Macromedia software offers best-in-class performance

    by Alan Zisman (c) 2002 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #  date High Tech Office  column

    The people who create the pages that populate the Web come from backgrounds either in computer programming or in graphics design. Two very different types of people: left brain vs. right brain.

    The software reflects those differences. Some Web-design tools assume that users want to get their hands dirty mucking about with raw HTML code, while other tools look and act more like desktop publishing programs.

    Macromedia's Dreamweaver (available for Windows and Mac classic and OS X) tries to have it both ways, appealing both to the coders and to the artists.

    The new version, Dreamweaver MX, has gained the high-end database tools of the company's no-longer-available UltraDev and supports more of the alphabet soup of Web application standards (XML, JSP, ASP, .Net, PHP, and more) than competitors Microsoft FrontPage and AdobeGoLive. This makes it the best all-in-one tool around for companies needing high-powered Web applications. It can easily handle creating on-line sales sites, complete with shopping carts, surveys, message boards, and more.

    Dreamweaver has gained features from Macromedia's HomeSite code editor, making it easier to work with the base HTML code, and includes libraries of bits of code that can be reused. Like many programming environments, users can collect their own libraries of useful tricks and bits of code for recycling, and share snippets of code with other developers on Macromedia's Exchange Web site.

    Macromedia tries to make it easier for the new user as well, adding a site-creation wizard and sample layouts. The on-screen look has been changed, making it easier to manage the clutter of windows and palettes. Despite these, new users should be prepared to put in some time learning to work with the program.

    Providing Web designers one-stop shopping, Macromedia is offering Dreamweaver MX on its own (CDN$600) or bundled into the CDN$1,200 Studio MX. That package includes the company's full tool kit: Fireworks MX, Flash MX, Freehand 10, and ColdFusion MX Developers Edition. (Flash MX on its own sells for CDN$700). Applications are tightly integrated, with work in progress seamlessly moving from one tool to the other. With most sharing the Dreamweaver interface, it's easy for Web page creators to work with Macromedia's tools exclusively.

    Fireworks MX is Macromedia's graphics editor. While Adobe's Photoshop includes tools for both print and online graphics, Fireworks is designed strictly for working with Web graphics. If that's your need, Fireworks is the better tool.

    Flash animations and interactive multimedia pages are seemingly everywhere on the Web, sometimes as valuable additions, sometimes as bandwidth-hogging eye candy. Flash MX (or Adobe's LiveMotion) is the software used to create them. Don't expect ease-of-use, however. Even sharing Macromedia's new cleaner interface, creating Flash animations remains a lot of work.

    Freehand 10 lacks both the MX moniker and the new MX interface used in the rest of the suite. Freehand (along with Adobe's competitive Illustrator) is used to create clean vector graphics, best used for logos or for integration into Flash animation.

    Macromedia's ColdFusion is a powerful Web server that can host Web applications specially built using its ColdFusion development language. Web sites developed with Dreamweaver or Studio MX don't have to sit on ColdFusion servers (nice, given the CDN$5,000 pricing for the full version). Studio MX includes a developer's version of the server, fully featured but only allowing a single user to connect at a time. It's useful for developers building pages using that server's special features.

    The new versions of Macromedia's Dreamweaver, Fireworks, and Flash are best of breed. On their own or bundled into Suite MX, they provide the tool kit for anyone wanting to build professional-quality business Web sites, whether left-brain programmers or right-brain graphics designers.

    Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator and computer specialist. He can be reached at

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan