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Studio 8: The Early Response

The Beta Version - Road-Tested in the UK

Designers and developers worldwide couldn't wait to take the Studio 8 beta version for a spin. We look at a selection of what's been written so far in the UK about the Beta of the historic release.

 "For most designers, Dreamweaver 8 is the core product in the Studio 8 suite. Flash may have all the fancy moves but, if you were a shipwrecked web designer, marooned on a desert island with access to only one program, Dreamweaver's the one you'd choose."

"If Dreamweaver forms the foundations of Studio 8, then Flash Professional 8 is the gravity-defying edifice above it. ... there are also a couple of new features that make you want to shake the development team soundly by the hand."

"Macromedia Studio, the software suite that includes web design's two most important authoring tools, is back. And what a wait it's been: the usual 18 month development and deployment cycle stretched out to a little over two years this time." That was how the UK's .net Magazine welcomed Studio 8 last month.

"The stuff in this release will blow your animated socks off, complete with perspective fixed, live drop shadows," the magazine's reviewer continued. "While Flash delivers a series of sizzling new features designed to make jaws drop and heads spin, updates to Dreamweaver are more levelheaded, concentrating on coding features and CSS. It succeeds on some levels better than others. Macromedia's site authoring behemoth is the yin to Flash's yang: the balancing element in an offering that blows hot and cold."

The reviewer gave a little of the background to why Studio 8 was so relatively long in coming:

"Unfortunately, the last release, MX 2004, suffered some early problems on the Mac. Reported performance issues were quickly identified and patched - but the suspicion remained that MX 2004 may have been rushed to the market a little too soon. This overshadowed an otherwise impressive launch and perhaps it's one of the reasons Macromedia took their time to get it right with this release." But praise for the development process this time round was fulsome. "The development cycle has been remarkably open too. Macromedia pride themselves on listening to their users, talking to developers and giving them what they want. Both Dreamweaver and Flash teams have been blogging their development process this time around, giving us glimpses of important features way ahead of the release date. When you're number one in a field of one, it's the kind of the thing you can afford to do."

Dreamweaver 8 wows this reviewer.

The Dreamweaver updates met with a warm reception: "You can now embed Flash video into Dreamweaver created pages, complete with a playback control set of your own choosing, using a wizard based interface. If you've ever tried to navigate the minefield that is putting video online, this takes the pain and guesswork out of it completely."

The review continues:

"CSS gets some serious attention with a newly unified CSS panel that enables you to edit styles without having to go into a full edit dialog or nip over to the Tag Inspector. There are new visual aids too, similar to those that help you select invisible tables. Now CSS block elements can be color coded, enabling you to see exactly where they are on your page. You can also choose how to render styles for different platforms too, or turn off style rendering completely."

Then comes the first fly in the ointment. "Macromedia says that it's tweaked the CSS layouts in Dreamweaver's design view so that they look more like they would in a browser," the review notes. "However, Macromedia does seem to have overlooked the growing popularity among hardcore designers of fluid layouts with relative positioning. The program lacks specific tools to deal with them and one W3C layout we tried to edit looked broken in Dreamweaver 8." One new coding tweak in particular was singled out for praise, the update to Dreamweaver's code view: "Adobe GoLive scores few points over its rival but its hierarchical code view, enabling you to collapse the structure of a page into a branching tree, was one of them. Now Dreamweaver has something similar but more selective, right in the main code window. There's also a new set of tools for working with code available from a new coding tool bar running down the side of the window."

Flash Professional 8 gets a big thumbs-up too.

The British review then turns to Flash Professional 8.

"If Dreamweaver forms the foundations of Studio 8," writes the reviewer, "then Flash Professional 8 is the gravity-defying edifice above it."

"Now in its tenth year the package still packs surprises into every release. This one sees lots of cosmetic tweaks and minor revamps, as do all the tools in Studio 8, but there are also a couple of new features that make you want to shake the development team soundly by the hand."

"Image editing tools like Photoshop and Fireworks have long had graphic effects built in to them," the reviewer notes. "Even the short-lived Adobe LiveMotion had filter effects. Now Flash has them, too, but Macromedia has taken an interesting approach to them. Instead of being hard rendered into a scene, Flash Graphic Effects are rendered in the player. So, for example, you can apply a drop shadow to an animating object. The shadow will change and mutate live - and there's no additional overhead in your Flash file. There's no need to convert vectors to bitmaps, either. The Filters panel appears as a tab in the Properties inspector, giving you a choice including glow, shadow, convolution, blur and other effects. Alpha transparency's there too. The Filters sit on top of an entirely new level of code giving you pixel precise control over Flash elements through ActionScript - so those filters are just the tip of the iceberg for savvy programmers."

He then turns to what he calls the "two massive innovations" in video: "Within the Flash authoring tool itself, you'll find new video templates that enable you to quickly put together video control panels. No more messing with individual components and their parameters. As if all that wasn't good enough, the same technology that brings you graphic effects now enables you to specify alpha transparency in Flash video. In turn, this allows you to composite video elements over other Flash content - live."

The mobile support is hailed too:

"One area of focus that must be mentioned though is Flash's improved support for mobile content. Flash Lite export felt like an afterthought in Flash MX 2004. Now it's fully integrated and ships with an interactive mobile emulator, which enables you to test Flash authored mobile content for a growing number of devices. There's still no SVG Tiny support, though Flash Lite is growing in popularity and Flash is the best authoring tool for vector content there is. Now it's the best video development environment and web application building tool there is, too."

Verdict on pricing

Of Fireworks 9, the reviewer writes: "There are no ground breaking new tweaks here but every one of them is welcome. The biggest of the batch is the addition of 25 new blend modes and a couple of new filters. There's a new set of sample buttons, animations and themes to help with production and the addition of a special characters panel. For us, the most useful changes were even smaller. The use of CSS in pop-up menu generation is one of them, while improved vector compatibility with Flash is another. Both guarantee better integration with other tools in the Studio 8 package."

Then comes the overall verdict on the pricing structure of Studio 8:

"With so many tools available, both as part of the studio package and as standalone tools, the pricing structure is quite complex. Generously, Macromedia are enabling users to upgrade from any previous version. Flash Basic is the anomaly here. It's cheaper to upgrade to Flash Professional than buy Flash Basic on its own - and it's not available as part of Studio. At £699 [Editor's note: remember this was a UK review; the US price, as many MXDJ readers are aware, is $999] for the full version of Studio 8, it's a big investment. Think about what you get for your money though; a bundle without a single strip of fat in it. Studio 8 does everything you could ask of a batch of web tools. With this installed on your machine, there's really no need for anything else. In that sense it offers brilliant value for money. The upgrade price is even nicer [Editor's note: $399 in the US] - the updates to Flash are worth the money alone."

The UK review ends as it began, enthusiastically.

"Some might say that the Adobe's acquisition of Macromedia will make a few of the tools in the Studio 8 redundant in a couple of years. We can say with confidence, however, that you'll see further versions of Flash, Dreamweaver and Contribute, at the very least."

"The functionality of Fireworks and FlashPaper will live on, even if their names do not. Don't miss out by trying to second-guess what the future holds, though - if you're serious about web design, this is the package for you."

More Stories By Adobe News Desk

MXDJ News Desk gathers stories, analysis, and information from around the world of software design and development and synthesizes them into an easy to digest format for MX developers.

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