When Macromedia released the first Dreamweaver almost three years ago it was welcomed with open arms by professional Web developers.
Macromedia has used Dreamweaver 3 to introduce several new features, including a particularly handy history palette that allows you to go back through individual steps and correct problems, or automate procedures that can then be passed on to other members of the development team. The emphasis has been on simplifying the development process and making it easier to correct mistakes, customise menus, and collaborate with other members of the design team without having to be in the same room. All of which makes it evident that Dreamweaver 3 was not particularly designed for the home user wanting to set up a personal Web site - though it will attract some enthusiasts.
Ironically, while Macromedia has led the way in easy-to-use professional Web development software - with the emphasis on drag-and-drop and self-writing HTML - it falls down in its ability to provide simple tutorials on how to use it. The tutorial is soporific, meandering, and sometimes inaccurate - faults that Macromedia developers admit and are working towards correcting. Hopefully by version 4 the tutorial will be a much more pleasurable experience because, apart from this one fairly obvious flaw, Dreamweaver 3 is an exceptional program. Once you have actually done battle with the tutorial, the basics of Dreamweaver 3 are relatively easy to master and the new history palette helps make it close to foolproof. The palette provides the user with unlimited undos, and the beauty of this is that you do not have to go back through each step to get to the problem area. You can go directly to the command or action that needs to be changed, and once corrected it will automatically update the entire site. The other invaluable feature is that the history stays even after the work has been saved (but not closed), and changes can still be made to steps that came prior to the save.
One of the simplest things Macromedia has done is to include line numbers in the HTML inspector. Why someone had not thought of doing it before - not just for Macromedia's products, but also for just about any Web-authoring program - is one of life's great mysteries. It has long been one of the developer's great frustrations having to count the number of lines of code to get to the line they have been told contains an error.
The line numbering was also used to good effect in the reviewer's guide for Dreamweaver 3, to show off the program's new feature. It is no secret that Macromedia and Microsoft are not the best of pals, and when the former can show up the latter, it will do so - particularly if it benefits the end user. Dreamweaver 3 comes with a new Clean Up Word HTML command designed to get rid of excess coding that clutter Word HTML files. To show off the new command, Macromedia included a Word HTML document in the reviewer's guide that, according to the line numbering, had 398 lines of code. After being cleaned, the code was reduced to 149 lines. While it does not clean up well all of the time, it does cut down on cumbersome code by stripping out proprietary XML and CSS tags.
Apart from proving what most of us already suspected - that Microsoft programs are code heavy - the Word clean up tool is part of increased integration with MS Office applications. The developers have introduced a news object called the Tabular Data Object for importing structured data from applications such as Excel and Access. While it is similar to the HTML Table Object, which has been around in previous versions of Dreamweaver, it does not just insert a blank HTML table. Users can define the source of the data they want in the table and import it.
Dreamweaver gives you real time access to your HTML code and for anybody new to creating Web sites it can be a fascinating exercise to watch it write the HTML code as you work. Hitting F10 will open the HTML Inspector window where you can view the source code update as you work. It also has a practical use in that you can edit the code from within the window, so you can view
both the actual page and behind-the-scene source code at the same time.
Macromedia has added a new Quick Tag Editor that makes it easy to change images, define hyperlinks and add or change HTML tags associated with any element of a page. Changing a graphic is now as simple as changing the source of the image file within the HTML tag. For example if you were using a GIF file in your Images folder called logo.gif and wanted to use main.gif instead, there is no need to delete the first image and then locate the replacement, or wade through the source code to find the correct tag and change it. You just click on the image already in the page, open the Quick Tag Editor and change the tag from 'images/logo.gif'to 'images/main.gif'.
Just as the Quick Tag Editor simplifies editing of individual tags, the HTML Style editor enables the user to set global text formatting
that can be used throughout a Web site. By establishing styles early in a site, they can be repeated throughout the site without having to repeat the process on each page. Once a style has been created it takes a couple of mouse clicks to implement it elsewhere.
This simplification of repetitive commands is taken a step further with the inclusion of a simple hot key for repeating your last action. But perhaps the greatest boon to productivity is the ability to update common factors in several pages at the same time. For example if you want to change the header at the top of each page, you only have to do it once and it will be updated throughout the site.
Defining hot spots can be a messy business, depending on the tools at hand. Many sites suffer from shaky hand drawn areas that show up as ugly patches when a mouse rolls over them. However, Dreamweaver 3 makes a point of keeping everything neat with smoothly rounded curves or straight lines and precise placement of the hot spot. A hot spot can be as simple as a link to another page or site, to an image-swapping roll over.
It goes without saying that all of the products from Macromedia including Flash, Shockwave, Generator, Fireworks, etc., fit neatly into Dreamweaver 3. In fact, if you are finding images are slow to load, they can be optimised in Fireworks directly from Dreamweaver 3.
It is hard to find fault with the mechanics of Dreamweaver 3. The interface is easy to understand - if a little cluttered - and the ability to customise menus for a specific job is an added bonus. It is a neat set of tools for compiling a professional Web site, but anybody who wants
to use Dreamweaver 3 on its own to create a
Web presence is using a BMW to carry a load
Dreamweaver 3 won't create the artwork, images and Shockwave or Flash animations that are features of many top sites. To create these, you need the other Macromedia products. What it will do is make the best use of the ingredients available and put them together to create a Web site. It is a tool for master Web builders - full of features,
This Review appeared in the March, 2000 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine