Macromedia's Latest: Making the Web Easy...

Jeff Williams reviews Macromedia's Dreamweaver/Fireworks Studio and tells us about the latest in web designing tools with the release of Dreamweaver 2 and Fireworks 2.

All images taken from the Macromedia Website (www.macromedia.com). © Macromedia, Inc.

All images taken from the Macromedia Website (www.macromedia.com). © Macromedia, Inc.

It is the common pitch of software developers that their product is the all encompassing, miracle, wonder tonic that will cure all of your computer ailments. Those of us who use these software packages have learned to proceed with the caution we normally reserve for travelling salesmen, carnival barkers and infomercials. The folks at Macromedia, Inc. wish to challenge our cautious hesitation once again with their updated release of the Dreamweaver/Fireworks Studio. They may not have created the end-all, be-all web design package, but they came pretty darn close. Firstly, the updated Dreamweaver/Fireworks Studio is actually two products, Dreamweaver 2 and Fireworks 2, both of which can be purchased individually or together. We reviewed the original release of both these products in our September 1998 issue. Recently, Macromedia released the second version of both of these products to provide for the new user, a simple yet powerful way of designing web pages. For previous users of Dreamweaver and/or Fireworks, Macromedia added some new features that make complete web design even easier.

Building Pages: Dreamweaver 2 Dreamweaver 2 is one of the most powerful WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors available to web designers (although Adobe's newly released Go Live 4 is supposed to be competitive). As with the first release, the program is an intuitive page editor that allows users to build pages quickly by formatting text; creating and editing tables; changing background, object and text colors; assigning links; placing pictures and even building form objects with the click of a mouse. These features haven't changed much from the original Dreamweaver and for the novice user they will still provide a quick and easy way to build pages. One new feature of Dreamweaver 2 that would definitely benefit a novice user is the Visual Site Map. One of the most important things for a new web designer to understand is the hierarchy of pages in a web site. As a site grows and new levels are added to the server, it becomes more and more important to "keep all of your ducks in a row" as the saying goes and be very organized in terms of where all the pages and page objects are located. The Site Map gives the user a visual representation of the entire site and the relation of pages to each other. This new feature also allows drag-and-drop capability, so pages can be moved and links reassigned quickly and easily.

The new visual site map feature.

The new visual site map feature.

While a novice or casual web designer will find Dreamweaver 2 beneficial, the program was designed for professional web developers and it is the program's advanced features that truly set it apart from other WYSIWYG editors. The most powerful feature of Dreamweaver 2 is its complete integration with the text editor BBEdit 5.0. Anyone who has done a fair amount of web design knows that WYSIWYG is a misnomer...that is, what you see is NOT always what you get. With all of the different browsers and platforms being used, the only way to make sure web pages appear as intended is to edit the source code. Both Dreamweaver and Dreamweaver 2 provide the user with an editable HTML window, but the programs are much more effective with the simple and powerful BBEdit 5.0. BBEdit works in conjunction with Dreamweaver allowing the designer to jump back and forth between the two programs with the changes being updated instantly. Another advantage of working with BBEdit is the program's ability to FTP pages directly to the server. All of this means that you can design your page in Dreamweaver and BBEdit, upload them to your server with Fetch and view your work on-line in a matter of seconds...a web designers dream! Macromedia made this even easier by including the latest versions of BBEdit, Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer on the Dreamweaver 2 installation CD.

Page Templates and Libraries are two other new Dreamweaver 2 features that will ease your design experience by reusing work you have already done. A major bane of the web designer's job is building a vast number of pages that are predominantly the same, with only minor changes in content. Page Templates let one maintain a consistent look across several pages by storing the design and requiring one only to edit the content. Dreamweaver 2's library function also reuses material by storing scripts which one might use on several different web pages. Perfection is an elusive goal and despite my lofty praise, Dreamweaver 2 does have a few drawbacks. The program works with many different variations of HTML code, including PHP3 and for the first time, XML; however, the program can't handle PHTML code. When one brings a PHTML coded page into Dreamweaver, it catonates some of the tags, essentially altering or erasing part of the page. The preview feature is also very cumbersome. It is just as easy to load the page to the server and view it on-line as it is to go through the steps to preview it. A browser preview window would be a nice feature. Most annoying of all, Dreamweaver 2 cannot directly import MS Word files. Several extraneous steps had to be taken to import the text you are reading right now.

Fireworks 2: The Graphics Side of Things Besides page content, the most important aspect of a well-designed web page is how fast the page loads. The key to mastering load speed is to reduce the file size of the graphics. To conquer this section of web design, Macromedia created Fireworks, with the idea that Fireworks would be to web designers what Adobe Photoshop is to graphic designers. Although Fireworks will never replace Photoshop for hi-resolution, high quality graphics and images, Macromedia Fireworks provides all the tools necessary to create graphics and simple animations for the web quickly.

Web design differs from other areas of graphic design in that instead of creating a few spectacular images, whose primary purpose is to catch the eye; web design is about creating a lot of little images with common elements, whose purpose is to create a consistent, organized and attractive environment. Fireworks succeeds most in giving the user complete control over these elements. Icons, buttons, banners, navigation bars, backgrounds and animated GIFs can all easily be created and edited with Fireworks tool palettes.

The object hotspot palette and improved behavior palette make it even easier to assign behaviors such as rollovers and status messages to web objects.

The object hotspot palette and improved behavior palette make it even easier to assign behaviors such as rollovers and status messages to web objects.

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