MX 2004 seminar

§ Tools & software

I went to a Macromedia seminar yesterday, to be introduced to the new MX 2004 software. The two hour show began with an interminably long evangelisation on how Macromedia thought the Web was rubbish and how they could improve it (translation: use Flash for everything). Once the corporate chest beating was over however, we were given a very competent run through of some new features in Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Flash (Pro and non-Pro) with the presenter switching slickly between a PC and a Mac.

One of the key changes in Dreamweaver is the ditching of font tags. All presentation is now handled through external style sheets. It was unclear how layout is achieved by default, but the demonstrations used CSS for this. The switch to full CSS is clearly a step in the right direction, however I can imagine the resulting code being CSS soup with excessive divs and classes, as described in my earlier Mark-up tactics post. I need a play with the evaluation version to see if it is capable of combining CSS presentation and layout with meaningful HTML.

Code validation in Dreamweaver MX 2004 is done an a browser basis with no mention of W3C specifications. For example, type a script tag without its type attribute and it says you have a Mozilla and Safari error (not an HTML 4 error). Now add a type attribute and you get a Netscape 3 error (you can turn this off). The browser approach is good and practical, but one should also be presented with HTML validation errors based on doctype. All the time Dreamweaver says ‘if you miss out the type attribute then it won’t work in Mozilla or Safari’ the chances are that many folks won’t care about these browsers and end up with invalid code.

There are a few other notable improvements to Dreamweaver MX 2004 such as bringing accessibility attributes to the fore, rewritten table creation and the ability to edit images without the need to open Fireworks. The last feature is pretty much limited to cropping and resizing and it seems the image needs to be a Fireworks PNG in the first place; but still useful anyway.

Most of the changes in Fireworks MX 2004 seem to be speed improvements under the hood. There’s also the addition of blur tool (number one request apparently) and smart shapes – highly editable vector paths such as doughnuts and stars – which I’m guessing is also a requested feature.

Flash is something I’ve only dabbled in, so a decent summary of the improvements in Flash MX 2004 is best left to the experts. However I did note that Macromedia have added a PowerPoint style interface as an alternative to the timeline. This actually looks pretty good and will come into its own when creating applications in Flash (as opposed to animation wizardry).

The video capabilities in Flash seem to have been improved yet further (all video demos were done on the Mac, by the way). The compression ratios and quality of full screen video running inside Flash were impressive. It seems to me (and others) that Flash is the way to go for embedding video into your Web pages. The penetration and upgrade rate of the Flash player is phenomenal compared with other technologies, and Flash is the only medium within which you can rotate video and lay other objects around and on top of it.

All in all it was a morning well spent and provided plenty of food for thought. Talking of plenty of food, I met Jeremy at the seminar and afterwards we joined Jessica at the Pull & Pump for a pint of Waggledance and a challengingly large pub lunch.