Web editing tools have to walk a fine line between designers who don’t want to get bogged down by HTML and programmers who want the kind of control only code-hacking can provide. Dreamweaver 3 finally calls a truce between these two sides.
One big change is under the hood. Macromedia has rewritten Dreamweaver 3 from scratch as a fully native Macintosh application, unlike its predecessors, which behaved suspiciously like fugitive Windows applications. Many of the interface quirks that annoyed Mac users in the past have gone away, and Dreamweaver now supports such Mac OS features as window shades, spring-loaded folders, and Navigation Services.
Better Page Editing
Dreamweaver 3’s new Quick Tag Editor should thrill HTML jockeys. This pop-up window lets you view and edit the underlying HTML code for any object while you’re still in the visual-editing environment. In other programs, including earlier versions of Dreamweaver, you have to switch out of visual editingor open an HTML windowto get at the code. Using Quick Tag Editor is like having X-ray vision for your Web pages. If you pause while typing in the Quick Tag Editor, a pop-up window shows all the HTML tags Dreamweaver understands. The list is context-sensitive, so if you, pause on a tag, a list of attributes appears.
A Quick Dip into the Code
With the new Quick Tag Editor, it’s easy to inspect and change the underlying HTML for any object.
Much text that ends up on Web pages begins in Microsoft Word, and at first glance Word’s ability to save as HTML seems like a real time-saver. The trouble is that Word produces bloated HTML code, which looks great in Microsoft Internet Explorer for Windows but isn’t very efficient. Dreamweaver’s new Clean Up Word HTML command strips out the Microsoft-specific junk and produces cleaner, smaller Web pages. Excel users will appreciate the new Insert Tabular Data command, which converts any text-only tab-delimited file into a table.
The ability to create and apply paragraph and character styles is a cornerstone of any decent word-processing program, but these features are hard to implement in Web designs. The problem is that you have to decide between font-tag attributes and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). CSS styles are flexible, but display reliably only in recent browser versions (4.0 or later), and even then they often exhibit problems, such as type that appears in unreadably small sizes. Font-tag attributes display correctly in any browser, but applying multiple tags to a selectionsay, for font, size, and type styleis time-consuming. The new HTML Styles palette lets you store multiple font-tag attributes as a style and apply them with a click. Dreamweaver stores the site’s HTML Styles in an XML document within the site folder, making the styles available to anyone who works on your site.
The new Design Notes feature solves a key problem Web-building teams face: keeping track of who made what changes, and when. Dreamweaver maintains a Design Note, a separate XML document to which you can add date-stamped comments.
Often the teams that build sites, especially larger ones, are using both Macs and Windows PCs. Until recently, Dreamweaver was the most popular cross-platform HTML program among design pros. Adobe finally stepped up to the plate with GoLive 4.0 for Windows, but it has a significant limitationyou can’t interchange its project files with those of GoLive for Macintosh. This throws up unnecessary barriers for Mac-and-Windows teams collaborating on Web sites.
Dreamweaver 3 negates some of GoLive’s advantages by adding new objects with prebuilt frame sets, special characters such as copyright or euro symbols, and easier addition of e-mail links. Like GoLive, Dreamweaver’s Site Window can synchronize a remote site with a local version.
Need More? Build It!
The ability to customize the menu system is a boon for design shops, which can give a simplified, custom version of Dreamweaver to their clients. This version could, for example, omit Dreamweaver commands an inexperienced client might misuse, while including new commands that make it easier to create content pages from prebuilt templates.
Extendability in Dreamweaver 3 isn’t just for programmers. The new History palette keeps track of what you’ve done, and a slider bar lets you move backward and forward through your actions. It’s the ultimate undo and redo feature. The only limitation is that the History palette just records keyboard actions, not mouse clicks and drags. The best part is that you can automate your work by selecting steps in the palette and choosing the Save As Command. After you name the new command, it appears in the Commands menu.
Web Graphics Just a Click Away
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Dreamweaver 3 is an excellent successor to an already good Web design tool. It finally gets rid of the weird pseudo-Windows interface in previous versions in favor of a real Mac look-and-feel. Dreamweaver 3 starts off the latest round of innovation in Web design tools, and Adobe is readying its reply with the next version of GoLive. Because it was cross-platform right from the start, Dreamweaver built a large, loyal customer base, enabling Macromedia to improve Dreamweaver on a fast Internet time scale. Now that GoLive has gone more than a year without significant revision, Adobe faces a real challenge to maintain its user base.
Dreamweaver directly targets Web developers, and Macromedia keeps adding the features hard-core Web geeks request, such as amazing extensibility, tight integration with Flash and Fireworks, and smooth incorporation of server-based Web production tools such as ASP, Cold Fusion, and WebObjects. With GoLive, Adobe builds on its base of print and graphic designers who want to reuse and repurpose their work for the Web. Chances are, both approaches will succeed, as Web developers are a diverse group.
For now, the momentum is definitely behind Macromedia and Dreamweaver 3. Until the next big program comes along, Dreamweaver 3 is the tool of choice for the professional Web site developer.