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Macromedia Dreamweaver 4

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In: Reviews > Product Reviews

By Jesse Nieminen

Published on June 20, 2001

Macromedia Dreamweaver 4 Dreamweaver 4 enhances an already solid product with new features that make it easier to design, build and maintain websites. Although the features added in this version won't change the fundamentals of how you build sites, they do streamline the creative process. If you are a newcomer, you'll find that Dreamweaver 4 is a friendly web design environment, suitable for almost any level of expertise.

The improvements to its interface brings Dreamweaver up to par with the new standard "panel" system implemented in the latest versions of other Macromedia products. Panels can be pulled from groups, or docked into new groups, just as a user can do with Adobe titles—which is why Adobe has taken Macromedia to court. This panel functionality is nice, but could be improved further.

For example, it would seem appropriate that by minimizing floating panels, a user would still have access to the inidividual tabs for dragging. However, when it comes to dragging a panel, the choice is between the whole panel or the title bar; there is no middle ground when it comes to moving your panels around in the user interface.

Another addition comes in the form of buttons in the top of the document window for easy access to commonly-used functions, and the ability to change the title of the page without having to dig into the properties dialog has been added as well. Even better, the objects toolbar is now stocked with all sorts of things that can be added with a single click, but were buried in previous versions.

The best new timesaving feature in version 4 is the integrated text editor. Auto-indenting, color-coded syntax, and a coding-appropriate toolbar make Dreamwaver a friendlier environment for programmers. Non-HTML files, such as XML documents and scripts, can also be edited within Dreamweaver without running the risk of undesired alterations.

Rather than having to fumble with separate windows when switching between design and code views, you can see both at once with the new "Split view." It's an easy way to check your code as you work with things visually, and also makes it easier for markup novices to discern how HTML is rendered. Switching views is as simple as the push of a button at the top of the document window.

split view

Layout and graphics

Dreamweaver's new Layout View aims at saving time and improving precision. In this mode, you can draw tables and individual table cells, and reposition them. You can also edit existing tables, and define how cells will render at differing browser-canvas dimensions. In concert with the Design View, this functionality makes possible the creation of much more complex tables than was previously possible from within Dreamweaver. This is a nice feature if you need complex tables but don't want to mess with creating a complex sliced image in Fireworks or Imageready. The one problem I found with this feature was that I couldn't always get the tables to display correctly in Netscape 4.

Dreamweaver 4 enhances the integration with Fireworks, which enables Fireworks users to achieve smoother workflow. Editing a source file in Fireworks will automatically update your images in Dreamweaver, and Fireworks will recognize changes to markup made in Dreamweaver. Markup created in Fireworks can also be pasted or imported into Dreamweaver. If you're a coding whiz, you can even create scripts for batch conversions and changes in Fireworks that can be run without leaving Dreamweaver.

Dreamweaver 4 now boasts internal generation of Flash buttons and text through a simple dialog box process. I'm not sure how useful this is, as Flash is still not totally ubiquitous. Furthermore, most of the included preset button styles are either plain or ugly. You can design new button styles yourself using Flash, or download styles from Macromedia Exchange. While SWF graphics take up less file space and acquit themselves well in print, I think Macromedia should offer the alternative of GIF creation in a similar matter.

Source Friendliness

A new feature that I've found very useful is the code reference. It allows a user to search for help and information on HTML, JavaScript, CSS and the various Document Object Models. It's also a great tool to browse through, if you're looking for information about browser compatibility. If on the other hand you're daunted by anything beyond simple HTML, the code reference is a good primer on more complex coding. Its intuitive structure and helpful examples are a good resource to have, especially within the application itself.

code reference library

Another goodie for coders is the new JavaScript Debugger, which looks for errors in client-side code. With this feature you can run your script as it would be run by Explorer and Navigator, and see the differences between the implementations. A helpful window at the bottom also notes variables and values as your script is interpreted. These variables can also be edited through the Debugger, which should be a welcome feature for those near-blind from trying to isolate an error in a mountain of script code.

More power with workflow

Something that has always been emphasized in Dreamweaver is site management, which can be a challenge even when the sites being managed are quite small. The new Assets Panel displays all of the media used in the site in a very organized manner, which is great for the absent-minded designer. You can categorize your assets, reorganize, and preview them, even viewing all assets via the site catalog. Frequently used items can be nicknamed and grouped, and marked as favorites. This is helpful when the site in question uses arcane file names, or contains a lot of files. Previous versions gave you the capability to view site files, but did not offer the organization control of version 4's Assets Panel.

Site Reporting is a new feature that searches out mistakes and redundancies, and helps the user clean them up. It sort of works like a disk-analyzing tool or spell-checker, checking for errors, broken links, empty tags, and other code anomalies. After running a report, double-clicking on an error will result in an explanation of the relevant problem. This is an excellent tool for those who don't know what to look for when debugging markup. When I used it, this feature caught mistakes that I missed after I thought everything was prefect. I look forward to future improvements to this feature; it would be nice to see it as an automatic "live" tool as the design/coding takes place.

Dreamweaver is also growing as a collaborative tool, with more companies using it on larger projects. Site development is tracked in the Site Window, which can be configured to display custom columns relevant to the project. This allows individuals to add information about work documents helpful to the group when viewed in this central location.

Email is also integrated into the Site Window, allowing users to click on group members' names in order to send them an email. These improvements will arguably remove a lot of the frustration inherent to group web projects, as well as the common excuses that are offered when work doesn't flow smoothly. I think Macromedia should also think about building in a live chat feature here, as collaborations often take place between widely separated locations.

Overall, version 4 is faster than the previous version, and most of the enhancements are very useful. Perhaps the nicest thing about it is that it's still very extensible, and it's "approachable" for almost any user.

Because it can be customized, Dreamweaver will work in whatever "style" you need on a specific project, provided that you know how to customize it. Thankfully, as a very affordable out-of-the-box solution it covers just about all of the bases most users will be concerned about when it comes to the design and creation of professional-quality websites.

Macromedia® Dreamweaver™ 4
full version: $299
upgrade: $149
Dreamweaver4/Fireworks 4 Studio is also available.

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