In a parallel upgrade with Fireworks and UltraDev, Dreamweaver 4 plays no small role in seeing Macromedia making a bid at providing a single solution for the Web designer with a suite of design tools. Despite the current legal battle between Macromedia and Adobe over ownership of interface
elements, the latest generation of Macromedia titles see a new common interface.
Apart from the changes to its overall appearance, and several new features, there’s nothing as groundbreaking as in previous upgrades such as the introduction of the history palette into version 3. The new version does, however, refine existing features, making Dreamweaver a much more powerful and efficient tool.
With applications such as Dreamweaver, it’s easy to overlook HTML. Version 4, however, introduces a range of coding developments that help return the program to its roots. A new split-screen editor option allows both design and code views to be worked on simultaneously, which is great for keeping a closer eye on what’s happening under the bonnet.
The new interface brings about a few subtle changes – how the Web-safe palette is organized for example, but the main introduction must be with the new layout mode. Complex tables can now be drawn directly on the page and you can drag cells around, or group them together, while ensuring clean code. Layouts are easier to adjust, as tables can handle dynamic browser resizing and nested tables protect cells from being inadvertently resized.
Basic Macromedia Flash elements have also been introduced, allowing you to generate Flash text and preset buttons directly into Dreamweaver with their .swf elements automatically created. This allows for smaller objects to be included on the page. The preset options are fairly uninspiring, but with the promise of further styles to be made available from the newly integrated Macromedia Exchange, this could be worth keeping an eye on.
As part of Macromedia’s single workflow solution, the roundtrip HTML idea (switching to an external editor such as HomeSite or BBEdit) has now been extended to roundtrip graphic editing, so it’s now possible to launch, edit and optimize graphics directly in Fireworks.
Another feature guaranteed to improve workflow is the new Asset Panel. In principle, this operates like Flash’s symbol library, although it offers greater potential. Along with keeping track of all your sites images and other embedded objects, it also keeps a centralized record of colours, external URLs, scripts and templates in one source. Having previews of such elements will be invaluable for keeping track of frequently used objects in your site.
The team element is further configurable throughout the main site window. This now accepts custom columns that can contain design notes or allow you to notify colleagues by email when pages are checked out. Site reporting has been expanded from the basic external link check to include reports on a number of optional aspects. These include combining or removing nested, redundant and empty tags, as well as checking for missing ALT or title tags.
Extensibility has been improved with the inclusion of Macromedia Exchange and the Extension Manager, which allows custom additions to the software to be freely downloaded from the Macromedia site. This means that Dreamweaver can be modified so you can easily develop advanced search capabilities, such as those provided by Atomz, or extend its capabilities to create WAP content as provided by Nokia.
Although UltraDev has also received an upgrade, the extra capabilities of such a package may be excessive for the average designer. Macromedia has therefore added integration with Microsoft Visual SourceSafe, letting large development teams use Dreamweaver as their standard HTML front-end development tool. Similarly, WebDAV integration allows the Dreamweaver site window to recognize any content management system that supports the WebDAV protocol.
All in all, the new version of Dreamweaver doesn’t make for a huge difference from the previous version, and current users will be able to migrate relatively easily – although this is not to detract from the quality of the upgrade. With the code more accessible and improved integration with other Macromedia tools and third-party back-end systems, Dreamweaver just went through a mature upgrade that will make it a highly effective and efficient part of any designers toolkit.