REVIEW: Fireworks CS4

Fireworks CS4 box

In 2007, when I reviewed the Adobe Creative Suite 3 applications, probably my most controversial was the Fireworks CS3 review, which got decent marks but I questioned its interface design, which had seemed left behind while the other apps got facelifts, and also its function in a suite of products that included Photoshop, Adobe’s main bitmap graphics application.

Even then, the Fireworks team was positioning Fireworks CS3 as a web prototyping tool—and now, with Fireworks CS4, the transition into a niche product has been completed. Fireworks CS4 is designed to be a rapid prototyping tool for creating web designs quickly. It also has some interesting new features that make it a unique application in the Adobe Creative Suite 4.

Interface evolution

I complained about Fireworks CS3’s lack of development of its interface, which had not changed much at all from Fireworks 8, the last version of that product produced by Macromedia. The problem was the Fireworks team did not have the time and resources to make such changes before the product’s launch. I expected Fireworks CS4 to be much more in line with Adobe’s interface for its other applications, and by and large it has delivered. The CS4 interface design has been incorporated into Fireworks CS4 so goodies like tabbed documents, workspace switching, the Application frame and more are available.

However, what I was really hoping for was alignment of Fireworks’ features to look like and act like identical features in other CS4 applications. In this regard Fireworks CS4 still has not changed much from versions 8 or CS3. Fireworks shares many panels with other CS4 apps (Align, Layers, Color) but Fireworks’ panels do not look or behave the same way. The Path panel, comparable to Illustrator’s Pathfinder panel, is actually much more robust than the Pathfinder panel but because it’s so unique it requires study to master it. Likewise, Fireworks CS4’s Color Palette panel is unique in that it has a Mixer and Blender mode that I’ve not seen in any other CS4 application.

Fireworks CS4 Path panel

Have you seen this panel anywhere else in CS4? Neither have I. Fireworks’ Path panel is unique, even when compared to the Pathfinder panel in Illustrator.

Fireworks CS4 sometimes improves on other apps’ features but sometimes it doesn’t. In particular, the method for adding filters to elements has not changed and I would rather work with Photoshop’s method (layer styles) or InDesign’s (using the Effects panel) than the small drop-down menu in Fireworks’ Properties panel. Also, Fireworks CS4 has implemented Smart Guides, which I applaud and work quite well, but it does not look like they will auto-space multiple elements like InDesign CS4’s Smart Guides will do.

Fireworks CS4 Smart Guides

Fireworks’ Smart Guides don’t seem as robust as InDesign CS4’s, but they are a real benefit nonetheless.

I am starting to wonder if Fireworks’ interface should not be changed, because it will throw off current users. The Photoshop team made some radical changes to its application’s interface in CS4, which has bothered a lot of users including myself. I personally think there’s still room for improvement, and it drives me crazy to use a unique set of panels and commands in Fireworks, but maybe the current user base doesn’t agree. Comments on this topic would be most welcome.

Importing Photoshop designs

Fireworks CS4 PSD open

Importing Photoshop files is a snap in Fireworks CS4, but some care is required to make it match what one sees in Photoshop.

One of the new features of Fireworks CS4 is the ability to import complex Photoshop documents. I tested this with a Photoshop comp of a website I will be designing in the next couple months, and it worked pretty well but there were a few problems:

  • Fireworks CS4 interprets all Photoshop layers as having 100% Fill, no matter the actual Fill amount
  • Layers can shift during import; use “Maintain Photoshop Layer Appearance” to resolve this, though this can reduce editability in Fireworks CS4
  • Fireworks CS4 applies fonts with slightly different spacing, causing some overlap with nearby elements
  • A Photoshop layer with a layer mask (a simple gradient mask in this case) was not masked in Fireworks CS4, even though Fireworks can do the same thing with a layer mask

This is when I really wish the Fireworks team would revise the application so it does things the same way as Photoshop and other CS4 applications, because I suspect these little errors occur when Photoshop features have no comparable Fireworks feature (or similar but not quite the same).

4 thoughts on “REVIEW: Fireworks CS4”

  1. Thanks for the review. Good info. I have used Fireworks for years, and I must say that I never have liked the Photoshop interface, and I am extremely thankful that the Fireworks team hasn’t morphed it into a typical Adobe interface. I’m hoping the Fireworks team continues to keep it a “Macromedia” interface. Whenever possible, I use Fireworks over Photoshop due to interface alone.

    Just my two cents, since you asked for comments about the interface. Carry on.

  2. I have to agree it is good to see Fireworks becoming more a part of the Adobe family, especially seeing that the pathfinder is finally here and on steroids! But it’s even better to see how Macromedia and the Adobe model have come together to blend fine interface development with really powerful tools.

    And much like Paul above I hope Adobe doesn’t gut the interface decisions which truly made Macromedia products more usable. Especially just for the sake of those too familiar with the eccentricities of PS to make a change. That’s the thing that keeps me coming back to Fireworks… It was built to make websites and each update seems to make it a better experience.

    What I’d really like to see go away is the strange way that font selection is made. For a designer with hundreds of fonts installed I find bouncing to the top of the font list again and again a serious torture device.

    What I’d really like to see included is PS’ awesome image compression which in my opinion blows the FW Jpeg rendering away.

    Good review, thanks.

  3. Interesting comments from both Paul and Nate, thanks for sharing them. I’m finding that what we find we like or dislike must be heavily affected by what we’re used to, because I have used PS a lot more than FW and I find its interface to be much more comfortable. I’m working on a website comp right now, and I tried to work with it in FW but it just seemed frustrating because there’s some thing I know how to do easily in PS but not in FW. If I spent a few days learning everything about FW, I may very well be saying something totally different!

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