Fireworks 2 users will notice a few interface changes as soon as they run the software. The program's tabbed, floating palettes are better behaved than in previous versions; they now open anchored to the right side of the screen. This and other Adobe Photoshop-inspired palette changes, such as control buttons at the bottom of palettes, make for an interface that's easier to navigate.
Unfortunately, other niceties, such as zoom controls that resize a document window while zooming, have been left behind.
Fireworks' palettes still have some odd interface quirks, such as small modal windows that you have to close before you can go elsewhere in the software.
Considering that palettes are supposed to operate in a modeless fashion, these controls feel very clunky.
Although Fireworks sports a clean, easy-to-use interface, it can be a little confusing at times, with items and commands spread among menus, palettes, and menus nested inside of palettes.
Fireworks' tools provide a great mix of drawing and painting functions. While the tools are vector based-as in Macromedia FreeHand or Adobe Illustrator-shapes created with the tools can be filled and stroked with painterly textures. With textures and strokes ranging from crayons and chalk to weird alien substances, you can easily create images that look as if they were produced in a painting or image-editing program.
Although Fireworks 3 adds no new tools, it does provide a number of enhancements. As in previous versions, the text tool displays a dialog box for entering and editing text. Version 3 adds controls that let you preview a font before it's applied. You can also resize text blocks as you enter text, and the program now provides three levels of antialiasing. However, kerning and leading adjustments aren't displayed in the Text dialog box.
The program's excellent Live Effects feature, which lets you edit or remove effects filters after they've been applied to an object, has been expanded to support third-party Photoshop-compatible plug-ins. Installed plug-ins can be edited and managed through the Effects palette, just like any of Fireworks' built-in effects. Live Effects is one of Fireworks' best features, and in version 3, it's even better.
A new collection of filters lets you perform simple color corrections on any bitmapped image in your document. You can modify contrast, brightness, hue, and saturation and apply standard level and curve adjustments to any bitmapped object. Having these effects built-in is a great time-saver. In addition, Fireworks 3 now lets you choose from standard interpolation methods for scaling bitmapped images.
Finally, Macromedia has added a Photoshop-like History palette for undoing any number of actions. Unfortunately, as in Photoshop, history information is not saved with the document. However, Macromedia has implemented a clever scripting system that lets you save groups of steps from the History palette as executable scripts. In a program as palette-heavy as this one, this is elegant streamlining.
Macromedia has also expanded Fireworks' Java support. As with previous versions, you can attach Behaviors to any object to create rollover buttons and other interface features. Version 3 provides new Behaviors for creating navigation bars and disjointed rollovers (one object's rollover changing the state of another object). Since Fireworks Behaviors are now compatible with Dreamweaver's Behavior features, you can easily create buttons, navigation bars, and animations for simple export to your Dreamweaver projects.
Unfortunately, implementing complex Behaviors requires some of Fireworks' least-intuitive procedures. Disjointed rollovers, for example, involve a complex combination of slicing, layering, and creating different frames. Though the manual provides a pretty good explanation of these features, many processes could stand to be streamlined.
Fireworks' importing and exporting have been improved with the ability to import Illustrator files, Flash files, and layered Photoshop files. Similarly, you can export Fireworks documents as vector illustrations for use in FreeHand and Illustrator or as SWF files for use with Flash.
Fireworks' performance felt just a tad sluggish on our 400MHz Power Mac G3.
Opening and previewing documents and dragging filled objects had a slower feel than what we've come to expect from modern painting and illustration packages.
Though not slow enough to affect productivity, Fireworks' performance was a bit distracting.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Although previous versions of Fireworks have offered powerful features, version 3 might even compel longtime Photoshop users to learn a new program. Users of previous Fireworks versions shouldn't hesitate to upgrade.
RATING: 4.0 mice
PROS: Great drawing and effects tools; excellent integration with Dreamweaver.
CONS: Somewhat complex interface; performance a little slow.
COMPANY: Macromedia (800/457-1774, http://www.macromedia.com).
COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $199; with Dreamweaver, $399.