A real time-saver
Fireworks MX's streamlined interface looks similar to that of past editions--its primary toolbar, on the left of the screen, contains various tool panels, including Bitmap, Vector, Color, and View. The right-hand panel contains libraries and toolsets, including Layers and Frames. However, now, Fireworks lets you pull any toolset off the panel for easier access to its menus, then collapse or dock that toolset again to save space.
The new Fireworks saves editing time, too. For example, select any object, text, or image, and the new context-sensitive Property Inspector, similar to those in Flash and Dreamweaver, displays all of the adjustable settings that are specific to that item, such as image size and color, so that you don't have to hunt for them. No more unnecessary fidgeting with tools and palettes. Good riddance to the text editor dialog box, too. You can now type text directly onto the screen and set attributes such as font or size in the Property Inspector.
Standard image editing
Ready to create some snazzy Web images? Fireworks imports all major graphics formats, including GIF, JPEG, and BMP, and works with both vector and bitmap images. It also packs a generous assortment of vector-drawing tools, such as a Bezier pen, which lets you define and modify the shape of a curve, and geometric primitives, such as ovals, rectangles, and polygons, for creating objects from scratch. As for bitmap tools, the brush, pencil, eyedropper, and other implements let you edit images as you would in any image editor. To add special effects to your images, Fireworks has a few bread-and-butter filters, including blur, sharpen, and color adjustment.
Standard feature set aside, Fireworks' cutting-edge Web tools leave the competition in the dust. To create symbols, copies of an object that help you manage repeating graphics, for instance, just right-click an object and choose Convert To Symbol. From the Symbols library, you can then drag and drop the same symbol over and over.
Another nifty Web feature: Once you divide an image into distinct slices, or easily downloadable pieces, Fireworks lets you attach behaviors to each. To turn a slice into a pop-up menu, for example, just select the slice, choose Modify > Pop-up Menu > Add Pop-up Menu, then assign URLs to your menu items.
And although Fireworks isn't a dedicated Web animator, it can create some basic animation. For example, you can make an object or bitmap travel across the screen, specifying the number of frames you want, the straight path for your image to travel, and whether it resizes, rotates, or fades. We do wish, however, that Fireworks let you create curvy animation paths.
Once you've completed your document, Fireworks' Edit menu lets you preview it in a browser and copy its HTML code to a file. Then, you can use the Quick Export button to save it in FreeHand (AI*), Flash (SWF), and Photoshop (PSD) formats; or HTML files tailored for Dreamweaver, GoLive, and FrontPage.
Although Fireworks MX is complex, novices shouldn't worry. The app's comprehensive help files are accurate, concise, and easy to read. You can find help files specifically for the Fireworks MX preview release at the Macromedia site. In the meantime, phone or e-mail the tech folks during your 90-day complimentary support period. Thereafter, you must either pay $25 per incident or purchase Fireworks' Bronze ($95), Silver ($125), or Gold ($650) support packages.
Despite its broad feature set, Fireworks is remarkably easy to master. We recommend it as a primary static-graphics app for all graphically inclined Web designers.