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Now is a Good Time to be a Fireworks Evangelist

I could not imagine my creative process without Adobe Fireworks. I have been using that application since version 2.0 sometime in 1999. 10 years ago, Fireworks was not an obvious choice but the workflow advantages over Photoshop were immediately evident to me and my creative process never was the same. Unfortunately, it took almost all those years for Fireworks to be taken seriously in the industry. Being a Fireworks evangelist 5 or 6 years ago felt like preaching in the desert. But not anymore.

Today, Fireworks is finally thriving. After a couple false starts and dud versions (yes I’m looking at you Fireworks 8 and CS2!), versions CS3 and CS4 have finally brought Fireworks to a level where many industry heavyweights are now paying attention. It is also crossing over into new fields like User Experience and Interaction Design where many practitioners who are not traditional Web designers (read visual/graphic designers) use Fireworks for rapid prototyping and quickly iterating interface and interaction designs.

It is an exciting time for Fireworks which proves that Adobe’s decision to keep it alive after acquiring Macromedia was the right one. Not only that but the application itself has finally started to really improve again after stagnating for a few years under Macromedia’s watch. There are new books being written about it or with chapters about it, new (and not so new) Web sites covering how to use it or who is using it. Can’t wait to see what’s in store in Fireworks’ future.

If you have never tried it, do yourself a favor and do so. If you are coming from Photoshop, leave your pixel pushing Photoshop mindset at the door and embrace Fireworks vector based workflow. Regardless of Fireworks’ very capable bitmap editing tools, its real strength lies in its hybrid workflow based on a vector based core. Until you really give it a try, you will never know how much difference working in a vector based environment does for any kind of layout work.

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The Fireworks Team is Now Blogging

You can now find the Fireworks team’s new blog here : http://blogs.adobe.com/fireworks That’s a great thing for improving Fireworks’ visibility and hopefully it will be updated regularly.

On the other hand, I wonder why Adobe is not using a ColdFusion based solution for blogging. I really think they should be using their own platforms as much as possible. They could be using an existing blogging application like BlogCFC which I’m using here or build their own (which they could sell or give away, integrate into Dreamweaver, etc). The possibilities are mind boggling and I wonder why the primary Web building software supplier is still not helping their customers build blogs using their own platforms and software?

But I digress… ;-)  Do check out the Fireworks teams’s blog!

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Fireworks CS4 Beta on Adobe Labs!

Fireworks is finally getting some long overdue exposure. A beta of the next CS4 version has been posted on Adobe Labs today. I will blog about this in more details later this week. Long story short is that there is a lot to love in this new version and Fireworks is finally gainning some maturity and sophistication.  There are still many areas that need work like, for example, its desperately archaic color management features as well as not having any way to maintain links to external assets (just to name these two) but a LOT of progress has been made in this release…

Check it out !

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Fireworks and the PNG Format Revisited

It seems that the debate over this issue which I discussed in detail in a previous post is still going on in the forum thread that inspired my bringing the issue up here. It also was the issue in a recent post from respected Fireworks evangelist and now Adobe employee, Trevor McCauley (Senocular).

The thing is, Trevor brings up just the same weak arguments we’ve heard before in favor of keeping the .png file extension which I have tried to debunk in my other post on the subject. Basically, his only argument for keeping the extension and justifying his claim that changing it would do “more harm than good” is that, support for the files in other applications would be lost.

I have already addressed this specific issue in my other post and showed that, for the only applications where I believe this really matters (Web browsers), you could take a PNG file, change its extension to .xyz or anything else that strikes your fancy and IE, Firefox and Opera would all still open it. That’s because those applications do not just look at file extensions to determine file types.

For the applications that do this like Photoshop or Illustrator for example, you could always temporarily rename your “.xyz” or whatever file to .png and open it there then change it back later. In my opinion, it becomes even more important to use a new file extension when opening editable files in editing applications like Photoshop that do not support the proprietary data chunk that holds the native data saved by Fireworks. Saving a PNG file from Photoshop will loose all editable data no matter what. If the file had another extension, Photoshop wouldn’t open or save it without having to change the extension to PNG. That would mean designers would really have time to make sure the file they open in Photoshop or another editing app is not a native file or that, if it is, they’ll have to be extra careful how or where they save it back out of Photoshop.

I think this debates really boils down to theses two choices. On one hand, if you change the extension, you have the minor inconvenience of having to rename it if you want to open it in applications that are dumb enough to only look at file extensions to determine file type. On the other, if you keep the status quo, users will still accidentaly overwrite native and editable PNG files and loose hours of work. Which one is the bigger inconvenience in your opninion?

