Dreamweaver has changed dramatically
since the first version appeared around
five years ago, but users of the venerable Dreamweaver 1 will still recognize Dreamweaver MX as part of the same product family. Its capabilities have grown beyond all recognition though, and Dreamweaver MX must be as close to the ultimate version of the application as you can get.
Instead of the two separate Dreamweaver 4
and Dreamweaver UltraDev 4 applications, there’s now just Dreamweaver MX. The UltraDev database integration capabilities are now a standard feature of Dreamweaver. This is important, as it means there’s a standard tool for creating everything from simple home pages to fully fledged, database-driven, interactive, professional Web sites.
Dreamweaver MX is essentially the upgraded version of Dreamweaver UltraDev 4 – rather than an upgrade to the basic version of Dreamweaver itself. So, it’s not surprising that database integration and access – along with ASP, PFP, JSP, ColdFusion and other
on-the-fly methodologies – are at the forefront of Dreamweaver MX’s capabilities. Simply selecting the New command in the File menu presents you with an almost bewildering array of choices for the page or document you want to create.
of Web-site design. Even WML design for WAP pages is included. Because all of these different server-side technologies are supported within Dreamweaver MX, virtually no other development tools are required.
The Application tab and the Database panel are the two main tools you’ll use in Dreamweaver MX when working with server-side content.
For the smaller developer, Dreamweaver MX has a sack full of ready-to-use templates and configurations. These templates and examples can be customized as much as you wish, and stored for future use.
Many Web developers still write a great deal
of code by hand, so the code-editing features in Dreamweaver MX have been improved to provide a complete code-development environment on a par with HomeSite.
Dreamweaver MX includes Tag Editors for HTML, CFML, and ASP.NET tags. The tag editors enable developers to quickly set up and edit the relevant attributes of the tags used when editing in the code view. Dreamweaver MX supports the latest ColdFusion MX and ASP .NET tags, enabling developers to create interactive Web sites using the latest tag structures and contents. Just as in HomeSite, a code-hint function built into the editor pops up with suggestions for tags you are entering – along with attributes and parameters that you may want to use.
I find this function annoying in HomeSite, so disabled it – but I can see why developers like using it. The code hint feature covers HTML, CFML, JSP and ASP, for instance, and you can customize and extend tags. There’s also an autocomplete function that inserts the closing tag for you when you type the opening tag.
If you have put together a section of code that you would like to use in other projects, you can store it in the code snippets panel instead of creating a separate file on the hard drive or server to store code. This ensures you never lose elements of code because it is stored within Dreamweaver MX itself for
future use – very useful.
Another tool for up-and-coming designers
is the tag chooser. This dialog box displays every tag available within Dreamweaver MX and those imported from XML schemas or DTDs. Open the tag chooser from the common elements toolbar, double-click on the tag you want to use, and the tag editor opens. It enables you to enter any parameters you wish to define.
Support for CCS
CSS support in Dreamweaver MX has been completely redesigned, with a new CSS panel with display modes for editing and applying styles, and the ability to distinguish between local and externally defined CSS styles. If you want to use CSS styles exclusively in your project, you can modify the text Property Inspector so that only CSS styles are displayed. This prevents anyone from accidentally adding font tags for styling tests. Dreamweaver MX supports CSS and CSS2, and integrates closely with TopStyle Lite CSS editor.
As with Flash MX and Fireworks MX, the new version of Dreamweaver has had a makeover in the looks department too. The new MX system of dockable and collapsible panels is less obvious using Mac OS X than it is with Windows XP, but on both platforms it’s easy to organize and set up. The screen tends to get a little cluttered at a resolution of 1,024-x-768 pixels or under, but you should still be able to improve your workflow by opening and collapsing tool panels as required.
The main layout of Dreamweaver MX menus and toolbars has changed dramatically. With Dreamweaver 4 and earlier, each Web page opened within the application had its own menus and toolbar area. Now all menus and toolbars are held in the Insert panel, with a long list of tabs representing various components and page elements such as images, tables, rollover images, Flash animations and so on. This takes
a little time to get used to if you’re familiar with Dreamweaver 4, but it only takes a few days to get to grips with it. I must admit, I rarely used the old Objects panel in Dreamweaver 4 because I either used the drop-down menus or keyboard shortcuts. But with all of the page-element icons on the toolbar tabs across the screen, I rarely use anything else.
The Property Inspector has improved too. It still sits under the window of the document you’re working on, but it now has more functions. Select an image file in a page and a small Fireworks MX icon appears in the Property Inspector with an edit label next to it. Click on the edit button and the image is opened for editing within Fireworks MX, you can either edit the JPEG or GIF file directly, or choose the original source file used to create the image. After editing the image within Fireworks MX – the image window in Fireworks has an “editing from Dreamweaver” legend in it – click on the Done button and the image is saved automatically and updated within Dreamweaver MX.
This integration between applications works with Flash MX, too. Flash files can easily be embedded in Dreamweaver MX pages, and edited just as easily by using the edit Flash MX button in the Property Inspector.
But the real prize for interactive developers is ColdFusion MX development. Dreamweaver MX has become the perfect development environment for creating content for use with ColdFusion MX. Even if you haven’t used ColdFusion before, you’ll find it easy to set up and use with Dreamweaver MX using the integrated reference content site wizard that automatically configures site settings when you install ColdFusion MX. Dreamweaver MX uses built-in objects and behaviours to create dynamic Web pages with minimal coding. There’s even an integrated ColdFusion debugging system that enables you to find problems in ColdFusion MX applications with ease.
Dreamweaver MX is now the definitive Web-development tool for Windows and Mac OS X. Its interactivity and integration with Flash MX, Fireworks MX and ColdFusion MX makes it part of the perfect Web-development suite. Its ability to interact with server-side systems such as ASP .NET, JSP and PHP means that no other development tools are required.
Let’s be honest, Macromedia has basically
taken the code-editing capabilities of HomeSite and integrated them into Dreamweaver MX – making it the perfect application for both writing code by hand and designing and laying out Web pages. As a bonus, Dreamweaver MX includes a copy of HomeSite+, which combines the best features of ColdFusion Studio and HomeSite 5, and offers full support for the latest ColdFusion MX tags.
While Dreamweaver has never been as advanced as in this version, it’s also never been so easy to use. It’s customizable in many ways – you can download and add extra features using the Extensions Manager or create your own if you wish – it has great layout features, superb code-editing tools, and it integrates seamlessly with Flash MX and Fireworks MX.
The new style tool panels are easy to use and there are more of them, so you can achieve more in less time. Browsing large sites using the Site window is faster than before – including updating after adding new files – and files seem to open and close faster. Dreamweaver MX is a slick, professional tool I’d recommend to anyone.
Both experienced Web-site designers and newcomers to Web design will benefit from the superb range of functions and features to be found in Dreamweaver MX. Top marks.