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What's New in Dreamweaver 8?

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After years of using Dreamweaver, Matthew David is excited by the latest version's new features for designers and developers. He covers his new favorites in this article.
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Dreamweaver has been my number one Web development tool since the very first beta was released many moons ago. Seven major releases later, Dreamweaver has evolved from being a smart designer for static HTML pages to a killer app that enables you to rapidly build database solutions for a broad swath of Web application servers.

Although Dreamweaver 8 builds firmly on the foundation brought to it by Dreamweaver MX 2004, Macromedia focused on four key areas with this upcoming release:

  • Enhanced design tools
  • Stronger application development tools
  • Tighter integration with other core Macromedia tools
  • Improved functionality that simply allows you to get more done

Improvements for Designers

Dreamweaver 8 introduces tools that designers have been demanding for years, including grids, guides, and the Zoom tool, which I requested way back after the release of the original Dreamweaver. For the first time, you can zoom into a section of the page you're working on and view—down to the pixel—whether you're constructing your design correctly. The Zoom tool is a standard feature in most graphics applications, such as Fireworks, Illustrator, and Quark. Now it's available in Dreamweaver, too.

Macromedia has long been a strong supporter of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Dreamweaver was initially shipped with third-party products, such as Bradbury Software's TopStyle, to support the CSS needs of cutting-edge designers. With Dreamweaver MX, Macromedia offered more aggressive CSS support. Dreamweaver 8 takes it a step further by giving designers a new CSS panel, which enables you to easily access any CSS format. The inclusion of this panel, building on the existing tools, makes it impossible for you not to use CSS.

The CSS enhancements extend beyond the CSS panel to the actual page design environment. The Designer view has been significantly enhanced to make your work with CSS even easier. You can now view complex CSS layouts with different colors and borders. Select any of the CSS regions to see a pop-up help tool that explains the cascade of styles applied to that specific region. As you make changes to CSS in Dreamweaver 8, review what has been changed; you'll be surprised at how rapidly you adopt CSS as you learn by doing.

Dreamweaver has also radically ramped up its ability to accurately display CSS elements—such as pseudo-elements or form modification controls—without forcing you to preview the design in your Web browser.

Why all the emphasis on CSS? For one reason, accessibility is easier to manage with CSS than with older layout options, such as the FONT tag. For another, almost all browsers support CSS, including Internet Explorer 3 and higher, Netscape 4 and higher, Opera, Safari, and Firefox. If you're developing sites that support non-CSS, stop it! Dreamweaver 8 provides the tools, the control, and the ease of use to make this transition to superior control over your layout. Finally, state-of-the-art client experiences built on AJAX requires sophisticated interfaces built with CSS.

Today's world of Web design is changing from the experience we were asked to address five years ago. No longer are computers the sole domain of your customers' Web experience. We're using cell phones, advanced TV systems, and a variety of wireless devices to connect to the Internet. Just last week my friend was surfing the Internet on his Sony PSP (yes, I thought that was geeky, too). The reality is that the world of Web design is not just for computers. Dreamweaver comes to your aid again with the Style Rendering toolbar. This new feature accurately presents your new design as it will appear in a Web browser, handheld, or in print.

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