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Fireworks CS4 review

17 Feb 2009
Our Rating 
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Specifications

At the launch of Creative Suite 3, Fireworks looked like an estranged sibling.

It carried the CS3 name, but it only became part of a bundle in July of this year. The new version adopts the new suite-wide interface and delivers important improvements that solidify its new-found prominence.

Saving documents is no longer a barrier to work, as there's now asynchronous saving of files. You can switch to other documents and even make changes to the current one as it's being saved.

Fireworks already has a reputation when it comes to rapid prototyping, and its new support for Adobe Air platform is certainly a reason for its recent inclusion in suite bundles. Simply take a layered and spliced image, and attach Air events to the slices to quickly build a dummy application. You can, for example, easily link menu options to different pages and add user interface elements to demonstrate the application's interaction, even though there's no real functionality behind the interface elements. Interaction can even be disjointed, so rolling over a control affects other parts of the page.

Gathering feedback has become a much tidier process, as Fireworks can now export interactive PDFs to demonstrate the look and structure of an application. In this respect, it takes a leaf out of Premiere Pro CS3's book, enabling you to review cuts of videos and attach comments to the PDF, which is a definite step up from trying to keep track of emails bounced back and forth.

When Adobe acquired Flash, the ability to import Photoshop and Illustrator files was spruced up. It's only fitting that Fireworks gets options to retain the appearance of layers or to preserve editable text in Photoshop documents. It'll preserve guides, too.

There's also a custom setting tied into the application preferences, so you can choose to flatten image and shape layers to preserve effects, while text remains editable. Where Flash gives layer-by-layer control of import settings, Fireworks has less granular control so that you're not bogged down by a lengthy process that works against Fireworks' rapid development credentials.

Page layouts can be exported as a mix of HTML and CSS styles and Fireworks does well in providing options to keep the two separate, so that working with its output remains swift. The Properties panel now lets you set a slice as a background image, with repeat and placement settings related to the CSS that Fireworks churns out. Adobe claims the results are standards-compliant and will render properly on modern browsers.

The text engine has been completely overhauled - it's now the same as the one used in Photoshop and Illustrator. Previously unavailable text properties and styles such as strikethrough can be applied and, more excitingly, text can be wrapped along a path.

Adobe has consolidated many tools into the Path panel. These are divided into groups that combine paths and alter them, and manipulate and select points.

The Fade Image tool, which applies linear and shape-based gradient masks, has been renamed the Auto Vector Mask, but the changes are more dramatic than a name. The dialog box has been cleaned up with clear division of linear and shape-based masks along with a live preview. It's when you return to the document that the real improvement becomes obvious. Handles are immediately available to adjust the mask without going to the Layers palette, and it updates in real time as they're dragged.

Visual feedback is greatly improved when working with guides. They display coordinates as they're dragged around. Distances to the edge of the canvas and between guides are shown, making it much easier to precisely lay out options on, say, a menu page in an Air application.Smart Guides are a big help when building a layout from scratch in Fireworks. They appear when objects are aligned along edges or in the middle. You don't need to go anywhere near the old-fashioned Align panel to position a group of objects; select them and guides are intelligently calculated for the group so that it's midpoint will snap into alignment with another object.

Altogether, Fireworks looks like a much stronger contributor to Creative Suite. The improvements to tools, text handling and importing of other file formats will please existing users, as they're no longer bogged down by important but small decisions that consume time. Adobe's decisions strengthen Fireworks' position in rapid prototyping and Air is certain to benefit from this.

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