May 09 2013

The Fireworks Lament [IMHO]

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A few days ago Adobe caused an outcry with its announcement to not develop Fireworks, their web design prototyper, further. Though they did not really call it quits, instead promised to make sure Fireworks would receive necessary updates in terms of security or OS adaptation, furious users started their campaigns to „save Fireworks“ from oblivion. Even a petition has been started to try and force Adobe to release Fireworks as Open Source or in the alternative at least promise to not stop development. These things are nothing new. Softwares come and go.

fireworks-cs6

The Evolution of Web Design Software

In the nineties, Macromedia introduced a clever tool for web designers. The tool was named Fireworks and its abilities where mostly aimed at creating image-rich static website designs. Animated gifs where hot at the time and Fireworks would let you build them in the easiest way possible. Hover states with different images were a snap with Macromedia’s tool. Yet, already at that time, Fireworks was never able to reach the same level of attention and wide-spread usage Dreamweaver, the second important Macromedia product, was able to achieve.

I admit to have been one of the early adopters. I have been using Fireworks and really designed and exported lots of websites or parts thereof. I made a decent amount of money in the shortest time possible, compared to other techniques I could have used. But this was at that time. The web was all colorful and flashy. If you could design a UI where e.g. a phone would visually be picked up on hover you could call yourself the king of designs. And I sure felt that way.

Need I say that of course all Fireworks designs were based on tables, one-pixel gifs and absolute positioning?

Then, things started to change quite quickly. Accessible design was the new buzz, although up until today accessible design has not gained the traction you could expect given the time it is being talked about. The first time I encountered the new world of pure CSS was in 2001. I was interested, yet terrified as this would mean a totally different approach to design as I knew it. And certainly, Fireworks would no longer be the one-stop shop it had been until then.

Adobe, by the way, had already ramped up its Photoshop with a satellite solution called ImageReady, clearly aimed at users of Fireworks. ImageReady implemented the same way of cutting, slicing and creating different states of the same image Fireworks did. It came over a little uncomfortable though, as you had to design in Photoshop, then call ImageReady from there to do the necessary slicing and things and then, from ImageReady, leave again back to Photoshop. It wasn’t exactly what you’d call streamlined.

But, and that had me quick enough, it combined the powerful image editing capabilities of Photoshop with techniques needed in web design. Sliced images out of PS/ImageReady looked much more elegant than those done using Fireworks purely. It must have been around 2003 when I decided to stay with Dreamweaver, but leave for Photoshop.

Two years later, Adobe bought Macromedia and its product range. In favor of Dreamweaver they discontinued their own Go Live (2008) and in favor of Fireworks they discontinued their own ImageReady (2007). A lot of features of ImageReady got baked into the core of Photoshop, but the path was clear. Fireworks would be the new web designer tool. Need I mention, that there were outcries caused in both cases of discontinuation?

The web changed further. Still Photoshop or Fireworks designs were common, but more in the form of prototypes and not in the form of to be exported ready-made designs that would go live directly from the image editor.

Today, designs still get prototyped in Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Fireworks or whatever product the designer sees fit, can handle or for whatever reasons prefers to use. Yet, today CSS is the top dog, the principles of print design, from where web design naturally evolved are more and more turned behind.

Today we all agree that web design has no longer a lot in common with print design. When Fireworks got incepted, this was totally different. You might object and argue that Fireworks got developed further and is now able to support CSS based designs and such. But this does not change the product’s roots, the reasons for its inception. And these roots are drying fast…

Dribbblers show off their Fireworks skills

Dribbblers show off their Fireworks skills

Deeply Shaken Fireworks Users Close To Tears

Now, as no surprise to me, Adobe announced the discontinuation of the Fireworks product. It is not that they will be axing it in the way Google will do to its Reader product. It is just that they will not put any perspective to it, feature-freeze you might as well call it. They will still sell it, they will provide security updates and they will make sure it runs on future OS versions as long as possible or technically sensible.

This is not what I would call a harsh move. Still, as always, an outcry gets caused. Why? Can we agree that the web will change further? From what we’ve seen in the course of the last fifteen years can we predict that web design will never return to print design principles? Is it not more likely to assume web design will heighten the distance to print rather than reduce it?

