Weaving Web Magic with Macromedia
Heavy Duty Apps
By Jim Bray
(Editor's Note: Macomedia has launched a new Web resource designed
to help beginners and new users get started with Dreamweaver MX. Knowing
the new product is very robust, they compiled resources focused on the
needs of the beginning designer/developer.
MX Evaluation Resource Center is a central location for free resources - including videos, written
tutorials, and online training content - all designed specifically to
help new and existing users achieve great results and more easily create
effective user experiences even faster. The Dreamweaver MX Evaluation
Resource Center will be updated regularly with fresh resources focused
on the new user.)
Fans of Macromedias Web design products have new reasons to be
Dreamweaver is a powerful Web design and site maintenance tool, while
Fireworks is excellent for designing Web graphics. Though theyre
available separately (for $299 each), theyre integrated so adeptly
that you may as well view them as a single product.
Which probably explains why theyre also available as the $449 Dreamweaver
4 Fireworks 4 Studio.
Space doesnt permit a close examination of the suite, so Ill
try to hit a few of the highlights.
Dreamweavers WYSIWYG (What you see is what you
get) web page designer is easier to use than before, with some very
welcome new features. The first that really leapt out at me was the new
page view modes that make reading and/or editing HTML code a lot less
of an ordeal.
Besides separate WYSIWYG or HTML code views, Macromedia has thrown in
a combined view, and all views are now are easily accesssible via buttons
on the toolbar. The combined view gives you the best of both worlds by
using a split window with the code on top and the WYSIWYG view below.
This makes those inevitable times when you have to go messing with the
HTML code a lot less of a chore, because you can see exactly where you
are at any time.
It isnt quite as good as Hot Metal Pros Tags On WYSIWYG
view, but its close.
Macromedia has also made it easier to add rollover buttons and Flash
components. While I hate Flash animations as a rule, you can exploit the
technology in tastefully small doses right from Dreamweaver and without
having to learn Flash. All you have to do is head for the Insert
menu, choose a template, fill in some blanks, and youre left with
a perfectly functioning interactive button or billboard.
You can also add a navigation bar this way, as long as youve already
created (or chosen) the background images you want to use for it.
The Flash buttons are saved as little Flash files you upload with the
site, and theyre fully editable at any time so you can go
back later and change the text labels or hyperlinks at will.
Its now easier to work with tables, too, which streamlines your
layout process. In fact, the whole HTML coding procedure seems cleaner
and more straightforward, and Dreamweaver does a nice job of cleaning
up extraneous code for you, especially if youre importing an HTML
file created in a less capable application like MS Word.
Fireworks has a nifty new feature that makes creating attractive and
functional drop down menus so easy that even I can do it!
Right clicking on the button youve created (or chosen from the
samples) brings up a submenu of stuff you can add; after a few more mouse
clicks and keystrokes you have a working drop down menu, rollover button,
navigation bar, or Browser status bar message. Even better, when you export
and HTML required; all you do then is copy and paste it into your own
Adding this and other interactivity, as well as a variety of effects,
is so simple you can do it without opening the manual. I like that a lot!
Theres also a nifty selective JPG compression with
which you can compress specific parts of an image when shrinking its file
size for the trip into cyberspace. This can help keep your pictures from
looking fuzzy when people surf by.
Many of Fireworks new wrinkles dont really jump out at you, but
you notice and appreciate them over time because the program
is simply easier and more pleasant to use.
Integrating the programs has created some splendid functionality. If
youre hard at work on an HTML file in Dreamweaver, for example,
and decide to change the look (or interactivity, or whatever) of a graphic
in the file, its an absolute no brainer: all you do is right click
on the graphic, edit it in Fireworks, and return to Dreamweaver. As if
by magic, the changes are incorporated automatically.
As great as they are, neither Fireworks nor Dreamweaver can turn a chimpanzee
into a Web designer (though they helped me!), but they certainly can make
creating a Web site a lot easier.
Flashy Animations, enhanced
If you want to add
really fancy glitz to your site, Flash 4 is simply marvelous. Flash ($299US
for Windows 9.x/NT and Mac) has always let you create quick-loading vector
graphics and animations for the Web, but now it also supports MP3 streaming
audio (a huge new market) as well as giving you streamlined commands and
even more functionality.
You've probably noticed
an increasing number of web sites using Flash now. The application can
do a marvelous job of making interactive animated surfaces, like banner
ads, as well as animated interfaces (everything from singing and dancing
text and illustrations to more "mundane" things like cascading menus),
to nifty navigation bars.
