Here's a lesson from this week's Thunder Lizard Dreamweaver Conference 2000: if the program you love doesn't offer the feature you want; write it yourself. Then, for extra karma points, share it with everyone else free of charge.
Trust me. Everyone's doing it.
Although the biggest news at this week's conference in Monterey, California, centered around the first public viewing of Macromedia's new suite of Web tools -- Dreamweaver 4, Fireworks 4, and Dreamweaver UltraDev 4 -- conference goers also got a demonstration of the growing impact of Dreamweaver extensions. These confined chunks of code expand the original program to add new features or quick workarounds for otherwise tedious tasks. Extensions have become so important that Macromedia took time out during the keynote address to recognize some of its most notable extension developers.
The award for Best Dreamweaver Extension went to Rabi Sunder Raj for Menu Builder, which lets you quickly create live pop-up menus in Dreamweaver. Thomas Muck received the Best UltraDev Extension award for Links List, a server behavior that creates lists of links from search results. The Best Fireworks Integration award went to Joseph Lowery for Bullet Builder, which turns HTML bullets in an unordered list into graphics generated by Fireworks. Massimo Foti, who has authored more than 30 extensions, received the award for Best Extension developer.
Extensions are by no means a new concept. Publishing powerhouses such as Adobe Photoshop and QuarkXPress have relied heavily on extension developers for years to create interesting graphic effects and to meet the needs of niche markets. But the widespread distribution of extensions for Dreamweaver is still a fairly recent development.
Hoping to foster the extension market, Macromedia launched the Exchange ( www.macromedia.com/exchange ) last April. The site allows Dreamweaver users to submit, download, and rate extensions. Visitors can also make requests for extensions they'd like to see in the future. Even better, most of the extensions are available free of charge.
Saying that response to the Exchange has been strong is like saying that the results of Election 2000 were problematic. According to Macromedia, the Exchange has grown by almost 300 extensions with more than a million downloads since its launch. Submissions range from the wacky (such as the Dreamweaver Assistant extension which features Tacky, a trash-talking, surly spoof on Microsoft's animated help personality, Clippy) to the obscure (you can download all 32 county codes for Ireland, for example).
With the flood of extensions hitting the Exchange (almost 30 extensions have been posted to the site just within the past month), it can be hard to keep track of the newest additions. We surveyed conference attendees and speakers about their favorite Dreamweaver extensions. Here were some of their top picks:
Check Page for Accessibility Federal law now requires that government Web sites be accessible to users with disabilities. Macromedia's Check Page for Accessibility extension uses the guidelines published by the W3C to check for potential accessibility problems such as missing ALT tags and the BLINK tag. An accessibility report locates problem areas in the source code so they can be quickly fixed and refers the designer back to the relevant section of the guideline for more information about the problem.
Favorites Menu This extension, developed by Macromedia, lets you access important and often-used files from a Favorites menu in Dreamweaver. The Favorites menu works identically to your Web browser's Favorites bar, allowing you to quickly add and organize menu contents.
Site Import Export If you often transfer sites between computers -- to work at home or share the site with team members, for example -- you'll appreciate this extension. It saves site definitions in a separate file that can be shared with others. This means you won't have to redefine your site every time in order to transfer it.
IE Link Scrubber This useful extension, by Al Sparber, automatically removes the lines that appear around text links, image links and image maps in Microsoft Internet Explorer 4 and 5 for Windows.
Object Maker You can cut down on redundant tasks by saving bits of code, such as table designs, as reusable objects. Created by Joe Marini of Macromedia, this extension will take any selection from a Dreamweaver document and place it in your Object palette for quick access.
Resolution Redirect Massimo Foti's extension takes some of the uncertainty out of the viewer's experience by inserting a script into a document's Head content that detects the viewer's screen resolution and redirects them to different pages designed specifically for that resolution.
Wire framing When working with clients it's a good idea to present a functional prototype -- or wire frame -- of the site before building a final version. Clients can click through the bare-bones version of the site to test for usability. This extension, developed by Dreamweaver Product Manager Eric Ott, places a new series of objects into the Objects palette that simplify the wire-framing process.
Create Link from Text Turn a word into a URL without retyping it. This extension by Jeff Schang creates the HREF tag based on a selected word. The user only needs to determine the appropriate prefix and suffix.
Calendar Object Create an online calendar to keep track of production schedules or your oh-so-hectic life. With Scott Richards' extension you simply insert a preformatted calendar into your Web page and specify the month.
Latin Text Use this extension to help format Web pages by automatically inserting a stream of Latin into empty text areas.