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Weaving Web Magic with Macromedia

Heavy Duty Apps Create Magic

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.
The Dreamweaver 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 Macromedia’s Web design products have new reasons to be happy.

Dreamweaver is a powerful Web design and site maintenance tool, while Fireworks is excellent for designing Web graphics. Though they’re available separately (for $299 each), they’re integrated so adeptly that you may as well view them as a single product.

Which probably explains why they’re also available as the $449 Dreamweaver 4 Fireworks 4 Studio.

Space doesn’t permit a close examination of the suite, so I’ll try to hit a few of the highlights.

Dreamweaver’s “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 isn’t quite as good as Hot Metal Pro’s “Tags On WYSIWYG” view, but it’s 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 you’re left with a perfectly functioning interactive button or billboard.

You can also add a navigation bar this way, as long as you’ve 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 they’re fully editable at any time – so you can go back later and change the text labels or hyperlinks at will.

It’s 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 you’re 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 you’ve 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 the file it automatically generates a file containing all the javascript and HTML required; all you do then is copy and paste it into your own document.

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!

There’s 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 don’t 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 you’re 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, it’s 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 browser’s 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 dazzle.

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 they’re curves worth hugging.

Industrial strength 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 its potential!

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: it’s industrial strength – and not just for the Web. Director’s also ideal for creating multimedia education software, CD-ROM’s, interactive kiosks, demonstration software, and much, much more.

If you’ve 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 than before.

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.

Interestingly, Director 7 lets you edit anti-aliased text while a movie’s 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 you’re creating a Web masterpiece with Director, you can now preview it right in a Browser, a handy feature that’s 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.

I’ve only managed to scratch the surface of the vast capabilities of these applications, with the exception of Dreamweaver (which I’m 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 I’ll one day do them justice!

Fireworks, Flash, 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.

You’ll admittedly spend an arm and a leg on these products by the time you have them all, but if you need the power, they’re worth the expense.

If your needs aren’t industrial strength, you can probably get away without Director, which is the icing on the virtual cake, and possibly Flash, though you’ll be missing out on a lot of digital adventure!

If you’d like to get your feet wet with these apps, they’re available on Macromedia’s web site ( as working demos.


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June 15, 2016