Macromedia Fireworks 8 creates interactive Web graphics, such as rollover buttons, pop-up menus, and image maps. This update improves upon Fireworks MX 2004 by integrating better with Flash 8 and Dreamweaver 8, helping to keep designers from having to switch back and forth between the apps. If you're planning to use Fireworks in conjunction with the animation tool Flash or the Dreamweaver Web page editor, this $149 upgrade is well worth its price. But given the steep $299 standalone cost of Fireworks, hobbyists in the market for a tool to optimize files for the Web should instead consider a less expensive image editor without the code-generating skills, such as Paint Shop Pro X.
Macromedia Fireworks 8 was simple to set up in our tests. Installing this 110MB program took a few quick minutes on Windows XP. At first glance, Fireworks 8 looks just like its predecessor. Look twice, and you'll notice subtle improvements, such as collapsible panels that allow you to better control the work space with fewer mouse clicks. You can even save Workspaces to maintain the arrangement of your windows and palettes.
Also making Fireworks 8 easier to use are new tool palettes for image editing, auto-shape creation, special characters, plus numerous small interface tweaks. The handy image-editing palette offers easy access to commonly used functions, such as image rotation and filters. The auto-shape palette speeds the creation of rectangles, circles, and other vector objects, and the special characters palette provides more font control. Naming layers gets more intuitive as well.
Below the surface are fun new graphics effects, CSS menu support, and a broader range of import file types. Macromedia eliminated Freehand from its Studio 8 suite, partly because Fireworks deftly manages so many image tasks on its own. Fireworks 8 now includes 25 fresh blend modes, such as burns, dodges, and light effects--while drop shadowing easily makes objects appear three-dimensional. These are welcome new toys for creative interactive designers, though they're less dazzling than the tools introduced to Flash 8.
Fireworks projects now flow better with the other apps in the Macromedia Studio 8 package. The ability to preserve and export the attributes of vector objects makes it easier to tinker with Fireworks files in Flash 8. In return, Fireworks can now recognize Flash ActionScript color values. And to create content ripe for editing in Dreamweaver, Fireworks 8 facilitates the creation of pop-ups that use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and preserves more file properties from Adobe Photoshop. Fireworks 8 now imports more file types, including QuickTime Image, MacPaint, SGI, and JPEG 2000. Batch processing also gets easier.
Macromedia Fireworks 8 includes an extensive help file, plus access to an excellent online support center, which offers numerous well-written FAQs and tutorials, as well as forums where you can chat with other users for free. But telephone support can get pricey in a hurry, so we suggest that you read the manual first. Macromedia lets you call tech-support for four "getting started" incidents (a call and follow-up calls for the same issue) within 90 days of purchase, but afterward, you're left with a price list that would faze Donald Trump. A post 90-day single incident will set you back $99, and extended support plans start at $449 per year.