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Macromedia Dreamweaver 3

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In: Reviews > Product Reviews

By Jesse Nieminen

Published on August 28, 1999

Dreamweaver 3 box Macromedia has upped the ante on WYSIWYG website development with the release of Dreamweaver 3™. The improvements and new features are certainly worth the upgrade for users of version 2, and many code-phobic wimps like myself are sure to jump on the visual editor bandwagon. The greatest thing about Dreamweaver is its flexibility, which makes it a useful tool for beginners, professionals, and everyone in between.

The first thing Mac users will notice is the improved interface, which is now less Windows-like. All of the necessary tools are at-hand, not to mention customizable.

Every piece of Dreamweaver is now editable, so virtually everything about the application, including menus, is customizable through fairly simple programming in javascript and XML. This means you can build a site and deliver it to the client with a customized version of Dreamweaver for in-house maintenance.

The obvious advantage of using a piece of software like this is visually laying out the site pages without having to write code. However, I wouldn't advise anyone to get into web design without being somewhat knowledgeable on the subject. While Dreamweaver generates relatively clean code, it is possible to hit confusing snags that could be a real work-stopper unless you know the basics. I've also had developers complain about Dreamweaver-generated code, but this is usually a matter of personal preference rather than situations like the disastrous garbage generated by older versions of apps like Adobe Pagemill. The only real trouble I've personally had with Dreamweaver's code is some of the javascript behaviors that tend to be a little finicky. Overall, the problems are very minor and could not be considered a great flaw. In most cases you'll be able to build out a site with few snags.

For those of us that neurotically check code while laying things out visually, Dreamweaver also provides a way to do this. There is an HTML code window that you can use to view and edit code while working. There's also a new feature called "quick tag editor," which is a pop-up entry field for editing tags without having to take the time to search lines in the HTML window. Macromedia also used to include BBEdit for free, but sadly this version only includes a demo of a recent version. In any case, you're pretty well covered if you like to switch between visual and code, or work them simultaneously.

Dreamweaver's visual layout system works well in general, but has some quirks. I have some issues with how it generates frames, and sometimes the behavior of tables can be quite unpredictable. That aside, it is fairly easy to put something together that looks nice and works. Dreamweaver 3 has several features to aid visual layout, including layer-to-table conversion and image tracing. The designer can set a flat image comp of the page as the tracing image, then lay out the elements in layers to match that image. Once this is done, it's a simple step to convert the layers to tables for optimal browser compatibility.

The inspector palette is in constant control of the action at hand. Instead of having to code out each attribute of an element, Dreamweaver lays out the parameters in an easy yet powerful fashion. Most of the times this works, but I did run into a couple of weird instances where attribute controls didn't work like they were supposed to. Although I didn't figure out the cause, not too much backtracking was required.

Speaking of backtracking, Dreamweaver 3 now offers a history palette that lets you jump around between actions, monitor your progress, and save your undo key. The most impressive part of this palette, besides unlimited undos, is the ability to record actions to reuse on other elements. For example, say you set several attributes to a block of text. Instead of having to reset these individually for another block you want the same attributes for, simply select the block of actions in the history palette, record it, then "play it" with the new text selected. This is a great time-saver.

Dreamweaver's evolution has been all about saving time. Buttons for inserting common objects, forms, and characters are always close. Complex javascript and DHTML behaviors are simplified into pull-down menus that are limited according to what browser compatibility is necessary for the site. Text formatting can be handled by either CSS or traditional font styles.

Macromedia is also trying to sell this software as a solution for development firms or in-house agencies in charge of building and maintaining large sites. Keeping in mind that multiple users may be collaborating on a site, Dreamweaver makes use of Design Notes--a companion to the HTML files that acts as a discussion document and design bible. Dreamweaver also uses a simple mechanism for updating the site on a remote server, and minds the details of synchronizing the remote site to the local drive. I have yet to make use of these features myself, but see how they could be useful. I wonder, though, how the program would be accepted within a company that uses heavy-duty back-end programmers who are apt to scoff at any visual editor. I do feel it would be successful at a design firm that is branching into the web, though.

As a graphic web editor, Dreamweaver 3 does an outstanding job. Putting together attractive sites is quick and easy, and the code is easy to tinker with. I also appreciate that new objects are increasingly available on the web, making the job even easier. The main frustration of putting any site together is figuring out browser idiosyncrasies, so a little give and take is always necessary. It would be nice if Macromedia would keep an updated account on their site as to which software features won't work with a particular browser. It's a little disheartening to think you've got something great, only to be foiled by a browser limitation you were unaware of.

Like Adobe, Macromedia is interested in product integration, and offers Dreamweaver bundled with a new version of Fireworks 3 (review coming soon). It's a simple step to launch a selected image for editing from within Dreamweaver, and is sure to cut time down when making minute changes to whip that site out. Keeping this in mind, I do find it strange that viewing some media types in Dreamweaver requires a trip to the local browser. But this is just a minor fault.

I have been using Dreamweaver 3 almost daily for a while now, and it's definitely cut my time down from v 2. I absolutely prefer it over the other visual editors, none of which seem to have the same commitment to powerful and forward-moving website creation. Macromedia has made a smart move to attract more professional users by opening up extensibility to the extreme on Dreamweaver, which may bring it closer to the hearts of code junkies who usually laugh at the world of WYSIWYG.

As for myself, I make no claims to be a programmer. I am a graphic designer, and it's nice to have a product like Dreamweaver available to stretch my capabilities further on the web.

Macromedia Dreamweaver™ 3
Retail price: $299
Upgrade price: $129

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