Macromedia Forges Ahead in Light (or Shadow) of Merger


Article ImageThe April announcement of a planned Adobe/Macromedia merger left some content creators in a lather, fearing that it would, at worst, blunt competition and inflate price tags on vital publishing and Web development tools, or at best, result in the most successful product in each space being simply integrated by its former competitor.

Oftentimes, however, mergers like these cause useful products to simply fade away. At least this possibility has not yet come to pass. Macromedia's Flash, for example, has proven core to the development of rich media content on the Internet, and with the company's new Studio 8, it is poised to become even more powerful as a cross-platform content-creation solution.

"One significant impact that the merger will have is that Flash is now available on a wider range of platforms, including mobile interfaces," says ZapThink's Ron Schmelzer, referring to Flash Lite, the version of the Flash profile designed for mobile devices. "If people now know that they can deploy Flash to mobile, just imagine all the cool things they can do."

It's "a whole new ballpark for Flash," according to Macromedia product manager Mike Downey, who explains that sending Flash content to handheld PDAs, phones, and other wireless devices is now easier in Studio 8's advanced authoring environment, which lets users author, test, and preview mobile content with an interactive emulator for Flash Lite.

It seems obvious that as this acquisition firms (at press time, regulators were still reviewing the deal), so does Macromedia's resolve to make Web development more accessible and expressive. Billed as "all of the world's leading tools for creating content under one roof," Studio 8 ships with three new releases of its Web development tools—Dreamweaver 8, Fireworks 8, and Flash Professional 8—and two additions that give users better tools to administer, maintain, and update Web sites—FlashPaper 2 and Contribute 3.

"We want to pull the entire Web community forward," explains Macromedia VP of product development Jim Guerard, pointing to the suite's new efficiencies, inviting price point, and upgrade deal (customers of any past version of Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, or Studio can upgrade to Studio 8 for a single price of $388). "This is the most customer-driven release in Macromedia history," Guerard says, saying it is the result of 20-plus months of researching users, "picking their brains and identifying their pain points."

One of those pain points, Macromedia product manager Jen Taylor notes, was dealing with video in Dreamweaver's previous releases. With Dreamweaver 8, she says, "it is video for the rest of us. Pick a skin and you've got video up and running in less than five seconds." It employs a dialog-driven approach, which doesn't require users to write code. Also aimed at less-technical users is a drag-and-drop XML translation feature.

Along those same user-friendly lines in Flash Professional 8 is new wizard with cue points, a library of more than 30 skins, and choices like "import video" to simply convert a QuickTime movie to Flash, for example, as well as a standalone video encoder available in Studio 8 or Flash Professional that does batch processing of videos. For users more familiar with Adobe's Illustrator and Photoshop, Flash Professional 8 features a more Adobe-like presentation to ease the learning curve.

Interestingly, given Adobe's strengths in this area, Downey says, "More than anything else, users wanted more graphical capabilities." To that end, Flash Professional 8 offers enhanced pixel-level control, new graphics and composting effects like blurs and drop shadows, precise control over animation velocity, drawing tool enhancements, a speed and start-up time that are twice as fast as the older version's authoring tool, a new text rendering engine, and more.

Another theme driving the creation of Dreamweaver 8 was "taking hassle out of little things, letting users get more done in less time," according to Taylor. The upgrade offers advanced support for best practices and industry standards.

Rounding out Studio 8's upgrades is Fireworks 8, Macromedia's graphics design and editing program. The latest version features 25 new blend modes such as soft light, fuzzy light, freeze, and glow; interoperability with Flash on blend modes; and the ability to integrate CSS pop-up menus into Dreamweaver seamlessly.

Of special interest to Web site and intranet managers is Studio 8's inclusion of FlashPaper 2—which enables users to further the content creation process by converting any file type into Web-ready PDF or SWF file format—and Contribute 3, which is designed to enable non-technical users to easily update pages in a controlled and managed workflow.

Taken altogether, the advances in Studio 8 suggest that the impending merger has done little to dampen the innovation and user-centric approach that have made Macromedia so successful. "People like to use their products," states ZapThink's Schmelzer. Should the merger finalize, users can hope that this will remain true as the duo builds upon the core strengths of its individual products in its combined offerings.