Designers can now dynamically validate code as they write it for any browser -- from Netscape and IE to Safari and Mozilla," Morrow said. The new version also features built-in graphics editing for common functions (e.g, cropping and resizing), integration with Microsoft Word and Excel, and improved support for leading server technologies (e.g., ASP.Net, JSP, PHP and ColdFusion).

Morrow said the new integration with Excel and Word allows users to preserve formatting as CSS styles when adding content from those applications into Dreamweaver.

Additional feature improvements include enhanced table editing, new right-click coding tools, revamped find and replace and an improved tag inspector. Dreamweaver MX 2004 also includes a new "check-in, check-out" tool that allows users to delegate Web content updates to content owners without giving up overall control of the site.

The product is also designed to include tighter integration with Flash, Fireworks, and other design and development tools in the Macromedia Studio MX 2004 suite.

Faster FireWorks
Like Dreamweaver MX, Fireworks MX 2004 is designed to support a cross-product workflow across Macromedia and third-party tools and features with check-in/check-out capabilities. Editing support now handles server-side code as well as nested tables. A built-in FTP tool can transfer files to and from remote servers from within Fireworks, or the product can automatically compress and e-mail files to colleagues.

The new version is also designed to do everything faster. "Optimizing graphics for the Web is 85 percent faster with Fireworks [MS 2004]," Morrow said.

New drawing tools are designed to provide control over bitmap and vector images. Other new features include the following:

  • Auto Shapes, Macromedia reports, respond intelligently to offer image manipulation options beyond drag, rotate and resize.
  • Contour Gradients allow Fireworks users to create multicolor gradients that follow a shape's outline path.
  • Motion Blur effects are designed to create the illusion of movement, and photo tools enable quick touch-ups and red eye removal.
  • A new anti-aliasing options are built to deliver more readable text, which, Macromedia says, is especially important as more content is pushed to a variety of devices.
  • Full Unicode support enables users to create double-byte graphical and alternative text for localized sites.
The Complete Suite
The new version of Studio MX includes Dreamweaver MX 2004, Macromedia Flash MX 2004, Fireworks MX 2004 and FreeHand MX. "Studio MX is not only about products, it's about workflow," Morrow said. It also allows, she said, users to move among applications faster with shared Start pages, site definitions, panel management, document tabs, coding metaphors and the common Property inspector.

Studio MX 2004 (available for both Mac and Windows platforms) costs $899. Current Studio MX users can upgrade for $399. Users can add Flash MX Professional for an additional $100. Sold separately, Flash MX Professional 2004 is $699; Flash MX 2004 costs $499 ($199 for upgrades); Dreamweaver MX 2004 is $399 ($199 for upgrades); FireWorks MX 2004 is $299 ($149 for upgrades).

According to Macromedia, all products in the MX 2004 line will be available in September.

Dan Muse is executive editor of internet.com's Small Business Channel and EarthWeb's Networking & Communications Channel.