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Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 review: Adobe Dreamweaver CS4

Adobe Dreamweaver CS4

Elsa Wenzel
4 min read

Some veteran users to the Adobe Creative Suite may find that Version 4 offers few extraordinary updates to justify the high cost. However, designers and editors who lean on Dreamweaver for complex dynamic Web sites will find plenty of tweaks for editing code more easily within its WSIWYG interface. Those who code by hand may scoff at using Dreamweaver to build sites from the bottom up. This updated application is highly appealing for providing shortcuts to difficult, dynamic coding elements. And in our tests so far, it feels faster and seems to crash less frequently than its predecessors. Rather than aiming to wow users with "gee whiz" features, Adobe's Dreamweaver improvements appear to have focused on making the less glamorous parts of the application less painful to use.


Adobe Dreamweaver CS4

The Good

Adobe has streamlined Dreamweaver's interface to match and integrate with other CS4 applications; customizable workspace includes collapsible tool panels; new coding views.

The Bad

Dreamweaver CS4 is too complex and costly for those making lightweight Web designs; continues to add unwanted code to Web pages; price prohibitive for bootstrapping designers.

The Bottom Line

Best for coding and design pros, Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 is perhaps the sharpest, swiftest tool for developing and editing dynamic Web sites.

Setup and interface
To run Dreamweaver CS4 on a Windows computer, you'll need XP SP2 or Vista with a 1GHZ or greater processor and 1GB or more of disk space available. Mac users must have a PowerPC G5 or Intel-based machine running at least OS X version 10.4.11, with at least 512MB of RAM and 1.8GB free disk space. You'll also need a DVD drive and a 1,280x800 display with a 16-bit video card. Installation of the entire Adobe Creative Suite 4 Master Collection took close to an hour in our tests in Windows XP and Vista computers. We recommend Adobe's offer of custom installation, should you wish to save disk space by rejecting extras you don't need.

The look and feel of Dreamweaver CS4, revamped from the former Macromedia property, now matches those of other Creative Suite applications. You can jump among customizable workspaces from a pull-down menu, and we find the collapsible panels more elegant to place and resize. Preset views include "Coder Plus" and "Dual Screen." That should all help to make working with this application simpler on various screen resolutions and monitor setups.

Users will find expanded options for viewing code and design previews separately or simultaneously. Dreamweaver's new Code Navigator shows the CSS rules underlying layout elements. Just hover over a page footer, for instance, and double-click on the text, and the navigator can take you to the code for formatting text styles. A new CSS mode in the Properties panel provides quick access to code. The Property inspector's improvements should also help to avoid cluttered CSS.

Adobe also uses the same rendering as Apple's Safari browser to show in real time how effects will appear in page designs.

Dreamweaver's new Live View shows stuff otherwise tricky to spot in JavaScript running in a browser, such as image rollovers. For instance, you can freeze a view of the rollover state while you're working with code in Dreamweaver. And Live Code view lets you preview how JavaScript works in your HTML pages. Thoughtful shortcuts include Dreamweaver's autofill suggestions as you look for items in JavaScript libraries. In addition, Adobe has added enhancements for building complex Web forms without deep developer knowledge by using the Spry framework.

There's more cooperation among the Creative Suite overall. For instance, you can drag and drop SWF files into Dreamweaver pages. With Photoshop Smart Objects, you can drop PSD files into Web pages without losing track of source files. Dreamweaver also allows the option of altering selected images in Fireworks.

With each Creative Suite upgrade, Adobe expands options for exporting content to a variety of platforms, such as with interactive preview skins of Dreamweaver designs on the latest mobile phones. And developers of Web-tied desktop Adobe AIR applications can now use Dreamweaver for the HTML and JavaScript.

Service and support
Getting Started help for installation issues and other speed bumps lasts for 90 days. Adobe's comprehensive, self-serve tech support options include embedded and online look-ups, tutorials, and videos. The new Adobe Support Portal requires an Adobe log-in and password. Newbies would be wise to get up to speed with the interactive tutorials and maybe even third-party books and Web sites. Web-based forums with other users, as well as the Community Support in beta testing, may be the best bargain for getting hands-on advice.

Don't bother trying to seek extra help without a registered serial number; the days of "borrowing" copies of heavy-duty Adobe software from friends are long gone. Help with a live Adobe representative continues to be expensive. Each year we find the pricing options harder to find on Adobe's Web pages. The Bronze level of support, for five prepurchased incidents, is $175. Unlimited Silver support costs $1,200, three times the cost of Dreamweaver itself.

The $399 price of Dreamweaver hasn't changed since CS3. Users of earlier versions can pay the $199 upgrade fee. That's steep, even for the upgrade, if you're already happy with an earlier edition of Dreamweaver. Unless you've been tearing your hair out over hard-to-find or tricky-to-fix dynamic coding in CS3, this upgrade isn't necessary. However, more so than the introduction of CS3, this Dreamweaver update offers more progress with practical tools as well as cohesion within the Creative Suite. Professionals who might save time and money from the coding conveniences and added integration with Photoshop and other CS4 applications will find Dreamweaver CS4 a worthy treat.

Adobe Creative Suite 4 packages with Dreamweaver CS4

Creative Suite 4 Master Collection
$2,499 $899 (from CS3); $1,599 from other CS3 suites; $1,199 from two older suites

Creative Suite 4 Design Premium
$1,799 $599 (from CS3); $599-$799 (from Studios or CS 1-2)

Creative Suite 4 Web Premium
$1,699 $599 (from CS3); $599-$799 (from Studios or CS 1-2)

Creative Suite 4 Web Standard
$999 Special upgrade pricing available

Adobe Dreamweaver CS4

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 8Performance 8Support 8