Tools Of The Trade: Macromedia Studio 8 design software

The publisher has just released the latest versions of these, along with the supporting applications, Contribute and Fireworks, as part of the Studio 8 bundle. As Adobe is in the process of acquiring Macromedia, Studio 8 could be its last major launch as an independent company.

For users of existing Macromedia software, Studio 8 marks an evolutionary development of the core software tools.

In Macromedia, the main enhancements are in the Design view, which most web designers will use to create quick initial versions of their pages. The Dreamweaver interface is clean and easy to use.

Most web page authors are likely to start working in the Design screen, which is similar to a layout package. But those who want to take more control and edit HTML code directly, can do so easily from the same screen.

The developers have added improved support for web design elements, such as cascading style sheets, as well as better links to Macromedia's tools for developing database-driven websites, and better handling of "assets" such as video and pictures.

Dreamweaver includes basic photo-editing tools, but it is possible to open images in Fireworks, also part of the package. This is no substitute for Adobe's Photoshop, but it is a handy program for optimising images for web display.

The last few versions of Dreamweaver have included quite robust site-management tools, including the facility for users to check in and check out web pages on a live server. This prevents someone accidentally overwriting a page during site maintenance. Dreamweaver continues to support this.

For complex sites, however, the suite also includes Contribute. This application is designed to allow the lay user to edit web pages on the fly. It shares the same check-in and check-out procedures as Dreamweaver, so the two programs can be used by designers and editors on the same site. The Contribute administrator can set a range of permissions, restricting colleagues to updating specific pages within a site, or allowing text editing but not the editing of images.

Using Contribute is a way for groups to share the load of developing and updating web pages. It has better multi-user functionality than much of the blogging software in use today, and is far cheaper than a dedicated content-management system.

The Contribute interface falls somewhere between that of a word processor and Dreamweaver, and is certainly easy to use. For heavy layout work, though, Dreamweaver is the safer bet.

The final element of the Studio package is Flash. In some ways, including Flash but not the Macromedia's Freehand illustration package seems a strange choice.

Flash is an extremely powerful environment for developing interactive digital content. But it is not a program designed for the casual buyer. A business user, rather than a web design professional, will find the learning curve steep.

The FlashPaper environment, however, could prove very useful: this allows anyone to convert a document, such as a Word file, to Flash. It can then be read on anything from a computer to a mobile phone.

There is enough in Studio 8 to make it worth while for current customers, especially as Macromedia has kept the upgrade price low. But unless you need Flash, Dreamweaver or Contribute might be the more cost-effective choice.

THE VERDICT

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pros: good feature set, consistent user interface, FlashPaper.

Cons: Flash but not Freehand included in the bundle.

Price: upgrade, £299; full version, £699 (ex VAT).

Contact: www.macromedia.com/uk

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