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Mucking Up the Fireworks?

A little while ago, Jason Santa Maria wrote a very interesting post about Photoshop and Fireworks (as well about Adobe in general…) in which he brings up many good points to which the powers that be at Adobe should pay real close attention.

First, he admits that, although Photoshop is the Adobe application he uses the most as he designs Web sites with it, at the end of the day, it really is completely inadequate for that kind of job. To me this is as true today as it was when I ditched Photoshop to use Fireworks years ago for the same reasons. Like me, many commenters to his post don’t understand how so many designers still use Photoshop for site design or for any kind of layout work for that matter (Web or print based). That is a subject I have touched on here before and something I often discuss with fellow designers. For all the incredible power Photoshop has for editing photographic images, it is indeed “woefully inadequate” as a layout application as Jason puts it. Comment #58 really nails it on the head as to why IMO.

But that is not the important part of his post for me. He then moves on to say that, after getting fed up with the tedium of doing layout work in Photoshop, he tried Fireworks again recently and realized that, almost 3 years after Adobe acquired Macromedia, Fireworks still languishes and and still only gets paltry new features at best, most being touted by how they integrate with other Adobe apps. This is where he hits a very sore spot for me.

Following on his first very valid point about Photoshop’s inadequacies as a Web and UI design tool, Fireworks should have been the application that truly filled that gap but in reality, it has not. We can blame this in a large part on Macromedia’s truly abysmal marketing of Fireworks in the past and the fact that Adobe is not doing any better now, but in reality, the problem lies much deeper than that IMO. I’m realizing that it’s really no coincidence that so many design professionals still perceive Fireworks as amateurish because, in a lot of ways, it is. If we want to be honest, Fireworks has never evolved or matured in a significant manner after Fireworks 4. What truly innovative feature has been added to Fireworks since then?

It has now lost its direction completely as Macromedia then Adobe cannot seem to decide if they want to make Fireworks a truly professional design application that serves the needs of power users working on real Web site design projects or a jack of all trade and master of none lite design app for weekend Web designers. I agree 1000% with Jason on this.

At some point, Adobe will have to decide either way and put real resources behind Fireworks’ development. If not, it will keep languishing and will eventually die. At this point, I for one am already loosing faith in Fireworks and anyone who knows me knows how devoted a Fireworks evangelist I have been for so long. But reality is catching up with me.

As the projects I work on are getting more complex and as my design skills improve, I find Fireworks increasingly frustrating to work with for some of the same reasons I abandonned Photoshop all those years ago. It is becoming inadequate for larger projects. The pain points in my workflow are not in the same places as they were in Photoshop, but they are very real nonetheless and make me waste a lot of valuable time.

For example, now that we finally have multiple pages (let’s pass on the ridiculously half baked single Master Page implementation), we should also be getting tools that speed up the editing of the more complex documents we’re creating. I’m talking things like text styles as in InDesign and Illustrator,  but especially, real color management with individual color swatches which can be set as global colors. This means that if you apply a color to objects, text or effects properties from a global color swatch, editing that one swatch in the colors panel will cascade the change throughout the entire document automatically and immediately. I’m not talking about something on the level of Illustrator’s LiveColor here but a truly basic feature that has been taken for grated in all vector design applications I know for over 2 decades.

On the last project I worked on, I got extremely frustrated with Fireworks’ absolutely primitive color features when I needed to make color changes across a document to experiment with different color schemes. With global color swatches, it would have been trivial but now, it is a real pain. This is just one example. Jason brings up many others in the later part of his post. I’m really skeptical now that Fireworks will ever get there so I’ve started exploring new avenues that will alleviate some of the more serious pain points in my design work flow.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about going to Illustrator to do the actual design work and only bring those layouts in Fireworks for the purpose of slicing, optiming and exporting graphics. I truly cannot stand Photoshop’s and Illustrator’s “slicing” features and “Save for Web” modal dialog window so I would have to keep performing those tasks in Fireworks. By doing this I would loose some of the integration advantage Fireworks has always given me (no need to move to different apps for different taks) but in the end, slicing and exporting accounts for a fraction of the time I spend actually designing Web site layouts and, in Illustrator, I would get real color management, external assets linking, text styles and a much more sophisticated basic vector editing toolset.

If Fireworks does not bring a good dose of sophistication to its core design toolset very soon, I feel that’s exactly what I’ll have no choice to do. Many of us long time Fireworks users and evangelists have been more than patient with Macromedia and Adobe but my patience is running out…