By Kim Wimpsett
Hobbyists, look out. Macromedia Dreamweaver MX now caters specifically to professional Web designers and developers. And that's great if you know what you're doing. Dreamweaver's new integration with UltraDev lets you create dynamic, database-driven Web applications. In addition, Dreamweaver's thorough ColdFusion, ASP, and JSP support gives it a slight edge over our former favorite, Adobe GoLive. We recommend Dreamweaver for building a heavy-duty commercial Web site, but casual Web builders should try Microsoft FrontPage instead. By Kim Wimpsett
Hobbyists, look out. Macromedia Dreamweaver MX now caters specifically to professional Web designers and developers. And that's great if you know what you're doing. Dreamweaver's new integration with UltraDev lets you create dynamic, database-driven Web applications. In addition, Dreamweaver's thorough ColdFusion, ASP, and JSP support gives it a slight edge over our former favorite, Adobe GoLive. We recommend Dreamweaver for building a heavy-duty commercial Web site, but casual Web builders should try Microsoft FrontPage instead.
The many faces of MX
The first time you open Dreamweaver MX, you must choose one of three interfaces: Designer, HomeSite/Coder, or Version 4.0. Designer resembles Macromedia's new, MX-standard interface (Fireworks MX and Flash MX use it, too); HomeSite/Coder moves tool panels to the left side of the screen; and Version 4.0 looks like Dreamweaver's previous, cleaner interface but includes all of MX's new features. If you opt to work in Version 4.0, get used to Designer, too, so that you can move easily between Macromedia's other MX apps.
Each work space contains the same glut of options and tools. For starters, after you choose the interface, you then decide between three work modes: Code View; Design View, which is WYSIWYG; and Split-screen View, which shows both views at once. In each mode, the top of the screen holds the Insert toolbar, with a dozen tabs, such as Layout, Text, Tables, and Frames, and the shortcut-button toolbar. At the bottom, the Properties Inspector lets you edit the properties, such as size, color, and font, of any selected element (images, text, or tables). And, in the right-hand frame, some long-overdue power tools in Design, Code, Application, Files, and Answers windows let you, say, apply and edit Cascading Style Sheets or access online support resources at any time. You can't drag and drop the tabs within these windows, but you can regroup them by right-clicking and choosing an option from the context menu. While we welcome such strong tools, newcomers, beware; we find Dreamweaver's busy interface daunting. Furthermore, the beta code let you drag and drop tabs to customize the windows, but the final version doesn't. We're rather disappointed at the change.
Coder's little helpers
Dreamweaver's sheer firepower makes up for its interface. Version MX now combines the functionality of three powerful Macromedia packages: you get the most popular bits from the HomeSite HTML editor and ColdFusion Studio 5, plus all the functionality of the UltraDev application developer. From HomeSite, Dreamweaver borrows effort-saving editing tools such as Code Hints, the Snippets Panel, and Tag Choosers, each of which speeds up the coding process. As you enter code, pop-up Code Hints suggest various tags or attributes. The Snippets Panel lets you save frequently used bits of code, so you needn't retype them repeatedly. Tag Choosers (for HTML, CFML, ASP.net, JSP, and other languages) add tags to your document with just a few clicks. And Dreamweaver's ColdFusion integration lets you build powerful Internet applications and make your Web site exchange information with a server-side database.
From Web browsers to Web servers
Like Adobe, Macromedia offers toll-free technical support for only a limited time; in this case, it's 90 days after your first call. Afterward, you must either find your answers in the free online Support Center's TechNotes, tutorials, and forums or pay for a tech-support plan with phone and e-mail support (prices vary).
Dreamweaver's focus on server-side databases best suits advanced and intermediate site builders who want to create dynamic Web applications. If you fall into that category, take Dreamweaver MX out for a spin. Hobbyists and beginners, stick with FrontPage.