Macromedia Revamps Web Design Tools

By Dan Muse | Posted August 26, 2003
Whether your business makes its money selling products and services over the Web or your goal is to have a company Web site that reflects your professionalism, product line or philosophy, having the right tools to build your Web presence is difference between success and failure.

Many businesses rely on easy-to-use (and easy-to-afford) products such as Microsoft FrontPage or template-driven tools offered by a hosting provider. Macromedia, a San Francisco-based company that yesterday announced Dreamweaver MX 2004, wants to convince you that it has the Web design tools your business needs step ahead of the competition.

Actually, Dreamweaver has always had a strong following among small and mid-size businesses, according to Susan Morrow, Macromedia's senior director, product management and marketing. "We are very strong in SMBs, and we will continue to be. Our hearts always have been with the small and mid-size business."

Morrow said that Macromedia defines mid-size businesses as those with fewer than 1,000 employees and small businesses as those with fewer than 100. "We actually have a lot single-owner and 2-5 employees businesses using our products," she said.

With the 2004 edition of Dreamweaver, Macromedia throws its support behind the concept of Cascading Style Sheets (or CSS). If you aren't familiar CSS, the concept has been around for several years and has slowly gained momentum as browsers started to support them.

In short, CSS makes it easier to separate the content of your Web page from the code that defines it for browsers. The beauty of CSS is that you define your page (or parts of your page) once. The term "Cascading" Style Sheets is used because more than one Style Sheet can affect the same page. The closest Style Sheet to the item is the one browsers will use. You can have a Style Sheet apply to a paragraph, a page or your entire Web site. Because CSS peels the presentation of Web content from the content itself, pages are faster to download and easier to maintain.

Dreamweaver's support of Cascade Style Sheets promises to make creating and managing Web pages more efficient.
Macromedia's commitment to CSS sounds as much philosophical as it is practical. "We want to help make CSS the standard it should be," Morrow said.

Another new feature of Dreamweaver MX 2004 is on-the-fly cross-browser validation. "Designers can now dynamically validate code as they write it for any browser -- from Netscape and IE to Safari and Mozilla," Morrow said.

The new version also features built-in graphics editing for common functions such as cropping and resizing, so you don't have to leave your design program to make simple adjustments to photos or graphics elements.

Morrow also said the new integration with Excel and Word allows users to preserve formatting as CSS styles when adding content from those applications into Dreamweaver. That is, you can copy and paste from Microsoft Word and Excel documents directly into Dreamweaver while keeping fonts, colors and CSS styles in tact.

When it's time to upload your pages to your hosting provider, you can feel safer thanks to Dreamweaver MX 2003 Secure FTP feature, which is designed to encrypt all file transfers and prevent unauthorized access to your data, file contents, usernames, and passwords.

The 2004 edition of Dreamweaver allows you to crop or resize images without breaking stride -- or opening a new application.

Additional feature improvements include enhanced table editing, new right-click coding tools, revamped find and replace and an improved tag inspector. Dreamweaver MX 2004 also includes a new "check-in, check-out" tool that allows users to delegate Web content updates to content owners without giving up overall control of the site.

Faster FireWorks
For more elaborate image editing and manipulation, Macromedia also yesterday announced Fireworks MX 2004. The new version is designed to do everything faster. "Optimizing graphics for the Web is 85 percent faster with Fireworks [MS 2004]," Morrow said.

New drawing tools are designed to provide control over bitmap and vector images. Other new features include the following:

  • Auto Shapes, Macromedia reports, respond intelligently to offer image manipulation options beyond drag, rotate and resize.
  • Contour Gradients allow Fireworks users to create multicolor gradients that follow a shape's outline path.
  • Motion Blur effects are designed to create the illusion of movement, and photo tools enable quick touch-ups and red eye removal.
  • A new anti-aliasing options are built to deliver more readable text, which, Macromedia says, is especially important as more content is pushed to a variety of devices.
  • Full Unicode support enables users to create double-byte graphical and alternative text for localized sites.
Dreamweaver MX 2004 is $399 ($199 for upgrades); FireWorks MX 2004 is $299 ($149 for upgrades).

According to Macromedia, all products in the MX 2004 line will be available in September.

Dan Muse is executive editor of internet.com's Small Business Channel.

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