Does it Have a Special Spark?

by Ged Bauer

© Macromedia.

For a long time a suite of programs has dominated the graphics world; Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and Quark Xpress. Then there are programs like FreeHand, Pagemaker, and Corel Draw which definitely deserve an honorable mention in the must have category for graphics. But really, graphics are graphics, whether it's for a letterhead, logo, magazine ad, or World Wide Web page, right? Wrong. According to the brains at Macromedia, you no longer need an expensive suite of programs to fill all your image editing, drawing, and layout needs. Well, color me skeptical because the software industry is filled with a lot of programs that make promises that they do not keep. If I had a nickel for every program that claimed to be the "all-in-one-be-all-end-all" application, I'd be rich. Let me introduce to you Macromedia Fireworks, the "Premier Production Tool for Creating Web Graphics."

The tools palette in Fireworks is no different from other graphics programs.

Jumping In
The first thing I look for in a new program, is how quickly I can jump in and start producing great works of art--or at least a new banner ad. It's probably the most overlooked aspect of a new application. Companies can hype all they want, but if you need to spend too much time trying to get the thing to work, any advantage the new program offers quickly loses value.

Despite all my cynicism, Fireworks passes this test with flying colors. The manual with the most necessary information is paper thin. The interface and tools are a literal morph of Illustrator, Quark Xpress and Photoshop. One draws with the same kind of tools that are found in Illustrator. The same methods and tools for layout in Quark are present and Photoshop layer apply modes are included in Fireworks as well. It even goes so far as to use a lot of the same terminology in the menus and commands found in the common applications. A clear, and successful, effort was made to assure that artists familiar with popular graphic programs would feel at home from the minute they opened Fireworks.

Smoothing Out the Hops, Skips and Jumps
That said, it's time to move on to the inner workings of the program. Does Fireworks deliver on its promises? Is it a web graphics workhorse? Will it steal a market share away from the reigning champions? The answers are yes, yes, and quite possibly. The fact is that Fireworks is a powerful program. You can create complex, vector-based objects and text, export it as a JPEG, GIF, Animated GIF, or even a Java-scripted rollover. Normally, you would draw that in Illustrator, maybe a little work in Quark, and rasterize the image in Photoshop. From there a cryptic export into a JPEG or GIF. Which format do you use? You have to rely on experience and gut instinct, and sometimes you'll have to do it again. For some animation, you'll have to move to a specialized GIF animation program. If you want a Java-scripted rollover button, you will have to find either someone to do it for you, learn how write Java yourself, or "borrow" the code from a generous web site. During that hop, skip, jump, and back flip, you are likely to lose color accuracy, sharpness, lots of time, and your mind.

The same scenario in Fireworks goes a lot smoother to say the least. You do not need to switch programs to adjust the position of an element, or to change the point size of text. It's all adjustable in Fireworks, and it stays that way. It's always possible to edit each element in your composition, which is nice because everybody changes their mind. Instead of guessing during the export like you would in Photoshop, Fireworks gives you an accurate display, and lets you compare between JPEG and GIF file formats, even at varying qualities.

Making the GIF animations and Java rollovers takes merely one step in Fireworks: just make your multiple frames of animation (if you are doing a Java rollover you make your "Up," "Over," "Down," and "onClick" versions of the button), and export as you wish. Fireworks will generate any code (even Java) necessary for an exported graphic. All you have to do is ask.

An Adobe Illustrator document opened in Fireworks can still be edited as if it was created in Fireworks.

More Extras
A pleasant surprise was Fireworks compatibility with other graphics programs. It's possible to import Photoshop (and still keep the layers separate), GIF, JPEG, TIFF, BMP, ASCII (Text) Illustrator, CorelDRAW, and FreeHand documents. An even bigger surprise was the fact that vector-based drawings, from Illustrator, FreeHand, and CorelDRAW, were fully editable when imported into Fireworks. The only major drawback with importing and exporting, and Fireworks in general, is that it does not seem that one can export a vector-based file from Fireworks, to use later in another program. Meaning that if you draw a complex and time-consuming composition in Fireworks, you will have to redo it in Illustrator or FreeHand if, for example, you want to use it for any printed work. Maybe this could be an addition for the next version.

With all the great things that Fireworks can do, should you throw your present army of graphic programs out the door? No. Although Fireworks delivers on a lot of promises, you still need the nuances and pure power that a variety of programs can provide you. You need the vast array of Photoshop filters and the printing and layout capabilities of Illustrator and Quark. To wrap things up, I am definitely sold on Fireworks. It saves time, effort, and a lot of guess work that is necessary when jumping from program to program and back again. It is a welcome addition to any web designer's toolbox, especially mine.

Ged Bauer is the former webmaster of Animation World Network.

Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to

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