By Peter Bates
For years, erasing vector objects done in a draw program like Adobe Illustrator® or CorelDRAW® wasn't so easy. You had to cover them with stroke-less white objects to give the illusion of obliteration. Now Macromedia FreeHand MX® has an elegant solution for this problem. An eraser whose "erasing tip" can be programmed, just like the one in Adobe Photoshop®. It may not sound like much, but it's a big step.
There are more tool enhancements in this release of FreeHand MX, which was delayed from the Macromedia MX suite release a few months back. The gradient tool has grown up. Not only can you specify a gradient fill, but you can also manipulate its shape, making it rectangular or conical, for example. The gradient handles that control the expanse and direction are easy to use. The trace tool is a powerful component, allowing you to specify its sensitivity in picking up adjacent colors or sections of a bitmap; however, the more complex the bitmap (such as a photograph), the more complicated the tracing becomes. I suggest using the tool at first with simple graphics of only a few colors. You can now add a host of effects, fills, and strokes to one selected object. For example, an object can have a 3-pt stroke and a bevel effect, all branched under the same Object Properties box. This powerful product is now integrated into the MX family, which means they all have the same look and feel. You can also import the files into Flash and Fireworks (but not Dreamweaver).
If you have been working with Dreamweaver® 4.0 or if you're considering doing so, this is the package for you. Unlike Photoshop® 7.0, it is a major upgrade to the Dreamweaver, Fireworks®, and Flash® programs. For Dreamweaver, the upgrade provides a spiffier interface. No longer do you have to switch back and forth between viewing the HTML file editing panel and the file list panel. You can display them both on the same screen; however, I would only recommend this feat if your screen is set to at least 1024 x 768 resolution. Otherwise, I would use the tab-clicking feature to hide one panel. Another feature: you can turn on grids and rulers to determine where you are on the screen. An improved CSS design panel now has a tree structure that makes it easier to distinguish locally defined styles from global ones.
Dreamweaver MX® integrates seamlessly with Fireworks, the MX web graphics component, and Flash, the animation component. Like Adobe Photoshop's ImageReady component, Fireworks allows you to slice up a graphic and create hotspots and buttons. This designer's dream helps you avoid that boxy HTML code look that many amateurish web sites have these days. When you are done designing the graphic, you can then save it as an HTML file that you can call up in Dreamweaver. An HTML table delineates the components of the Fireworks graphic. Select the table, click Edit in the Properties box, and you are back in Fireworks, where you can hone your graphic even more. If you've never used Flash before, run the excellent tutorial because this product has a fairly steep (but rewarding) learning curve. You are in effect editing a film, whose components involve time segments rather than graphic or textual ones, although you can edit these other two components within the program. Flash too has greatly improved from its previous incarnation. Within its powerful Timeline, you can resize and cut multiple frames. Flash now locates many common functions within the Properties panel rather than in multiple windows, panels and boxes. There are many other enhancements that make this a premier product suite (like the FreeHand® vector graphics program and ColdFusion®), but space limitations prevent me from talking about them further. Try Macromedia Studio MX® yourself! It gets the work done.
Visit www.macromedia.com to learn more about FreeHand and Studio MX.
Peter Bates runs Bates Communications, a publication, promotion, and Web design company. He can be reached at or www.batescommunications.net.