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Past versions of Macromedia's Dreamweaver were solid but hard to love, with a clunky interface that discouraged the exploration that allows mere users to become wizards. But with a new emphasis on usability, added to new cutting-edge features, Dreamweaver 2 promises to delight both designers and code geeks.
Dreamweaver 2 is packed with improvements to its page-design tools. The best addition, the Tracing Layer, recognizes the fact that in many shops, a designer creates a comp for a Web page in Adobe Photoshop or QuarkXPress and hands a color printout to a Web jockey, who then re-creates the page in HTML. Dreamweaver lets you take a GIF or JPEG comp image and place it in the background of the document window as a guide (see "Comp Tracing"). New rulers, snap-to guides, and grids make it easy to match the comp.
Once you've created a page, you save it as a reusable template with both editable and locked regions. Combined with check-in/check-out page control (which tells users when a particular page is being changed), Dreamweaver's templates give designers the comfort of knowing that writers and editors can change content without inadvertently mangling the page's design.
Previously, Dreamweaver's many floating palettes were a recipe for screen clutter. In version 2, you can dock palettes together into a single tabbed window. The program now makes excellent use of contextual menus and has fewer annoying modal dialog boxes. It also includes precoded objects, such as one that lets you quickly create image-rollover effects. And a new, smart eyedropper tool lets you pick up a color from anywhere on your desktop; Dreamweaver snaps it to the nearest Web-safe color.
Nothing annoys HTML coders like having a visual tool arbitrarily rewrite their carefully honed code. Dreamweaver has always respected custom HTML, and the new version continues and extends this tradition. The program won't change tags it doesn't recognize, instead highlighting unknown tags in yellow; it also recognizes (and won't change) code that works with server-side tools.
The new version catches up to GoLive CyberStudio (now an Adobe product) in site management by adding a visual site map, the ability to check and repair broken links, and an improved FTP tool for uploading and downloading sites. The supercharged find-and-replace function fixes tags and files throughout a site and accepts regular expressions.
Dreamweaver 2 seems to be faster than previous versions, though just as RAM-hungry; with larger sites, the program complained about memory until I boosted its RAM footprint from the suggested 20MB to 32MB.
Thanks to its interface improvements, Dreamweaver has outgrown its ugly-duckling phase and is much easier and more fun to use. Smart innovations like the Tracing Layer show that Macromedia has been paying close attention to the way designers work in real production environments, and Dreamweaver's first-do-no-harm approach to HTML shows a nice appreciation of the challenges that Web coders face. Fully competitive with CyberStudio, but with unique strengths of its own, this striking upgrade should win Dreamweaver many new converts.
RATING: PROS: Superb table handling; excellent design and layout tools; very good code control; excellent extensibility. CONS: RAM-hungry and not always polite about it. COMPANY: Macromedia (415/252-2000, http://www.macromedia.com ). COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $299.
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