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Macromedia Opens New Studio

Eight is the number for Macromedia , which unleashed its Studio 8 suite of Web tools and applications, chock-a-block full of features, including advanced integration between the toolsets.

Built with Web designers, developers, video professionals and graphic artists in mind, the suite includes Macromedia's Dreamweaver, Flash Professional and Fireworks applications, along with key productivity tools such as Contribute and FlashPaper.

Less experienced developers may find themselves upgrading to more advanced Web design, thanks to the expanded drop-down menus and visualization features that save them from hard-coding sites and applications between toolsets.

Take the new features in Dreamweaver, Macromedia's design tool for incorporating video. Jim Guerard, vice president of product management for Macromedia, told internetnews.com the latest version includes visual tools that simplify the integration of XML-based content, such as RSS feeds, into Web sites. It includes code hinting for XML and Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations (XSLT).

"The releases represent what customers have been telling us" about design needs and improvements to building Web pages and interactive content, he said.

Designers working with Cascading Style Sheets now have a panel that provides a view to complex CSS-based layout, which helps them compare how the styles apply to the content. This eases the trial-and-error process that is often part of working with CSS. The idea is to give newer users a leg up and advanced users more precision.

Zoom and guides tools help developers get a closer look of images at the pixel level in order to measure distances between objects in design compositions. Plus, a new code collapse tool helps them focus on specific code, while a new coding toolbar helps developers pluck common coding functions in a snap, while taking care of background transfers and upload functions at the same time, Guerard added.

If all the toolsets have one theme in mind, it's about working with interactive video. With the Dreamweaver tools, Flash video can be incorporated into a Web site in five clicks. Plus, it offers support for Macromedia's ColdFusion MX7 and scripting language PHP 5 .

It's all riding atop Macromedia's Flash Platform, including the latest Flash Player (version 8), the driving force behind the release that also launched Monday with a bevy of snazzy upgrades to the runtime environment.

Guerard said Flash Professional 8 marks a significant release for the authoring environment behind the rich client run time in Flash Player. Graphics performance is beefed up, along with improved effects, animation controls, video encoding and embedding features and workflow integrating. It features On2 Technologies' VP6 video codec for compression of video and an advanced text-rendering engine.

Call it a richer content creation experience with integration between the different toolsets the keyword.

For example, Fireworks 8, a lightweight graphics and images tool for Web design, features interactive CSS-style pop-up menus, over 26 new blend modes, easier importing with different file formats, and a less-bumpy roundtrip editing experience among Dreamweaver 8 and Flash Professional 8 tasks.

Workflow needs are improved with Contribute 3 and FlashPaper 2, as well. For example, Contribute 3 offers developers a more controlled, template-based workflow environment for updating content on a site. FlashPaper 2 extends the content-creation process by converting any file type into Web-ready PDF or SWF file formats, Macromedia officials explained.

The Studio 8 suite is expected to ship in September. Pricing is $999 for a full license (NA commercial) and $399 for an upgrade (NA commercial) with education, government and volume pricing available.