Macromedia’s Dreamweaver is well known as an industrial-strength Web-authoring tool — with a learning curve to match. This latest version of the program does little to alter its reputation as a powerful creative tool for Web designers, but it does at least make a stab at improving the package’s ease of use.
Dreamweaver’s formidable feature set has always endeared it to coders. Most of the program’s options are contained in a series of dockable palettes on the right of the screen. And the document window (which holds the currently active page) can be viewed in three ways: as straight HTML code; in Design mode (which provides a visual representation of the code); or a split-pane mix of the two (see here for a screenshot).
Above this, an Insert bar offers quick-access buttons to objects such as tables that can be dragged directly onto the document window, while underneath a bar shows the editable properties of the currently selected page item.
If newcomers are left bemused by this seemingly inexhaustible range of options, MX 2004 at least introduces a couple of hand-holding niceties.
One excellent addition that other authoring tools would do well to copy is the Check Browser Targets feature. This removes the need for a designer to test a site on different browsers because it checks the validity of tags and CSS (cascading stylesheets) against specified target browsers to ensure the pages you produce appear correctly to all visitors. By default, the program runs the check whenever you open a file, but it can also be launched from the Document toolbar.
The use of CSS in Web documents can increasingly be relied on to produce robust Web pages viewable in all browsers. Its growing popularity can be seen by the number of improvements in the way MX 2004 handles CSS.
Not only are CSS pages rendered more accurately in Design view, the new CSS Rule Inspector lets you view and edit CSS tags applied to the current selection in Code or Design view. You can also select block elements in Design view and modify their properties in the same palette.
Many Web authors use PHP to create Web sites. While there are no significant improvements in support for that language, MX 2004 has improved its reference features so you can right-click a PHP function in your code and a pop-up description of its purpose and usage will appear.
Other small but worthwhile improvements include the addition of a secure FTP option (previously you had to use workarounds to encrypt uploaded files) and the inclusion of a simple graphics editor.
The latter can sharpen, crop and adjust the brightness or contrast of pictures within the program. Anything more complex still requires a round trip to sister program FireWorks or another image-editing application.
Another useful option, particularly for those repurposing data in an office environment, is the ability to drag and drop text between Microsoft Word, Excel and Dreamweaver without losing format or CSS style.
In brief: Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 2004
For the less experienced Web coder there are unarguably cheaper or less complex alternatives, but for Web design professionals, Dreamweaver remains top of the tree.
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