Studio 8 review

New Macromedia product a mix of old and new. By Chris Reynolds

Macromedia has just released Studio 8 which is a bundle of several of their products for web content producers. This includes several old familiar faces as well as a couple of recent additions.

While waiting for the installation to run in the background, I was working on a Microsoft Powerpoint presentation in the foreground. So the first product in Studio 8 to grab my attention was Macromedia FlashPaper2. This is a combination of a print driver and a Microsoft Office Toolbar add-in. It is visible in Word, Excel and Powerpoint providing the user with the ability to produce Flash SWF files or Adobe Acrobat PDF files directly from inside Microsoft Office.

Not only that, but any printable file can be converted using the print driver. This is a very quick and simple mechanism for producing content where no document customisation is required.

Apart from FlashPaper 2, the Studio 8 suite consists of Dreamweaver, Flash Professional and Fireworks for web designers/developers and Contribute 3 for content management.

Studio 8 includes a 350 page manual in the box that lightly covers all the main areas of the products in a tutorial fashion. The online documentation is far more comprehensive with both reference and tutorial material. Unfortunately, the file structure of the tutorial material shipped on my disks did not quite match the printed documentation so the first couple of chapters of tutorials proved a little more adventurous than designed. Once I visited and downloaded the latest tutorial files, everything was fine.

Dreamweaver does CSS and XML Web content professional probably already use one or even several products of the suite, so is there any reason for upgrading? From a personal point of view, I have been having trouble kicking the habit of using tables for my page layouts. I know I should use CSS but the browsers just ignore my intentions whenever I make a syntax error. With this version of Dreamweaver, I was led through the task of setting up a CSS with type-ahead prompting to ensure accurate syntax. This will be a godsend for me personally.

Furthermore, in the design window I could see exactly what rules were being applied as I positioned the cursor round the page. Macromedia have also beefed up Dreamweaver’s ability to handle XML feeds and XSLT with a very simple to use Xpath expression builder and support for XLST execution in the design window. However, the tutorial material is poor in this area (or I’m too stupid) so allow plenty of time to come up to speed with these new facilities.

Macromedia has also beefed accessibility checking with support for the W3C WCAG guidelines as will as section 508 from the US government. As the NZ government seems to be following WCAG it good for producers to have a tool that can check pages as they are produced.

Fireworks changes little Of all the new versions bundled in Studio 8, Fireworks left me somewhat disappointed. I could see very little in the user interface that was any different from previous versions. According to the documentation much of the internals are now exposed to batch processing by Javascript. Never the less it still does its job excellently. I’m currently selling a car on Trade Me and the 1MB files that my digital camera exports were reduced to 20-40KB with surprisingly little drop in quality.

Flash 8 Player Whether we buy Studio8 or not, we will still benefit from the improvements in the Flash Player. As developers and designers have build larger and more complex files on this ubiquitous client platform, the execution speed of the core engine has been exposed. Flash Player 8 provides somewhat faster script playing, alpha channel support, file uploading and a wicked streaming video format with the imaginative name of VP6 from On2 Technologies. Expect a whole swag of Skype-like products on video steroids in the coming months. This release is something of an interim release as the ultrafast virtual machine got carved out of this release at the last minute. We will have to wait for Flash Player 8.5 in the new year according to Mark Blair, Macromedia’s server products manager in the Asia–Pacific region.

Flash Professional and Flash Video Encoder While Macromedia have included a new Actionscript editor, it is still fairly basic and the Flash authoring environment should be considered strictly for designers. Professional business developers should continue to look elsewhere for a decent Flash IDE. However designers have a whole set of new filters and blends, as well as the alpha channel, to produce more compelling designs. The filters and blends can be keyed to certain frames so this should dramatically drop the effort required to produce certain sorts of animation.

Contribute 3 With Contribute, Macromedia are attempting to make any MS Office user with a browser able to edit and publish web pages. With this freedom comes potential anarchy, so Contribute now also comes with role-based security to make it easy for administrators to lock down who has the ability to edit which websites and directories. This will allow ISP’s and enterprises the ability to delegate web authoring in a reasonably safe manner. Depending on their authorisation, users can edit pages and images directly in the website or be forced through an approval process supported by email. Furthermore, the publishing mechanism is now extensible with web service alerts allowing organisations to integrate content management with SOA workflow support.

Distribution Details Pricing: Studio 8 commercial full product — NZ$1,690 including GST and commercial upgrade NZ$697 including GST.

Distributors in New Zealand are Express Data and Renaissance.

Macromedia Resellers in New Zealand include Edsoft, Magnum Mac, Milford Software, Software Warehouse, Acquire, Ascent Technology, DTSL, Software Shop Limited, The Zones and Zero One.

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