Dream package

Visual XML

The most exciting development in Dreamweaver 8.0 is the ability to work visually with XML - see figure 2. Dreamweaver binds XML data using eXSL (eXtensible Style Sheet Language) so that information and design - as with CSS - are entirely separated.

Dreamweaver uses a subset of XSL and XSLT (XSL Transformations) to format XML data as HTML, an operation that can be performed on the server or within the browser. The latter is much easier; all you need is access to the server and you can create XSLT pages in their entirety or simply to insert a fragment into a page - for example, to stream an RSS feed or update daily menus.

Creating such a page is easy: first of all, design your layout as you would for a normal HTML document, then convert it to XSLT format. You need to create your XML data source beforehand, but once this is ready, the Applications panel enables you to bind that source to your page. As with creating other types of application, once data is attached, dynamic links can be set up and repeated as necessary, filling your page with information that is drawn from this external source.

Considering the importance of XML for displaying information across multiple platforms - such as on mobile phones - the difficulty of working with this in previous versions of Dreamweaver has been a major drawback. However now, by contrast, it will probably become the dynamic technology of choice for many Web development designers.

XML and CSS are the most important developments in Dream­weaver, but there are plenty of other tweaks and updates that improve the program considerably. Background file transfer enables data to be moved between remote and local sites with the minimum of fuss, while the zoom tool allows designers to focus on page layout down to the pixel level.

Code tools have been revamped to include a toolbar with common operations such as snippets and it is possible to collapse or expand blocks of code during design to focus on particular areas. Some previous management niggles - such as site synchronisation and comparing files across remote and local hosts - have also been ironed out. Finally, there is plenty of support for standards such as PHP 5.0, Coldfusion MX 7.0 and better authentication across secure servers. While Dreamweaver MX 2004 appeared to be treading water, the latest release not only implements eye-catching features but also improves the general workflow for professional Web developers.

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Jason Whittaker

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