Adobe Fireworks CS3 review

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When Adobe took over Macromedia, there was doubt over whether it would carry on developing Fireworks. Without the new shared CS3 interface, and with some of its promised features still missing in the press beta under review, it certainly seems semi-detached. But the good news is that Fireworks is still here and firing on all cylinders.

Adobe Fireworks CS3 review

Fireworks offers a good mix of vector- and bitmap-editing capabilities, but naturally, it can’t compete on all points with Adobe’s graphical flagships. Instead, all three are now designed to work hand-in-hand thanks to Fireworks CS3’s new ability to open Photoshop PSD and Illustrator AI files. To make the integration as smooth as possible, Fireworks’ handling of layers has been reworked to support hierarchical groups and subgroups, which makes working with complex layouts more manageable.

In addition, Fireworks CS3 now supports Photoshop’s bitmap-based blend modes, as well as layer effects such as bevels, glows and drop shadows, all of which can be applied as live effects. This isn’t the explosion of new power that it may seem, as Fireworks already offered its own equivalents and still does for backwards compatibility. However, being able to apply all effects from a single dialog is more efficient and encourages experimentation, and it also means rich layered designs can be opened from, and now also saved to, PSD format.

The main advantage of Fireworks’ primarily vector approach is the speed and control with which designs can be built up. This efficiency is boosted now with a range of pre-provided building blocks. There are a number of new Auto Shapes with built-in editing intelligence that you can drag onto your layouts, such as calendars, flowcharts and an Inspire option, which randomly generates a new shape each time you click on it. More significant are the building blocks in the new Common Library palette, including more flowchart symbols, graphical bullets and Flex Widgets, which are also shared with the latest Flash. There are pre-built user interface components, such as button, panel, button bar and combo box, each of which can be dragged onto your layout to rapidly create an interface for a RIA (Rich Internet Application).

What makes the components in the Common Library different is that they represent a new form of “rich symbol” – rich, not in terms of appearance (their styling is simple), but in terms of editing potential. Previously, adding a styled instance of a button was a laborious manual process; now, you can simply change the button’s label text and its Up, Over and Down state colours in the new Symbol Properties palette. Both rich and traditional symbols also offer new support for intelligent “9-slice scaling”. This lets you control how each section of a symbol will scale horizontally and vertically, so you can ensure a button keeps the same rounded corners without distortion whatever size it’s displayed.

All symbols created in Fireworks CS3, including their scaling settings, are fully supported in Flash CS3 Professional, and you can also export RIA interfaces created with the Common Library widgets as MXML for use in Flex. The onward integration with Fireworks’ longstanding partner Dreamweaver remains even more important. Here, the exported CSS/HTML code has been tightened up for more efficient CSS-based positioning and menu handling, with styles saved in the document head rather than inline. Most impressive is the ability to directly paste any copied object directly into Dreamweaver CS3 – if you need to edit it later, the link and the optimisation settings are automatically maintained.

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