Dreamweaver 4.0: Win9X/ME/NT/2K review:

Dreamweaver 4.0: Win9X/ME/NT/2K

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Typical Price: £229.00
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CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Improved coding environment; new Split view and JavaScript Debugger; helpful HTML and script references.

The Bad Weak site reports; new features not groundbreaking.

The Bottom Line Dreamweaver continues to be one of the best Web editors on the market. If you have avoided it because it is a visual editor, it is now time to buy.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.0 Overall

Dreamweaver, Macromedia's professional visual Web editor, has often been lauded for its easy-to-use but powerful visual editing environment. Dreamweaver 4.0 shifts the focus a bit with improvements to its coding environment. The new features are simple, yet they will be helpful to those developers who like to hand-code much of the time but who use Dreamweaver for its ability to design complex tables and place layers or to rearrange a page's layout visually. Dreamweaver, Macromedia's professional visual Web editor, has often been lauded for its easy-to-use but powerful visual editing environment. Dreamweaver 4.0 shifts the focus a bit with improvements to its coding environment. The new features are simple, yet they will be helpful to those developers who like to hand-code much of the time but who use Dreamweaver for its ability to design complex tables and place layers or to rearrange a page's layout visually.

A new emphasis on the code
Prior versions of Dreamweaver forced Web builders to hand-code in its paltry HTML Inspector or to launch an external editor if they wanted to get their hands on their own HTML code. Dreamweaver 4.0 still provides the HTML Inspector for hand-coding, but it is better integrated within the program because you can launch it within the main window (called the Code view). Regardless of how you view your code--in the main window or in the separate HTML Inspector window--you can now use the standard Dreamweaver menus at the same time. You'll also get improved customization options when you're coding; these options include live syntax coloring, code navigation, and auto-indenting, which are all accessible from a new code-centric toolbar. In our opinion, the program has gone a little code-crazy: you could, if you wanted, have the Code view open in the main window and launch the HTML Inspector on top of it. Future versions of Dreamweaver should phase out the HTML Inspector, which now seems extraneous, especially because there's also a new Split view where you can see your changes as you make them.

Macromedia has you covered even if you don't know much about code; it has teamed up with O'Reilly Publications to bring you a comprehensive Code Reference for HTML, CSS, and JavaScript based on material from a best-selling book by Danny Goodman. If you launch the Code Reference while your cursor is within a tag, the Reference will open to that tag's section, detailing its attributes, browser compatibility issues, and more. The content can be a bit long-winded (a list of attributes and compatibility quirks would have sufficed), but the context-sensitive implementation and the drop-down navigation make it easy to find any element you want.

Playing well with others
One of the best parts of Dreamweaver is its integration with other Macromedia products. The program offers round-trip graphics editing with Fireworks, and you can now create editable vector graphics with Flash text and Flash buttons from within Dreamweaver. These aspects of the program--along with the Macromedia Exchange, where you can download free extensions from other developers--add to the functionality of Dreamweaver without adding too much to the price (the Dreamweaver/Fireworks Studio costs $449). Dreamweaver even has a CourseBuilder add-on that lets developers easily create distance-learning sites. Working with other technologies is easy enough, as well. Any non-HTML file opens in the Code view automatically so that its source code is not altered. Dreamweaver 4.0 also has a new JavaScript Debugger to help you execute and fix any script errors.

Site management still powerful
Although the site management features of Dreamweaver are still more powerful than in many other editors, some of the new tools are rather lackluster. For instance, several of the new site reports are just a retooling of the HTML Clean-Up command (Remove Empty Tags, Remove Redundant Nested Tags, and so on). You can find more reports in Microsoft FrontPage, which has data on slow pages, recently added files, uncompleted tasks, and more. However, the Site/Check Links Sitewide command is a handy-dandy feature. Another helpful addition, Dreamweaver's Asset panel, helps you manage all of your site's different media files. You can sort the files, add them to a favorites list, or group them in categories. You can even keep a list of colors used in your site so that you can easily add them to your page on the fly, without having to look up their hexadecimal or RGB values.

All in all, Dreamweaver continues to be one of the very best visual editing tools on the market. Although its newest features don't seem groundbreaking in themselves, it's the overall emphasis on hand-coding that makes Dreamweaver an even more well-rounded program. We know of few Web builders who have worked only in the Layout view. So if you've avoided Dreamweaver in the past because you didn't want to go WYSIWYG, now is the time to make the leap from a code-based editor. Dreamweaver does both equally well.

The new Split view lets you see both the Code and Design views simultaneously.

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