I’ve had the unique opportunity to spend some time working with the new Adobe Fireworks CS5, and it has been a pleasure. The stability improvements are immediately noticeable, and although this has been described as a “stability release” there are some very useful new features that should not be overlooked. Keep in mind that about 90% of my Fireworks usage is for information design (wireframing) and prototyping, so my impressions on this new version will reflect the way I use the tool.
1. Ability to handle larger multipage files and better handling of large files from earlier Fireworks versions.
I spend less time waiting for Fireworks to open files created in earlier versions of Fireworks. I work with several other designers and many clients, so I open files from CS3 and CS4 often. The files open faster and render more quickly. The first time an older version file is opened takes a little longer as the file is updated and optimized, but once it has been saved from CS5 it then re-opens more quickly. Additionally, the multipage thumbnail preview will be enabled once the file has been saved from CS5.
2. FXG Export + Catalyst for enhanced prototyping.
I use Fireworks, Dreamweaver, and Flash for prototyping. The addition of Catalyst to the mix will make interactive prototyping easier, and since Fireworks exports directly to the FXG file format, I can use Fireworks to create the graphics for the prototype, export to FXG, and quickly use them in Catalyst. I can draw the pages once and use the same assets for prototyping in Dreamweaver (with Spry and jQuery) or Catalyst, and this gives me a wider range of behaviors and transitions/motions I can include in the prototype.
3. Document Templates.
Although Fireworks ships with built-in templates, I can easily create new templates customized for my project types and embed symbols and assets so that I always start from the same base to produce consistent work (and save some time.) I plan to create basic templates for ecommerce sites, mobile/iPhone apps, and even interactive Flash or Catalyst elements.
4. Compound Shapes.
I love compound shapes, but for simple reasons: I often create custom widgets for web projects (usually Flash-based) that change structure based on interactions. With the new compound shapes I can “assemble” widget wireframes from objects that can be easily “moved” around to create instances of the widget in different states. I no longer need to sub-select nodes and adjust their position; I can now just sub-select the individual components and move the parts around. Here’s a really simple example: a tabbed widget where I need to show the state of the widget for all tabs. The selected tab and the frame are a compound path, and changing selected tabs is as simple as sub-selecting the tab object and moving it relative to the frame.
5. Enhanced CSS and Images Export.
Even though few of my prototypes leverage the CSS export, I sometimes export just a few pages or even parts of pages in order to get the page structure code (HTML and CSS) to use when assembling a prototype in Dreamweaver. I use the CSS export to generate the framework for a page, then refine and continue the code in Dreamweaver. The enhancements in Fireworks CS5 improve the quality of the code and make it easier to re-use.
6. Snap to Pixel.
Even though I have adapted many of my design processes to avoid the “fuzzy line” problem, this is a nice option to have available. I do not consider this to be a fix for the sometimes odd way that lines are rendered, but I do use the line tool often, and this option makes it easy to quickly make everything crisp.
7. Smarter Page Naming.
People upgrading from Fireworks CS3 will notice this the most, but it is much easier to move and name pages in a logical way, and when working with 40, 50, or 60+ pages in a file, having flexibility and some intelligence in the way pages are named and manipulated is really helpful.
8. Exposing Options in the Property Inspector.
Exposing frequently used options such as locking the aspect ratio and stroke location is a real time-saver. Although I do not use these options frequently, it is a great reminder that they are available, especially when I need a module or object that is truly X by Y pixels, and I need to remember to put the stroke on the inside of the path.
9. Improved Text Editing.
I think this is being given short-shrift the new release information. There are many new text handling and styling options that I have not yet learned and mastered, but the ability to select non-sequential strings of text in a single text object and apply styles to them is a huge time-saver, because I often need to embed multiple text styles in a block of text in wireframes. And when I need to change that style, it is easy to select text with matching styles within a text object and edit the appearance. Finally, it is terrific to be able to undo text editing actions while in text editing mode – Fireworks no longer undoes all edits!
10. Improved Page, Layer, and State Export and File Naming.
Oddly, this has recently become more important in my design process and workflow. The ability to export all pages, selected pages, all states, or selected states will help me better deliver the assets and files necessary for prototypes and projects. I often need to deliver only certain pages and states to a design team or to a client, so I need to be able to export only portions of a file. Being able to export only what I need saves times from exporting everything then sifting and sorting through it all to remove what I do not need.
Overall, Adobe Fireworks CS5 is a fantastic release. Stability, new features, and a smoother workflow with other Adobe products keeps it as the front runner when designing for pixels on the screen.