If we can agree on all of this, what is the bottom line? The bottom line is, softwares such as Fireworks will continue to be shrinking in importance. We will be using different tools for a subset of what still will be necessary related to our designs, but we can easily go without giant one-stop shop software bloated with features becoming more and more mediocre.

So where do we stand? If you love yourself your Fireworks, continue to use it as long as possible, which will be quite a few years from now. The better advice might probably be to look for new tools with a more contemporary approach. The best advice will be to focus on the skills that will never become irrelevant. I am talking about HTML, CSS and JavaScript. If you can handle these, no discontinuation notice of any software can ever become existence-threatening to your design business. Never rely on tools, rely on knowledge.

Firetuts.com: Fireworks Tutorials Galore

Firetuts.com: Fireworks Tutorials Galore

That said, I am ready to go off the stage and let other opinions enter. Greg Heade even started a campaign over at Change.org. He raised a petition in a try to find enough supporters to impress Adobe by the sheer numbers. His goal: Either open source Fireworks or promise to develop it further. In three days around 1,800 people signed it. If this does not gain more traction fast, I wouldn’t expect a lot of impact from it. So, if you are still drying your tears caused by Adobe’s announcement, head over to Change.org and sign Greg’s petition.

Greg runs Firetuts.com, so what would you expect ;-) Nevertheless, this is perfectly legitimate. Support him, if you agree.

About the Author

Dieter Petereit is Noupe's Editor-In-Chief and a veteran of the web with over 25 years of experience in the world of IT. As soon as Netscape became available he started to do what already at that time was called webdesign and has carried on ever since. Almost a decade ago he started writing for several online publications, some well, some lesser known. Dieter is a heavy G-Plusser, so why not meet him over there?

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Comments and Discussions
  • Jafar, 09 May 2013

    NOOOO!

    WTF ADOBE YOU DISAPPOINT AGAIN!

    Macromedia please reclaim all of your software Adobe was too stupid to know what to do with it or know how to integrate it.

  • Tim, 10 May 2013

    To be honest, Fireworks is only slightly better than Photoshop for web design. It crashes a lot and slows to a crawl when you get around 5 or 6 pages of stuff in one document. It’s masking abilities are atrocious. I also have yet to see a web design program that can style elements the same way they can be styled in CSS. Why is that? CSS supports dashes, dots, em spacing, etc. Yet NO app supports styling graphic or text elements the same way as CSS.
    We need something new. I am curiously looking forward to seeing what this is about:
    http://tribaloid.com

    • Craig Erskine, 10 May 2013

      @Tim
      Spoken by someone who tries to use Ps techniques in Fw. Fw is light years better if you think outside the box and concede that it require a completely different workflow than Ps. Once you understand that you don’t need to do 6 steps to complete a simple task it will click and you will wonder how you ever got anything done in Ps to begin with.

      I really, really confused about the masking comment. How is the masking atrocious?

      I have thousands of Fw source files ranging back to v2 and I’ve never had the slowdown you mention. Of course, I use it properly too. Most of my source files have over 6 pages or highly complex designs using Fw techniques.

      The CSS comment confuses me too. Fw is the only app where the FX actually translate to CSS. No other program besides Sketch even comes close. Fw FX haven’t changed since their inception yet they still translate wonderfully.

      Of course, I only have 15+ years experience with professional website development, so what do I know?

      • Tim, 11 May 2013

        Craig, you obviously do not use Fireworks to try and design complex websites where you have a site template, homepage, product category page, some product pages, a cart page, a checkout page, and a few landing pages. Also throw in some paragraph styles and symbols on each page and Fireworks slows to a crawl and crashes quite often.
        I have tried to use bitmap masks in Fireworks and trying to paint a large fuzzy mask on an object is almost as bad as trying to use Photoshop CS6 paragraph styles as far as how slow it can be.
        Maybe it’s because I am using the Mac version? I’ve heard the Windows version runs better? I don;t know, but really I don’t care. Adobe has ruined this software. I used it back at version 1 and 2 and it was fine.

