Fireworks: From Macromedia to Adobe to … oblivion?

Posted on December 13, 2013 at 3:23 pm Written by
Fireworks: From Macromedia to Adobe to ... oblivion?

When Adobe completed its aquisition of Macromedia in December 2005, it can’t have been much of a surprise that their competing Freehand application was shown the door less than 2 years later in favour of Adobe’s own (arguably inferior) Adobe Illustrator.

And with Adobe’s long-standing association with the print-based design industry, non-print digital designers who had grown to love and rely on the more web-orientated Fireworks vector graphics program must have wondered whether this, too, had more days behind than ahead.

A Cloud with a not-so-silver lining

In fairness, Adobe has till now kept Fireworks as an integral part of its Creative Suite (CS), designed as it was to compliment the evergreen Dreamweaver. There were even attempts to bring it into line with its stable-mates through updates to its UI and functionality.

Some changes worked better than others: the shoehorning-in of the print-biased text-rendering engine from Photoshop really just ruined Fireworks’ formerly reliable screen fonts.

Then in May 2013 came the announcement of Adobe’s move to their new CC (Creative Cloud) subscription model and the parting of ways for Fireworks and its Creative Suite cousins.

Development of the standalone web vector-graphic program would cease. The CS6 version would stumble on whilst Adobe cherry-picked the best bits for a new series of modular ‘Edge tools’ to use as add-ons for their core products (If you like you can even sign up to help with the development of these ‘next-generation solutions’).

But if you’re a purely digital designer, are you going to be happy to buy Adobe’s print-orientated software suite to then have to buy digital graphic tools as extras – just to come close to Fireworks’ functionality?

Rose-tinted color filters …

Fireworks is certainly not without its bugs: the web-font rendering issues for one; also the fact you still have to frequently restart the application or risk the dreaded ‘not enough memory’ or ‘an unexpected error occurred’ message, swiftly followed by a forced close and the dreadful realisation you haven’t been saving your work as often as you should …

But then its strengths tended to outweigh its issues. The NewZapp design team has long used Fireworks as our primary means of prototyping and creating websites, UI components, HTML email templates and even digital print work. It happily works with both bitmaps and vectors; complex vector shapes are straightforward to create and adjust; masks, gradients, filters and texture tools make graphics and illustrations easy peasy. I love the gridline system that allows pixel-perfect alignment. And there are also the many options for exporting and optimising digital graphics.

I’m pretty sure I haven’t touched even a fraction of what it can do either – for instance I don’t tend to use image slices, or export directly as web pages – but I know lots of designers who do!

However, as gutted as I was with the news of the winding down of the Fireworks party, the more I thought about it the more it seemed it had really been the only serious go-to tool for vector web graphics for far too long.

So where are the alternatives?

Looking around, it’s surprising to see only a couple of programs that jump out as coming close to Fireworks’ all-round ability – unfortunately for the great many of us that use PCs rather than the Fruit of Desirability, both are dedicated Mac-only applications …

  • Sketch works on any Apple device, including iPad and iPhone, and is a dedicated vector graphic tool with basic bitmap support such as blurring and colour correction. A particularly neat feature allows you to preview your artboards simultaneously on multiple mobile devices via wi-fi so you can check responsive layouts. One to watch I think.
  • WebCode is built on the older PaintCode program, and rather than just creating graphics it works behind the scenes to generate HTML5 Canvas, CSS3 and Javascript website pages, as well as SVG-coded graphics and animations. As such it’s vector and bitmap  tools are necessarily limited and export formats of just PNG, TIFF or PDF make it difficult to use to build HTML email templates.

So there’s plenty of room at the table then …

With Fireworks in its current form not long for this world, I like to think that there is a great opportunity here for software developers and designers to step in and create alternative cross-platform applications that not only take up Fireworks’ torch, but run marathons with it!

If we could lose the crashes and freezes and add more capability, so much the better: for instance, importing and preserving layered files; detecting and converting from CMYK to RGB; supporting more native and third party filters and plug-ins … I’m sure we all have a wish list we could add.

Just so long as we can avoid re-creating the processor-intensive memory-hog that Fireworks has always been …

What do you think?

Maybe that Fireworks alternative is already here and you’re using it. Or are you sticking with Adobe for the long haul? What would you like to see in alternatives? Let me know what you think!

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