Dreamweaver is a seriously big application with advanced development tools for Web site design and maintenance. It lets designers swiftly create layouts, and developers incorporate the latest in data-driven applications. Sporting a reasonably uncluttered but intricate interface, Dreamweaver MX 2004 offers quite a bit of handholding in the form of automatic code generation and provides an excellent interface for directly accessing HTML code. This version adds features for the newest Active Server components and more powerful Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) support. Dreamweaver isn't for everyone, though. Adobe shops will be more comfortable with GoLive, and nonprofessional site designers should consider the less formidable (and less powerful) Microsoft offering: FrontPage.
We installed the Windows version of Dreamweaver MX 2004, which was snappy, other than having to activate the product by Internet or by phone. Stuffed with cutting-edge Web design and development tools, Dreamweaver MX 2004 is definitely not for the casual site designer. The interface has long been intricate, requiring a relatively time-consuming learning curve, and the new version adds a slew of new tools. A new start-up screen that presents a set of templates, such as ASP .Net, ColdFusion, PHP, or plain old HTML, smooths the process somewhat. Once you've chosen a template, you can begin developing the site. As always, Macromedia gives you a choice of three different work spaces: a WYSIWYG page designer, a techie-oriented code view, or a split screen.
The spiffy Tag selector lets you choose, edit, or delete tags within Design view.
The work space is bracketed by toolbars and panels for convenient access to Dreamweaver's gargantuan feature set. To switch among open pages in the work area, simply click a tab at the top of the screen (tabs are available only in the Windows version). Each tab features buttons for quickly switching between work-space views. On the Insert bar, you'll find buttons for adding objects such as media, tables, and forms to your page. On the side of the screen, a set of docked, groupable panels offer access to the heavy machinery inside Dreamweaver, such as the capability to add code snippets and objects, view style properties and site organization, and modify Behaviors. At the bottom of the display, you'll find a Property bar that shows the settings of the currently selected item--text, graphics, and so on--and lets you quickly modify parameters such as font, color, and size.
You can choose a working document type from the new start-up screen.
Macromedia's minor interface tweaks include a Favorites area on the Insert bar, a nice right-button context menu in coder view, a WYSIWYG text-style selector, and an improved tag selector. One tweak we wish Macromedia would make is to add the ability to group panels via drag and drop, as we can with most Adobe applications. The current approach, which requires selecting Group With from a context menu, is awkward.
The list of Dreamweavers' sexiest features--XML, ASP, CSS, SQL, PHP, JSP--reads like a seemingly endless roster of acronyms. All this stuff boils down to two major categories of functionality:
- Extensive support for controlling the visual appearance of your site via Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and the new image-editing toolbar.
In fact, many of the new features are directed at Cascading Style Sheet support. Dreamweaver MX 2004 makes CSS development much easier, thanks to an enhanced Design view that renders pages more accurately, plus new and improved inspectors for checking and modifying style parameters. There's a nice CSS-based text inspector and, if you prefer hand-coding CSS, this version provides code hints to make this process a bit less laborious.
Built-in Flash elements such as buttons are a snap to add via this dialog box.
The new image-editing features are useful for minor edits: cropping, brightness, and sharpen.
Macromedia made Dreamweaver more flexible by including support for a wide range of platform-independent technologies and providing tidy tools for cross-browser development. Dreamweaver 2004 automatically verifies the current document for cross-browser compatibility issues when you save the file. You select from a range of browsers to target, and Dreamweaver will ensure that your pages do not include unsupported features.
The new CSS-based Text Property inspector lets you preview and select styles from a drop-down list.
Macromedia offers online help at the &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Emacromedia%2Ecom%2Fsupport%2Fdreamweaver%2F" target="_blank">Dreamweaver Support Center, including FAQs, tutorials, online forums, and advanced technical information. Macromedia allows two free tech-support calls within the first 90 days of the initial contact. However, after that, you must pay for a support plan. The most comprehensive plan, Gold, costs $3,000, while the per-incident plan is $200 each time you call. This policy may seem exorbitant, but you can almost always find an answer on one of the forums, and e-mailing tech support is free. The price is also standard in the industry, but that doesn't mean we like it. Our call to tech support garnered a quick and accurate reply. We received an e-mail response to our online query within a perfectly acceptable 24 hours.