Review: Macromedia (Adobe) Studio 8
Is Macromedia's (now Adobe) flagship web suite worth nearly a thousand dollars, or should you buy the apps you need separately? Read the full review of Studio 8 to find out.
There are few applications that enjoy the status of clear brand leader, sometimes even bordering on near market exclusivity. Microsoft managed it with Office (and some would say Windows), Adobe managed it with PhotoShop, and Macromedia has achieved similar status with Dreamweaver and, to a lesser extent Flash. Hot on the heels of the company's acquisition by Adobe comes Studio 8, which comprises of Dreamweaver 8, Flash Professional 8, Fireworks 8, Contribute 3 and Flashpaper 2. Freehand is no longer a part of the package, presumably due to the stronger sibling product by Adobe - Illustrator.
Let's take a look at the applications individually:
For many this will be the reason for buying Studio 8. Dreamweaver 3 superceded Microsoft Frontpage as the web designers chosen tool. MX and MX 2004 built on that strength, so version 8 had a lot to live up to. As expected, many of the new functions revolve around CSS (cascading style sheets), making it much easier to see what style affect any particular element of a page. XML integration has also seen a major makeover - this alone will rapidly expand the already growing syndication of content between sites, but we'll cover this in greater detail later.
Firstly, let's got back to the CSS improvements, as these are the most visible updates. A new panel on the right allows you not only to see all styles (rather than the rather cumbersome old way of going into the 'Manage Styles' dialog), but also to select only the styles that are affecting the attribute you have selected. This will result in a great cry of relief from those designers (myself included) who have spent any amount of time trying to decipher a complex CSS-based page where a paragraph of text has several styles applied. Making any changes in the CSS panel will automatically display in the page layout. Attention has also been paid to the redrawing and display of pages, with documents now shown within Dreamweaver more on a par with how they will display in your web browser.
Dreamweaver has almost dipped a toe in the DTP arena with the inclusion of its next tool - Zoom! With 8 levels to zoom in, it allows perfect positioning of graphics, tables or layers by allowing designers to zoom into pixel level.
The code view now boasts another toolbar, positioned to the left of code. This 15-icon bar has a number of handy tools that hardened coders will find very useful. On inparticular is the collapse icon. If, for example you have several tables within tables, you could select various elements (rows or tables perhaps) and collapse them to see the overall nesting. The screenshot below shows the TD tag within a table collapsed - if you were trying to debug a problem with the table code it would now be very simple to just collapse all of the content so that only the main table structure is visible.
Many marketeers have been watching with interest the development of Flash video. MX2004 saw major advances with this medium, and Studio 8 offers several tools that make placing and viewing video on the web a much less painful process. Dreamweaver 8 has not changed much from MX 2004 in this regard, but the process of checking whether the new Flash 8 player is installed can now be added to a page with just a click of a button. The only problem I found is that if you try to apply this to a page with a template it tells you that this area is locked - this is because it is trying to place an ONLOAD() statement in the BODY tag. You can of course get round this by making this element of BODY editable... Another option would be to add some text to advise people they need the Flash 8 player and a link to the relevant page on Macromedia.com, so this is not a major issue.
RSS integration was poor in MX2004, but Macromedia have addressed this, with the ability to link to an RSS file and literally drag and drop element of the feed into a page. For those relatively new to RSS this will be a real boon as they will be able to increase functionality now within any substantial learning curve.
Finally, one minor feature which will probably save the most time - background ftp! Seasoned web designers would probably use a separate ftp client to synchronise local copies of files with the server, as Dreamweaver's ftp prevented the user from performing other tasks while ftp'ing. Now it runs as a separate process, so you can move onto the next task while uploading the previous.