Flash uses "timelines"
to plan and lay out your animation, allowing you to choose where and when
a particular element starts, how long it runs, and where/when it stops.
Perhaps best of all,
Flash-produced content is scalable and resolution independent (its projects
are supposed to look the same regardless of window size or screen resolution
of the browsers Browser) and the file sizes are small enough to
be manageable even over a 28.8 modem.
You can import graphic
files from other applications before adding a dash of Flash to them; you
can also add synchronized sound, morph graphics into something new, and
generally spice up a static web page by adding a healthy dose of razzle
Macromedia has also
added new tools and palettes, and I found handling the various layers
of an animation is easier in V4 than it was in V3 - and you can now click
"Publish" to send your animation into a variety of file formats, including
Apple Quicktime 4.
The new MP3 wrinkle
lets you add voiceovers or background sounds to your Flash animation,
without the file size getting so big as to bog down the surfer's Browser.
Flash 4 also has beefed
up text entry features (so surfers can enter form data at their end),
which means you can now create better forms and "front ends" for an e-commerce
Web site, and Flash allows for a lot of customization over how the information
is displayed, which means you have a lot more flexibility in creating
a site that's not only efficiently interactive, but looks good, too.
Which reminds me.
As nice as Flash is, it's no substitute for good old fashioned communications.
I've noticed a trend toward really glitzy sites that make wonderful use
of Flash animation, but are a pain in the butt to surf. Flash is a tool,
nothing more, for enhancing your web sites and one should remember that
there's more to a good Web site than "flash."
Anyway, Flash 4 also
includes new "Actions" that let you build interactive interfaces and applications
without programming - which is always a wonderful feature. These new Actions
can be used, for example, to create Web shopping carts, which is a dynamite
feature for many e-commerce sites.
Like Director, Flash
has a learning curve, and it's a substantial one (though Flash 4 is easier
than Flash 3 was - and if you're used to 3 you'll have a leg up on 4)
- but theyre curves worth hugging.
applications like Flash and Directors mean that taking a nice leisurely
trip through the tutorial will be a godsend. It won't hurt to take the
"lessons" included here to give you an idea about the software, because
if you haven't used such apps before, you'll need to learn how to "think"
in Flash terms to make truly outstanding animations and applications.
Once you've "paid
your virtual dues," however, you can make some outstanding creations with
Flash 4. I only wish I had the time and/or the talent to truly exploit
You be the Director
Director 7 Shockwave
Internet Studio ($999US), as with the rest of these products, is like
the "Janitor in a Drum" of multimedia creation software: its industrial
strength and not just for the Web. Directors also ideal for
creating multimedia education software, CD-ROMs, interactive kiosks,
demonstration software, and much, much more.
If youve ever
seen an interactive presentation or product demo (many of which are included
with other software applications as tutorials or brochures), chances are
it was created in some edition of Director.
Fans of earlier versions
of Director may be pleased to know that "The Seventh Incarnation" has
been retooled from top to bottom. Macromedia claims this results in smaller
file sizes for your projects, ones that load more quickly and work better
New tools include
alpha channel effects for working with imported or Director-created transparencies,
RGB colour support for more universal colour accuracy, and movies can
now zip along at up to 999 frames per second.
7 lets you edit anti-aliased text while a movies playing and you
can embed compressed fonts into a movie so they show up correctly regardless
of the fonts the end user has installed.
If youre creating
a Web masterpiece with Director, you can now preview it right in a Browser,
a handy feature thats common with other web applications.
Using Director means
learning the Lingo, the lexicon of arcane terms used in the creative process.
Macromedia includes an entire Lingo dictionary to help, and the built
in "Guided Tour" is very helpful as well. The tour helps you create an
animated banner and shows you how to put it onto the Web. You also learn
how to import stuff into Director, create "sprites" (objects that control
the actions of media elements), and plenty more.
Ive only managed
to scratch the surface of the vast capabilities of these applications,
with the exception of Dreamweaver (which Im learning rapidly and
marveling at more each day I use it), but can already see the power and
flexibility these things offer and only hope that Ill one
day do them justice!
and Director are terrific tools creating your content, and Dreamweaver
is one heck of an instrument for taking all those pieces and putting them
together in a Web site.
spend an arm and a leg on these products by the time you have them all,
but if you need the power, theyre worth the expense.
If your needs arent
industrial strength, you can probably get away without Director, which
is the icing on the virtual cake, and possibly Flash, though youll
be missing out on a lot of digital adventure!
If youd like
to get your feet wet with these apps, theyre available on Macromedias
web site (www.macromedia.com) as working demos.
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think