Fireworks CS3 Is Looking For Its Niche

THE BIG NEWS: MULTIPLE PAGES FOR PROTOTYPING

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Figure 3: The Pages and Layers panels.

In the last paragraph, I mentioned a niche market for Fireworks—web prototyping. Photoshop is all anyone needs for web graphics now that it’s absorbed most of ImageReady’s tools, and probably every web designer out there is using it. What to do with Fireworks, which was a Photoshop competitor? Simple—make it a web prototyping application! The way the Fireworks team has accomplished this is to add a Pages panel where you can add pages to a file—think of them as Flash’s scenes or Photoshop’s layer comps, but with more flexibility (each page has its own size, color, resolution and guides). These pages can be exported separately to create prototype HTML pages quickly and easily. The addition of pages improves Fireworks, but I’m not sure it’s the best prototyping tool out there. There are better HTML prototype creators out there that create clean HTML code, such as SiteGrinder, or you may start immediately with Dreamweaver CS3. I still like creating prototypes with Photoshop and working on the actual HTML code with Dreamweaver.

I haven’t extensively tested Fireworks’ HTML capabilities, but it seems like the application is more like ImageReady than SiteGrinder in that it makes images of everything and holds them together with tables—a web standards no-no. The doctype used is XHTML Transitional which is admirable, but I see it uses spacer images and/or non-breaking spaces to create space—both are frowned upon by top-flight web designers. Fireworks’ prototypes wouldn’t be very suitable for development with Dreamweaver—and if that’s the case, then it doesn’t really compete with Photoshop and its powerful tools. Photoshop can output HTML as well with its Save For Web module, and it has no doctype but other than that the code is very similar to that from Fireworks. I should note that Fireworks is extensible, and plug-ins are available that improve the application, including XHTML code export. I haven’t tested anything like this, but there’s plenty of options out there so the likelihood that Fireworks’ native deficiencies can be overcome is high.

Fireworks’ main saving grace is its status as a “niche” product. Photoshop can do everything Fireworks can do, but a whole lot more as well–and some users may not need all those features. If Fireworks can achieve what a web designer needs, then it makes a lot of sense to use it for his/her daily work and leave behind the largesse of Photoshop (and the higher price tag).

Fireworks also has both vector and bitmap tools, which basically combine the powers of Photoshop and Illustrator (or Freehand) in one application, a definite plus for designers. The essay “Why Choose Fireworks?” by Stéphane Bergeron says much about this aspect of Fireworks, and argues that this is a main reason why Fireworks is the ideal web design and web prototyping application (and Photoshop is not). I’ve read the essay, and while there are several worthwhile points (for instance, Fireworks does do a better job of positioning elements by pixel coordinates) I find that practically everything mentioned can be done in Photoshop, sometimes done better, and since CS3 even more Fireworks functions can be achieved or exceeded (an example is non-destructive filters). Maybe this is because I am used to using Photoshop. In any case, there are many designers out there who swear by Fireworks—look at the many comments posted on John Nack’s blog entry “Photoshop + Fireworks: Where to from here?”, way back in February 2006.

If I were to suggest a web graphics or web prototyping application to a new designer, I would suggest him/her to take a good look at Fireworks and see if it fits his/her workflow—it may be all they need. If the designer is a veteran who has Photoshop experience, or if the designer does photography or print work as well, I would have to suggest Photoshop—but I would also recommend taking a look at Fireworks.

FLEXING

For those that don’t know, Flex is Adobe’s new tool for creating rich internet applications—and it’s an exciting development. One thing Fireworks does have going for it that Photoshop doesn’t is Flex integration. You can create a Flex application layout in Fireworks and export the proper code (MXML format) for use in the Flex environment. Styling and positioning are maintained so there’s little to worry about when moving the assets over to Flex Builder. I am glad Fireworks and Flex are being leveraged as a team, and this is the type of feature that keeps it relevant and fresh.

fig4Figure 4: The Common Library and Symbol Properties panels.

The new Common Library and Symbol Properties panel both continue the web development trend by implementing something similar to Flash’s model of libraries, symbols and instances. With symbol properties, one can control the appearance of interface components with JavaScript and parameters. This is a very cool feature, similar to using CSS to control the styling of web elements. I have no idea why Fireworks doesn’t implement CSS if it has a similar framework for these interface components. With the Common Library, one can now store symbols and share them not only among multiple documents but to multiple users with a shared asset library. This is another very cool thing—developing just got a whole lot easier. The Common Library panel is still not very robust, being a pale shadow of Flash’s Library panel, but it is a good start and a smart move in the direction of rich internet applications, which is where I see Fireworks headed. I could see Fireworks being a part of a larger Flex Builder application, leaving web graphics and prototypes to applications that already have more tools and features for such a thing.

CONCLUSION

I wanted to review Fireworks because I feel Adobe’s top-tier applications steal a lot of coverage from these application, and you read about them only in user groups or forums. The only people writing about these applications are those already using the application. With CS3 and Adobe’s attempt to find a niche for its expanded lineup, I was excited to see what Fireworks had to offer. My conclusion is that Fireworks CS3 does not offer much more than Fireworks 8—though interesting things are happening with Flex that may cause excitement in a year or so. There are also some good decisions being made by the Fireworks team that may make the application the go-to tool for website prototypes. There is no killer application yet within Fireworks that makes it irreplaceable in this field, but new features have improved its power and with CS4 we may see an even greater leap ahead.

