Dreamweaver is Pretty Darn Dreamy

by Dan Sarto

© Macromedia.

I haven't used every single new web authoring tool on the market, and chances are I never will. I'm much too busy cheating at Duke Nukem. So, I honestly can't say that Macromedia's Dreamweaver version 1.2 is better than every other such program on the market. What I can say is that since I began using this product, I am hard pressed to find a reason why I would ever need or want to switch to another web page development program.

The program boasts a comprehensive array of features that let both novices and experts alike design and create professional looking web pages. The graphical user interface displays the right amount of information without being cumbersome, unwieldy or confusing. The window and palette layout is tight and functional without making me dizzy. No more tennis elbow moving everything around before I can actually use the program to do something. How novel.

A screen shot of the AWN home page being operated on with Dreamweaver.

Quickly Getting to Work
Several things about the program immediately impressed me. First, I was able to edit some pretty sophisticated pages in minutes, without glancing at the manual, clicking the help button, or calling our webmaster on the intercom. Creating several new pages, in this case some commerce catalog prototypes, was equally as easy. New tables can be inserted on the page quite easily, their placement, width, border size and other attributes configured from the Property Inspector palette in a snap. I popped on some graphic images and corresponding URL links just as quickly.

I'm the type of developer that would rather reformat old floppies than spend hours poring through documentation. When I get stuck, I go straight to the index, and work my way backwards through the manuals to find the reference materials I need. Dreamweaver's documentation is clearly written, and the on-line help is indeed helpful. The Macromedia web site is dedicated to support the Dreamweaver user and the developer community has proven extremely useful. For example, poring over several real-life code examples helped me understand some of the more advanced program features involving rollovers, where the user can program different "behaviors" to occur when a mouse passes over a certain section of the page.

Technical Support
It never ceases to amaze me how many software companies leave their users high and dry after purchase, providing web sites containing pitifully outdated and incomplete FAQs and expensive "incident" packages as the sole means of technical support. Is it any wonder that third-party technical "how-to" manuals now outsell low-fat cookbooks? Product purchase is only the beginning. If I'm going to invest hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars of developer time in such a tool, the software developer should be as serious about the product as I am, especially web page design tools.

Dreamweaver's interactive help pages.

The browser battles with their Java tug-of-war, standards changes within the HTML and DHTML specifications, compounded by the varied and buggy versions of browsers that populate the bazillions of PCs around the world, make web site development a complex and often difficult task. Macromedia's Dreamweaver program is built and promoted as a professional tool that anyone can use, and their support site is ample evidence of their commitment to the developer base. I see no reason to doubt Macromedia's intention and capability to develop and upgrade Dreamweaver as the realities of development for the web shift in the near future.

Something for Everybody
The second thing that really impressed me about the program was that, with one mouse click, I could open Dreamweaver's HTML Inspector, a raw html editing window where I could edit the code side by side with the Dreamweaver Document Window WYSIWG graphic editing screen. Despite the fact that by playing with html code, I consistently destroy more perfectly good web pages than I ever create, I am not deterred from my quest to edit the code directly. Programming instincts die hard. I like to see what's under the hood. Okay, I just like to futz with html code and see what all those letters in brackets really do. While not a full-fledged html editing engine, Dreamweaver's HTML Inspector allows me to futz all I want, and a single click back on the main screen interprets my raw code edits in real time within the Document Window display. For more sophisticated raw html code editing, the program comes bundled with BBEdit for Macintosh users, and Allaire's HomeSite for Windows users.

The program's sophisticated web design capabilities should not confuse or intimidate the more novice user. One doesn't trip over the more advanced features to get started creating simple pages. The Document Window displays the page much as it would look in a browser - a simple menu choice goes one step further and displays the page in any or all of the browsers installed on the computer. The Property Inspector, a floating tool palette, lets one very easily change font size, color, image source, alignment, link a URL, etc.

Conversely, advanced users, or users wishing to make the jump to the latest, state-of-the-art web design concepts and techniques, should find Dreamweaver stuffed with capabilities many of us hacks may never use.

Dreamweaver's HTML Inspector.

Web sites Big and Small
Chief among these capabilities are: support for Dynamic HTML (DHTML), and timeline-based animation and object behavior management, behavior support for such actions as image swapping, pop-up boxes, mouse actions, and sounds, the ability to build pages in support of different versions of both Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer, conversion of DHTML enabled pages back to 3.0 version browser non-DHTML enabled page code, and importing and editing of existing pages without mangling the code structure (referred to as Roundtrip HTML).

For those managing or planning larger sites, Dreamweaver provides a library for commonly-used page components. From code snippets to entire page templates, edits made within the Dreamweaver Library will update any page that includes those library components. For anyone who has ever mis-spent the prime of their youth replacing navigation bars and banner graphics on every page within a web site, this library function is worth its weight in Cheetos and Diet Coke.

Dreamweaver stands out among the new generation of web authoring tools for a number of reasons. It's support for timeline based animation and the style sheets of DHTML give serious developers tremendous control over the look and performance of their web pages. Powerful page editing features gives one the best of both the WYSIWG and HTML code editing worlds. Plus, it's intuitive and quite easy to use. Put these features all together, and you get a program that's pretty hard to beat.

Dan Sarto is an accomplished "hack" technologist and co-publisher of AWN.

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