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Dreamweaver MX Improvements

This new version of my long-time favorite HTML editor contains some exciting new features. The first versions of Dreamweaver had a lot of small but annoying flaws in them, such as generating excessive amount of code or Web sites that proved to be incompatible with many browsers. Due to these little things, the program never really got the merit it deserved. It is safe to say that Dreamweaver has grown and developed greatly in the last few years, and I am very impressed with this latest version. Below are some of the improvements that I found most useful.

The User Interface in General

Macromedia lists the user interface improvement as its "number one new feature" on Dreamweaver. And I couldn't agree more! The interface in older versions was already much more pleasing to the eye and much for useful than that found in competing programs. Have a look at Figure 1 to get an idea of what it looks like.

Figure 1Figure 1 The Dreamweaver MX user interface.


In this example, you can see the split code/design window (which was already available in the previous version). The user interface is split into three parts:

  • The design/code window

  • The options and menus at the top of the screen

  • The window (tab) on the right side of the screen that deals with site management as well as coding. It includes various snippets to use in your projects and a handy "tag inspector" that basically shows your code with only the tags used so that you can see if something is not right. It now even includes a small in-program help section for coding and the features in general. The file asset manager, similar to the one used in earlier version of Flash, can also be found here.

The improved Insert tab located at the top of the window is still extremely useful. It provides the user with a fast and easy way to insert everything from anchors to images, and from frames to tables with just one click of the mouse. Different styles and layouts, as well as templates, are also controlled from here. New dynamic site application elements can now also be inserted, as discussed later.

Macromedia has done a good job of putting the right stuff in the right place for the average Web designer, taking into account the latest changes in design technology and making the more useful and powerful features in the program more accessible. Furthermore, it is possible to personalize the workspace to fit your specific needs for the project(s) you are working on. For example, you can dock certain panels together to fit your needs. For those who liked the "classic" Dreamweaver 4 interface better, Macromedia has included the option to switch to a interface "layout" very similar to the old version's look.

The Broader, the Better?

Dreamweaver supports many code languages, including XHTML, PHP, JSP, and JavaScript. This means you can use it for pretty much anything. CFML is also included for use with ColdFusion. As in previous versions, debuggers and syntax checkers are available for all these languages. In one particular design software package, I noticed that as new versions came out, the company that made it kept expanding the number of coding languages that were supported by the program. However, the quality of support for these languages and how they could be integrate into the program worsened; I think it would have been a much better idea to keep perfecting the support and integration for the one coding language (HTML) the company started with.

Macromedia has been careful not to make the same mistake; it provides good "support" for all the coding languages included in the program. The libraries are complete, coding errors are easily "intercepted" and corrected, and it just all "works." Whatever code language you are using, you'll feel comfortable coding in Dreamweaver. With the new version, it also became a lot easier to validate your pages using the code checker against XHTML, CSS 2, and so on.

Compatibility has become a big factor over the years, with several browser (versions) being used. Dreamweaver gives you the possibility not only of checking whether your pages work in certain versions, but now also converting them from, say, a page compatible with IE 5.0 to a page compatible with IE 4.0. Needless to say, some elements of the page might not work correctly on older browsers, but you will be able to see how they will appear in different browsers and adjust the settings and content of the page accordingly.

This whole idea of "the broader, the better" carried through to another exciting new feature in Dreamweaver: server support.

Server Support and Web Applications

The biggest new feature of Dreamweaver, in my opinion, is its improved server support. This shows once again that Macromedia is expanding its program to be a more attractive option to designers, in all meanings of the term.

The company has obviously concentrated most on integrating Macromedia ColdFusion MX with this program, although JSP, PHP, and ASP.NET environments are also supported. (ColdFusion integration with Dreamweaver is further discussed in the second article in this series.) This is not very surprising: ColdFusion has now become part of Macromedia's product line. In this version, it is possible to add ColdFusion code and elements directly from Dreamweaver. For more information on ColdFusion, click here.

When you start to work with a dynamic site, Dreamweaver guide you through setting up a testing server for your pages (this can be local or remote), creating folders, and setting up paths through an easy setup wizard, as we are used to from Macromedia. Even though the features become broader and perhaps are more aimed for the more professional developer, ease of use is still one of the key goals in MM software.

Dreamweaver MX allows you to easily insert server and application objects into your pages with the click of a mouse. All sorts of elements for the different environments listed above come standard with the program (see Figures 2 and 3). Code snippets and coding elements are plentiful, and libraries are available for all the supported coding languages. The new panel in the right window makes drag-and-drop element insertion a snap.

Figure 2Figure 2 The ASP.NET Objects menu.

Figure 3Figure 3 Inserting application objects into your pages becomes a lot easier in this version of Dreamweaver.

A nice addition to this support are the templates included with the program, which allow you to add things such as dynamic tables and drop-down menus. I found most of these templates to be quite useful (unlike the JavaScript templates that are also supplied with the program). More templates can be downloaded—in most cases, for free—from Macromedia.com.

In an era of online shopping (which is still expanding, even though the market for online shopping still seems very unpredictable and unstable) and live data applications (which can be used, for example, to display stock quotes or other useful information), server support and Web application building have become important features for designers and programmers alike. The tight integration of ColdFusion with Dreamweaver MX and Flash MX really does give Macromedia the edge in terms of complete software lineups for Web developers.

Other (New) Features

Improvements were made on nearly all features of the program. Although some are too small to consider, I want to point out some of the features of this program that make it my personal favorite (not including the things already discussed).

  • Content templates: The use of templates has become easier in with this release. When you are working on projects in groups or when you have a lot of content contributors on your site, it is vital to have well-defined and easy-to-use templates that will allow people to modify only the parts that should or can be modified, to avoid messing up your site design or layout. Dreamweaver MX makes it much easier to handle, modify, and manage your templates. It's flexible, yet effective.

  • Ease of use: With this release, Macromedia has focused much more on the needs of the more "professional" Web designer, integrating (partially) the creation of Web-based applications. However, even with these new features, the program is very easy to use and has a small learning curve. The help section does not pay much attention to teaching the user about coding database-driven pages—this would go beyond the "scope" of the manual as well as the program itself. Don't expect Dreamweaver to teach you how to make your own amazon.com; if you're planning to use coding languages, you will be expected to know your stuff. However, for those who know what they are talking about, the program provides quick and easy access to all the programming functions and templates.

    Dreamweaver still uses wizards for setting up sites and pages, to maximize ease of use. The user has access to all functions of the program with three click, at the most, and you can set up your own shortcuts and panels (tabs) to fit your needs. Very user-friendly!

  • Sample content and help section: Dreamweaver MX is the first version of the program to be delivered with such a large amount of sample pages and layouts. Although the use of these "templates" is often discouraged (by people like myself), they are great for beginners to get a look at sample code and scripts. The help section and tutorials provided are useful, easy to understand, and well written, as we are used to seeing in Macromedia products.

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