4stars
Adobe Fireworks CS3
$299/$149 upgrade
www.adobe.com

5 thoughts on “Fireworks CS3 Is Looking For Its Niche”

  1. Hi Jeremy,

    It’s nice to see Designorati talk about Fireworks and let me thank you
    for mentioning my article in your review. You have to be aware that I
    wrote that piece quite a while ago when the current version of Fireworks
    was MX 2004 and Photoshop was at version 7. That explains some of the
    points I was making about Photoshop.

    Regarding your review, I don’t think you will be surprised to know that
    I disagree with many of your points, especially your insistence at
    positioning Fireworks as a “niche” product. I really could not disagree
    more with that statement.

    I strongly believe that the main reason Fireworks has not been more
    widely adopted by designers for actual creative work at this point is
    the former Macromedia’s ineptitude at marketing it correctly. It’s
    certainly not Fireworks’ toolset or workflow that is lacking, especially
    not now with CS3. It’s not perfect, but it offers a an intuitive,
    flexible and powerful workflow that no other application I know of offers.

    Fireworks has been my main creative tool for almost 10 years now. It has
    replaced Photoshop in a part of my process where I had always found
    Photoshop to be incredibly awkward for many of the reasons I stated in
    my article. Even with the improvements in Photoshop over the years which
    do include a lot of non-destructive editing features, I have always felt
    that Photoshop is a terrible design and layout tool by its very nature
    as a raster based editor. To me, any vector based application does a
    better job of any kind of layout than Photoshop as they are just much
    better suited to these kinds of tasks.

    If Fireworks didn’t exist, I’d probably have switched my Web design
    workflow to Illustrator around the same time I discovered Fireworks.
    It’s just quicker and more flexible for me but it may just boil down to
    what we feel comfortable with as well as our design styles.

    I do agree with you about Fireworks CS3’s lack of UI improvements
    though. I used to be a rabid fan of the Macromedia interface but I have
    used and loved Adobe software for even longer. What I love in the new
    CS3 UI is that I think it has successfully “melded” the best of both
    world in a way that is vastly superior to anything both Macromedia and
    Adobe have done before. To me this is especially true in InDesign and
    Illustrator.

    Hopefully Fireworks will get the same treatment in CS4 and it may even
    result in more people adopting it for a lot more than a mere ImageReady
    “replacement” which in my view is almost an insult to Fireworks ;-)

  2. As a long time Fireworks user/web designer, and as someone who has tried Photoshop AND Fireworks before choosing a preferred tool for web graphic design work, I’d like to add here that Fireworks is (in my opinion) a much more flexible tool for design intended for screen, than Photoshop is!

    The vector tools of Fireworks are much better.

    The interface is much easier to grasp at its basics than the clumsy and heavy PS interface.

    All effects are non-destructible, all vectors and options are retained – not like in Photoshop.

    The flexibility of Fireworks is very good.

    You can create a website design ONLY with vectors and effects, and everything will be editable after you save the PNG. In Photoshop you’ll loose a lot of the editability due to some bitmap convertion…

    Finally, let me repeat that FW is NOT a niche product, but a full-power full-featured graphic design app and it’ll become even more powerful in the time to come – hopefully around v. CS4!

    Cheers, my $0.02 :)

    PS Ah, and btw, Macromedia’s interface (Flash, Fireworks, DreamWeaver) is so much better than Adobe user-unfriendly interface – best example – Photoshop! :-D The interface is the reason while 3-4 years ago I’ve chosen FW and not PS!

  3. Fireworks is not one of the best tool for web but it IS THE BEST!!!
    Photoshop compared to fireworks….

    Too slow… Panels???? Beurrrrkkkkkkk!!!!!! SPIT IT OUT!!!!!

    I’ve been using fireworks for 5yrs already…. Tried Photoshop!!!! Hmmmmm the first look at it gave me the feeling “Beuurrrrrrrkkkkkk I’ll stay with fireworks!!!!” N till date i’ve never used photoshop…. Reasons: It is not user friendly, Anything done in photoshop is possible in fireworks and fireworks seems better

  4. I agree wholeheartedly, Photoshop is extremely unintuitive. Why do so may web designers use PS when Adobe’s own Fireworks is so much better for the job?

    Just the fact that you’re working in vectors and able to resize accurately at the behest of the client is a clincher.

    I can’t help but think that web design has been ‘taken over’ by illustrators and print designers who are comfortable with PS and as a majority (and no small part by Adobe’s neglect) it has now become the defacto standard and doesn’t deserve it.

    PS is a photo editor – the clue is on the name. Yes it can do a lot more but features have been added piecemeal to the point where it is just plain hard to use.

    As a freelancer who has always used Fireworks and who now wants to re-enter mainstream employment getting to grips with PS is just plain frustrating.

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