        I am unsure why you’d make the comment about CSS? Are you telling me that The CSS and HTML that Fireworks exports translates correctly when viewed in a browser? I am calling BS on that big time. I have a Fireworks document open right now with a simple rectangle filled with a color and the Dashed Triple stroke applied to it. I’ve exported it to CSS/HTML and open it in my browser. The Dashed Triple stroke is converted to a plain old CSS dashed border. Obviously, there is no such option for a Dashed Triple stroke in CSS, but therein lies the problem with web design apps.
        On top of that, there is not a single design program that renders text the same way that it is rendered in a web browser and with the same spacing and size options. Fireworks does not have em spacing, percentage spacing, points, picas or ANYTHING other than pixels. This is a glaring oversight. The web is not always measured in pixels, especially with responsive designs.

        Therefore, my comment about CSS is that there is absolutely NO program available today that has CSS styling built into it that will translate properly to today’s standards for CSS.
        I don’t know how you can think so if you have 15+ years doing that.

  • Lennard, 10 May 2013

    This article shows how missunderstood Fireworks really are. FW is a great sketch tool for creating rapid prototypes/views early in a process. FW fits very well in an agile project with demanding of fast changes. I would not recommend any team to start up sketching directy in HTML, CSS & JavaScript.

  • James Young, 10 May 2013

    I’ve been a Fireworks user for years and it’s my preferred tool of choice but the web is changing and so is how many of us work. Things like petitioning a company to open source their software is pointless and bordering on stupid but I’m encouraged by the steps the Adobe web tools team are taking with things like Edge Reflow and their other efforts and if you’re really that worried, check out this tweet from Alex on their web tools team.

    https://twitter.com/aexmo/status/332133862551474176

    “We are actively working on next-generation solutions for screen design and prototyping” can’t say it clearer than that.

    • Rory, 13 May 2013

      …which will only be available for rent at $20/month

  • spiderinfomedia, 10 May 2013

    Awesome blog! usually in our concern we do with this fireworks. so this is a informative post for us!

  • Alex, 10 May 2013

    Fireworks is indeed a great and a handy tool, I mostly used it to rustle up a quick demo. I have always been designing in the traditional way, working it out first through the photoshop and then slicing it out and using dreamweaver to create the web pages.

    But I am strong votary of the idea, if Adobe are abandoning FW then they should make it freely available in opensource format. This will further hasten the develop and the maturity of the product.

  • JD, 10 May 2013

    This actually comes as a shock to me. I started using Fireworks after Adobe brought it into the family, and to this day it is the most efficient tool for our UX development team. The ease with with we can prototype web sites and crank out images is unmatched in Photoshop or Illustrator.

    I find the idea of CSS replacing design in Fireworks as silly and non-sequester as HTML5 replacing Flash. It’s not the same.

    That that is my shock: it is unmatched. I do take it as yet another way Adobe is blithely janking its audience around, though the root of the problem is really a lack of competition. This idea we can “make” Adobe do anything is a joke.

  • WebDever1, 11 May 2013

    I’ve used Fireworks since version 1, and I’ve never used it for prototyping. It’s a superb vector graphics package that does pretty much everything I’ve ever needed it to do in my role as a web developer.

    Its far, FAR more than just a prototyper – something which this article seems to miss entirely. I can do things in Fireworks in a minute that would take 10 in the “superior” Photoshop.

    • Leo, 11 May 2013

      Absolutely agree. You know what you are saying. You know the product in depth.

      People simply think they know and speak their minds about things. But they just see what they want to see.

      Fireworks is THE BEST VECTOR EDITOR out there. The best by far.
      Is simply not comparable to any other software when we talk vectors. Quality wise and ease of use.

      But this is not even considered or known by almost nobody of these who speak to say this or that.

    • Sean, 11 May 2013

      I agree with this. I watch some of my fellow designers work in Photoshop, and I am just stunned at how much clicking goes on to do simple things.

  • Leo, 11 May 2013

    I need it for drawing real vectors, fast as the wind, creating game assets, illustrations, not to do webdesign.

    Nobody seems to understand how good FW is for that. Light years better than Illustrator, and 100% vectors, unlike PS.

    But usually is always someone that hardly knows the product who is speaking, or someone that only see it as a layout and protyping tool.

    Fireworks is much more than that. It was created for screen graphics originally.

  • Sean, 11 May 2013

    I was an earlier adopter of Fireworks, and I have found that one of its major strengths was the way it combined the strengths of Photoshop with those of Illustrator in a great package. Everything web friendly that is now in Photoshop and Illustrator came from Fireworks.

