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Macromedia Dreamweaver
by Jon Leland
Originally published in Publish Magazine

Rating: 5 stars
Platform: Mac and Windows
Verdict: Clean HTML code, flexible collaboration options, and professional design capabilities delivered via JavaScript behaviors and Cascading Style Sheets are a winning combination.
Price: $299

Dreamweaver 1.0 broke new ground among visual Web-authoring tools by offering HTML that can travel cleanly across platforms and among multiple members of your Web site development team. With version 1.2, Macromedia has enhanced this powerful tool with such goodies as link checking, more JavaScript behaviors, and a nifty Convert to 3.0 Browser Compatibility command. For designers, this last new feature is the most important because it makes Dreamweaver significantly more effective as a layout tool that reaches the greatest number of surfers.

In professional situations, it's not uncommon to share Web-bound files between team members. I ran into trouble sharing files generated by NetObjects Fusion, which added non-standard code that gave my database programmers headaches. I've also used GoLive CyberStudio. There's a lot to like about the program, but its Publish command (which you use before sending pages to the Web) can change links and file names and alter HTML code. And because the newest release, CyberStudio 3, runs only under Macintosh System 8, you can't collaborate within CyberStudio with anyone who works on Windows or an older Mac OS. Dreamweaver 1.2 has none of these problems.

The advanced features in the first Dreamweaver release Dynamic HTML (DHTML), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and built-in JavaScript behaviors were seductive. Cascading Style Sheets enable pixel-level element control and much better type manipulation, including line height and font weight. These advanced features help you lay out a page with precision, but because most require a 4.x browser, I hesitated to use them. Now with version 1.2's Convert to 3.0 Browser Compatibility command and a new Check Browser JavaScript behavior, you can add 4.0 flavor without barring the door to 3.0 users. When you're done with a page, simply convert it to a 3.0-compatible table with a single command. There are a few 4.0 features, such as layering, that you can't duplicate for 3.0 browsers, but the convert command handle most other situations easily. The Check Browser JavaScript behavior, an easy addition via a drop-down option in the Behaviors menu, enables your Web page to detect which version of which browser is accessing your site and deliver the appropriate page.

Dreamweaver 1.2 also beefed up its already-strong integration with other tools. As in version 1, the Windows version ships with Allaire's HomeSite; the Mac version includes BBEdit. In version1.2, Mac users join Windows users in the ability to link directly to any other text editor and make changes that are reflected immediately in Dreamweaver's WYSIWYG view. Also new with 1.2 are live links with image editors. The default is Macromedia's own excellent image-editing application, Fireworks, but you can link to any image editor and save yourself the hassle of reloading edited work.

If you like to work directly in HTML, you'll appreciate Dreamweaver 1.2's ability to color your code so it's easy to differentiate tag categories and their contents at a glance. Dreamweaver's support for extensive JavaScript and DHTML behaviors is also advanced and completely extensible, so programmers can create custom behaviors. If you're not up for programming, there's already a good assortment of built-in behaviors.

Dreamweaver's built-in FTP window for uploading your site to a server has a "check out" feature that prevents two users from editing a file simultaneously. It's a great feature for teams, but I do wish its implementation were a little more intuitive.

Perhaps the biggest weakness of Dreamweaver is its site-management. For example, there's no site diagram, as you'll see in CyberStudio. However, the site-management feature I value most is the ability to make global changes. Dreamweaver addresses this problem with an improved Library function that gets the job done, although it still takes a little getting used to. Version 1.2 also adds link checking, which lets you check the entire site for bad links with one command.

None of us live in a vacuum. The ability to share documents with people across the hall or across the world without worrying about platforms and browser versions is crucial, and Dreamweaver does this better than any visual Web design tool I've used.

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Jon welcomes feedback and suggestions via e-mail at [email protected]


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