Macromedia Studio MX 2004
Although the name is ridiculously convoluted, Macromedia’s flagship suite of software has really matured into the most formidable Web design package out there. Considering all the new features in this latest version, the price is an incredible bargain that will easily pay for itself in short order. Studio MX 2004 bundles Dreamweaver MX 2004, Fireworks 2004, Flash MX 2004, and Freehand MX. As you might have noticed, Freehand remains unchanged from the most recent version. Also, and perhaps most importantly, there is the option to purchase the package with Flash Professional for only $100 extra. This option includes the impressive new features in Studio MX 2004, which I will cover later.
Dreamweaver MX 2004
To the chagrin of many hardcore developers, we mere mortals still make heavy use of WYSIWYG editors, but, undeniably, they are much better than they used to be and in most instances are serious Web development tools. The competition between Dreamweaver and Adobe’s GoLive has seen the latter bloat into a feature-rich but difficult behemoth. Fortunately, Macromedia has made numerous improvements to Dreamweaver that give the application greater ease-of-use and performance. Dreamweaver MX 2004’s new interface is svelte and nimble. While everything you might need is not immediately at hand, it is considerably easier to find without too much digging. The layout of tools and panels is clear, and the insert bar is much smaller, providing more crucial screen real estate for editing documents. Performance is quite improved, solving perhaps the worst problem of Dreamweaver MX—it no longer plods along like it used to. It’s also nowhere near as buggy or quirky as MX was. Enhanced CSS integration is central to this upgrade. Page properties are now handled with CSS, and CSS styling options are now on the Property Inspector next to the font attributes (which could possibly be confusing to novices). Creation of style sheets is an easy task, but there are still rules that can be broken if you’re not careful. Thankfully, the Tag inspector now indicates when a specific CSS attribute overrides another. This is great, because it’s easy to forget the hierarchical rules of CSS. CSS files can also be shared between Dreamweaver and Flash’very important when you want your presentation to be consistent.
One very cool new tool is the built-in Graphic Editor. Obviously it doesn’t have the abilities of Photoshop or Fireworks, but it’s a very handy thing to use for simple changes like cropping, adjusting brightness/contrast, or sharpening the image. If anything more is necessary, there are also buttons for directly launching the image in Fireworks or optimizing it in Fireworks’sending the file directly into Fireworks’ export module. I’ve been using these tools for a while, and, in certain instances, they’ve saved me quite a bit of time. I like the way this version deals with tables. Selected tables now helpfully display horizontal width information, and are more easily discernible from other tables in your layout. I can’t tell you how many problems I’ve had in the past with table width glitches, so these visual cues are very much appreciated.
The coding environment enjoys many enhancements that aid in quicker and more professional results. The Tag Inspector provides available options for a selected piece of code, and a new right-click menu offers code-editing options directly within the document. If you are working with custom tags, you’ll appreciate the Tag Library Editor which enables you to store and edit tag properties. And for those of you relegated to a lot of "find-and-replace work", you’ll cheer the fact that these searches can now be saved for later use. Dreamweaver MX 2004 cares about how your code will function in the real world. The browser validator will check your site’s compatibility—and the accessibility toolset has been expanded to meet the most rigorous requirements. In addition to being an HTML editor, this version offers greatly-enhanced support for ASP, JSP, PHP, XML and other programming languages. Upon launching Dreamweaver, you can choose to create one of these document types and edit it in a friendly environment. To go even further, the Reference panel offers content from O’Reilly on SQL, ASP.NET and PHP—not too shabby. And for those jobs that require greater security, Dreamweaver now supports built-in Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP). No more need for quirky standalone SFTP applications.
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