    That said, for someone who designs inside a set template (large SaaS hiring platform), I find myself favoring CSS and HTML to design new features. It is easier to respond more quickly to changes, and in the future, I hope that the prototypes we make are pulled in directly by engineering.

    If I were still designing custom websites every few months, I would be more disappointed by this. And make no mistake, I am sad that it is being put out to pasture. But as the article says, software comes and goes. Hopefully, one of the alternatives will step up and fill the gap. In a dream world, Adobe will open the source. But realistically, everyone should hold on to their download file as long as possible.

  • Payman Taei, 11 May 2013

    Guys. I’ve been a avid Fireworks user myself for a decade. In fact my design team primarily uses Fireworks for not just prototyping but the layout of site and apps. Do we not like Photoshop? We do and it’s certainly powerful and we do use it for all our print work. BUT I have to comfortably say we can turn around layout/design comps at much higher rate in Fireworks than Photoshop. It’s just the right fit for what you need for web related design work.

    Some are just too biased that Photoshop is the best of everything; Indeed it’s “the” tool of choice for most, but I think those that didn’t spend enough time using Fireworks have missed out on the speed and efficiency it brings for web work.

    So I’m sad to hear it’s going to sleep, but not too worried. My staff uses Creative Cloud’s latest version; I’m using CS3 and still works great for most things and I could see myself using it at least another few years for what it does best or until Photoshop gives me the same efficiency as Fireworks has.

    At end though I guess it comes down to what your most comfortable with.

  • mike s, 13 May 2013

    I’m sorry to say the author of this post is not a professional full-time web designer, as I am. Fireworks is out and out the best tool for web design and ‘prototyping’ for large websites. It also is very good for creating an initial design, and then working out variations on it. And did I mention that it’s handling of vectors, bitmaps, and layers is simple, quick, and (nearly) elegant.

    Compare it to Photoshop, which makes a visual designer go down the insane path of treating everything like it’s part of a photograph. Or illustrator, which is definitely the best one-page print design package since Adobe killed off Freehand. Fireworks is the nearest and best shot a web designer has at a piece of software that does it all.

    Adobe’s decision to axe it is stupid, selfish, and short-sighted.

    I imagine that inside Adobe there is a cadre of entrenched, die-hard Photoshop supporters, and they fight off any “challengers” to the Adobe crown.

    Otherwise, this makes no sense at all.

    • Dieter Petereit, 13 May 2013

      Oh, of course, no professional and such. I could start asking for your age and we’d likely find out that you were wearing rubber boots walking around the christmas tree while playing little drummer boy, while I was already building websites. But, hey, why should I?!

    • Tim, 14 May 2013

      ” Fireworks is out and out the best tool for web design and ‘prototyping’ for large websites. It also is very good for creating an initial design, and then working out variations on it. ”

      No, it’s not. See my posts above.

      “which makes a visual designer go down the insane path of treating everything like it’s part of a photograph.”

      I don’t like Photoshop either, but, no it doesn’t.

      “Or illustrator, which is definitely the best one-page print design package”

      No, it isn’t. Try Sketch.

  • Chris Hughbanks, 13 May 2013

    This is simple really. The web changes, and the tools change with it. I agree with James Young, if your not excited about new tools such as Edge Reflow or even dare I say mobile app design tools like phone gap, your just stuck and will go the way designing with tables went.

  • Stephen, 14 May 2013

    ” The best advice will be to focus on the skills that will never become irrelevant. I am talking about HTML, CSS and JavaScript. If you can handle these, no discontinuation notice of any software can ever become existence-threatening to your design business. Never rely on tools, rely on knowledge.”

    That quote is pure gold. So much sense contained in those 4 sentences.

    Of course image editing will always play a large role in web design and as such there will be a reliance on decent software. However I feel that the “but I can do a design comp in FW quicker than HTML/CSS!” arguments are more indicative of flaws in the process rather than the tools available.

  • Tim Rose, 14 May 2013

    What a shame, though this has been on the cards since Adobe bought out Macromedia in 2005, monopolies never benefit the consumer.

  • Paul, 15 May 2013

    I’m an interface designer, and need to make rapid prototypes. I can’t live without fireworks. I deeply hate Adobe for EOL-ing Fireworks.

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