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Macromedia continues to roll out its new MX range of integrated development tools with Fireworks MX – a significant improvement over Fireworks 4 in features, tools, productivity, and looks. While Fireworks 4 was essentially targeted as a design tool for creating Web graphics, Fireworks MX’s improved capabilities makes it a powerful tool for professional Web-graphic designers, Web-application developers and novice Web designers alike. The range of tools and ease of use enables almost anyone with Web-design aspirations to get on with the job with the minimum fuss. The new look follows that of both Flash MX and Dreamweaver MX, with a cool-looking streamlined interface that features collapsible tool panels. A Dreamweaver-style Property Inspector offers a single tool to modify and update the image being edited, and a customizable layout enables you to drag-&-drop the various components and panels to positions that best suit the way you work. I’ve been working with Fireworks since the first version, and the new interface is easier and faster to use. File compatibility With Fireworks MX, it’s much easier to move files between graphics applications without losing any control over layers, masks or text properties. Fireworks MX can import and export files from Flash MX and FreeHand as you would expect, but it also enables you to move files back and forth between Photoshop and Illustrator, too. Animations and other graphics created within Fireworks MX can be exported as SWF files and imported directly into Flash MX projects. It’s even possible to open a Fireworks MX file created on a Mac with the Windows version of the application, because of a new feature called font caching that retains the original font features within the file – so cross-platform compatibility issues are less of a problem. In the same way, font-caching text within a Photoshop file will retain its look if the file is opened and edited within Fireworks MX. HTML and code compatibility is improved, too. Fireworks MX can export HTML and JavaScript code elements in Dreamweaver MX format, but it also integrates with Microsoft FrontPage too. This enables Macromedia’s roundtrip HTML and roundtrip graphics to be used between the applications, so you can be sure any code and graphics work without problems whichever HTML editor you prefer to use. Fireworks MX output is also fully compliant with XHTML standards. Interactive Web-page elements are even easier to create in Fireworks MX. A new wizard for creating pop-up menus is a great improvement over the Fireworks 4 version, with more control over factors such as the cell width and padding for each item in the menu. The position of pop-up menus and sub-menus can be defined with single-pixel accuracy, and the option of creating horizontal menus has been added to the more traditional vertical menu layout. Pop-up menu output is improved too, especially with graphic menus rather than HTML menus. Instead of creating a separate GIF image for every state of each item listed in the menu – say up and over versions – only a single GIF image for each state is created. The text is then added using JavaScript. This saves on page loading times – always a consideration – because instead of 20 graphics downloading for a ten item menu, only two are required. Multiply this by four or five menus on a navigation bar, and the savings are obvious. Automatic graphic creation For larger projects some of the new features of Fireworks MX make themselves abundantly useful. It’s now possible to automate the creation of graphics using the Data-Driven Graphics Wizard and linking to an XML or a ColdFusion MX data file that controls the final output. By attaching variable names to elements of a Fireworks MX graphic, the data file can be used to change the contents of the resulting file. On a news-oriented Web site, this could be used to create headline graphics based on the contents of the headline field in a database and exported as a text file or accessed through ColdFusion. This makes mass production of graphics an easy task once you’ve defined a template and can save time and money. The wizard takes you through the process step-by-step, right through to choosing an export format and optimization for the resultant files. Fireworks MX now supports the Macromedia Extension Manager – this means that developers can now create customized tools and extensions for Fireworks MX using Flash MX and the JavaScript Extensibility API. The JavaScript API is excellently documented, and some example extensions are included with Fireworks MX – one of these is the Data-Driven Graphic Wizard. New extensions can be found on the Macromedia Exchange Web site. The list of new features and improvements seems to be endless, there’s not enough room to mention everything. Image-editing modes are automatic – you can switch between editing bitmap and vector content within the same image by selecting the object to be edited. All tools and panels change mode automatically. Text is now edited directly on the page, new bitmap tools provide photo-retouching abilities, there are separate tools for bitmap and vector editing, and the quick-export button enables you to export content with a single click. Fireworks MX is a dream, the new interface – while a little unnerving to Windows users at first – is easy to manage and use. There are several preset panel layouts, so you can choose the optimum layout for your preferred screen resolution, although it must be said that the 800-x-600 layout is so cramped it’s practically unusable. Mac developers will be pleased to hear that Fireworks MX is fully Carbonized for Mac OS X, and uses all native features of the operating system. The Windows version is fully Windows XP compatible, so there should not be any platform issues with Fireworks. Fireworks MX is undoubtedly the best version of Fireworks to date, and Macromedia should be applauded for its continued drive to improve, expand and integrate its product family. Fireworks MX is a definite winner.