capsule review

Dreamweaver MX 2004

At a Glance
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 2004

    Macworld Rating

Dreamweaver has become an indispensable part of any Web-site developer's tool kit, and Dreamweaver MX 2004 is the latest incarnation of Macromedia's powerful Web-site– development tool.

Each version of the program has seen added features to support the ever-changing technologies and standards that Web developers employ -- from JavaScript, to sophisticated site management, to XHTML, to rapid application development. Using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to create sophisticated, user-accessible, and fast-loading Web pages is Dreamweaver's newest cause, and Dreamweaver MX 2004 succeeds admirably at displaying, creating, and editing sophisticated CSS designs.

This new version has a variety of productivity enhancements but doesn't include a significant update to one of Dreamweaver's biggest selling points -- its powerful server-side programming tools.

CSS: Here, There, and Everywhere

Dreamweaver MX 2004 is all about CSS. Almost every aspect of how the program creates, displays, and understands CSS has improved from prior versions. Using this version of Dreamweaver, you can create complete CSS-based (table-free) layouts. This approach works well with the evolving techniques of Web designers (and substantial CSS support of current Web browsers). Designs that looked like a complete mess when displayed in the visual design view of previous versions of the program look fine in Dreamweaver MX 2004. In most cases, your designs will closely match what will appear in Microsoft Internet Explorer or in Apple's Safari. So the design process is less frustrating, and editing pages is easier.

Creating and editing styles are dramatically different in Dreamweaver MX 2004, and the program sports many new additions aimed at seasoned CSS users. While you can still use the simple, dialog-driven method of creating a style, power users now have the option of using the Tag Inspector for editing CSS style information. This straightforward grid lists all CSS properties either in one long list or in grouped categories. In addition, properties that are currently part of a style you created are highlighted in blue and listed at the top. Editing or adding a property to a style is as easy as clicking next to the property's name and typing a value. For example, to add a background color to a style, just click on the Dreamweaver color box to the right of the background color property and select a color. For hand-coders, new CSS code hints can help you avoid excess typing by providing pop-up lists of CSS properties and values; just type the first few letters of a property, press return, and let Dreamweaver fill out the rest.

Dreamweaver MX 2004 also includes CSS enhancements aimed at less experienced Web developers. The program ships with several CSS-based designs to get users started with table-free layouts. In addition, the revamped Property Inspector uses Microsoft Word–like controls such as a font menu to make formatting with CSS painless. To ensure that Web pages work with the browsers you're targeting, use the Check Browser Support tool to identify HTML tags and CSS code that those browsers don't support -- the program includes profiles for various versions of Safari, Mozilla, Opera, Netscape Navigator, and Internet Explorer.

Working Faster

Dreamweaver MX 2004 also incorporates features that streamline your workflow.

The program includes simple image-editing tools, so if you need to crop, sharpen, shrink, or adjust brightness and contrast, you needn't jump to another program. Dreamweaver MX 2004 has also added support for secure FTP (SFTP) and boosted the performance of its basic FTP tool, so you can spend less time waiting for files to transfer and more time building cool Web sites. A new Favorites tab lets you gather all your most commonly used tools into one space on the Insert bar -- no more jumping from tab to tab to access the handful of tools you use daily. If you paste in text from Microsoft Word and Excel documents, you'll be happy to know that Dreamweaver MX 2004 keeps basic formatting such as paragraph breaks, bold, italics, and headings, and translates Excel cells into HTML tables. Dreamweaver MX 2004 will convert graphics that are embedded in a document to JPEG files and place them inside the Web site you're working on. In addition, the Paste Formatted command preserves complex page formatting such as text color, size, and font -- but it does this at the expense of creating some strange and bloated CSS code.

Unfortunately, Macromedia has to work out some glitches related to copying and pasting text into Dreamweaver MX 2004: opening single quotation marks (‘) paste correctly, but closing single quotation marks (') paste as single straight quotation marks ('); punctuation marks occasionally have extra spaces before or after them; and bulleted lists don't always paste with the proper HTML tag.

What's Getting Old

Sadly, other program features are collecting dust. Dreamweaver Behaviors were a breakthrough when they debuted; they gave nonprogrammers a simple way to add JavaScript effects such as pop-up browser windows, graphical rollover buttons, and complex dynamic HTML animations. This version of the program, however, offers no new Behaviors, nor improvements on existing Behaviors. For example, the Show Pop-Up Menu Behavior still doesn't work with templates, so forget about using this tool for building dynamic menu bars if you also use templates. In addition, Dreamweaver still can't export its JavaScript code into external files, which would be useful for reducing code and decreasing download time.

Likewise, Dreamweaver doesn't add much to its powerful tools for building database-driven Web sites. A few new PHP tools have been added -- bringing support for that technology almost to the level of other server models such as Microsoft's Active Server Page technology. But there's plenty of room for new features such as improved SQL query building, e-mail tools, server-side form validation, and more-advanced application-development features. It's a shame that one of the most exciting additions in Dreamweaver MX hasn't kept up with the growing demands of Web developers.

While Dreamweaver MX 2004 performs some actions more rapidly than it used to (rebuilding a site cache, basic text find and replace, and FTP), it doesn't feel significantly faster. In some cases, such as opening multiple Web pages, the program performs slower.

What's Gone

Current Dreamweaver MX users should be aware that a couple of things are missing from this latest release. OS 9 users can forget about this upgrade; Dreamweaver MX 2004 runs only in OS X 10.2.6 and later. The fast, fun, and admittedly code-heavy Timelines feature is also gone. So if you've grown accustomed to this simple tool for building dynamic HTML animations, you won't want to abandon Dreamweaver MX. And finally, Dreamweaver MX (with the free version 6.1 updater) offered integrated tools for managing Contribute sites -- sites that work with Macromedia's easy-to-use Web-site–editing program, Contribute. While you can still administer Contribute sites within Dreamweaver MX 2004, you have to buy the Contribute software ($99) to access these controls.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Dreamweaver MX 2004 is a great tool for any Web developer working on the cutting edge of CSS design. It's too bad the same kind of innovation isn't demonstrated in other areas of the program. If you've reached the limits of Dreamweaver's server-side programming abilities, you'll have to keep expanding your own programming skills. If you already use Dreamweaver MX and don't need the new CSS improvements, you probably won't find a compelling reason to upgrade.

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More Info:

Looking for a review of FreeHand MX (   ), the fourth program in the Studio MX 2004 suite? You'll find it in our July 2003 issue.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Improved CSS editing tools
    • Word and Excel copy-and-paste support
    • Great CSS display

    Cons

    • No new JavaScript Behaviors
    • No significant new server-side programming features
    • Diminished integration for managing Contribute-built sites
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