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Dreamweaver has established itself as the definitive tool for Web development on the Mac – it’s used by professionals and amateurs alike as a quick way to produce good-looking Web pages and to manage sites.
With the upgrade to MX, Dreamweaver is abreast of the latest technological and conceptual developments in Web design – and is now available for OS X. Version MX also contains and extends the functionality of Dreamweaver UltraDev as a tool for creating dynamic Web-content using a number of application languages.
The upgraded version is not only more powerful, but also easier to use than previous versions. Part of this is due to the new user interface, which features across the whole MX suite. The principle elements of this new layout are the dockable, collapsible palettes, and the Property Inspector. The Property Inspector was a Dreamweaver innovation from a previous version, but it has been further improved to put more context-sensitive options at the user’s fingertips. Because Dreamweaver features more palettes than other MX products, palettes can also be arbitrarily grouped together and accessed as tabbed sub-palettes – this can add confusion, however.
Dreamweaver MX is easy to use, and provides a nice balance between visual layout and a code editing. You can toggle between layout and code view at the touch of a button, or use a split-screen view. Selecting an element in the layout view will cause the relevant HTML code to be highlighted. One of the strongest features of Dreamweaver is the ability to create templates, and define some areas as locked – or uneditable – while other areas can be updated. MX offers greater flexibility with the ability to nest templates, and define which tag attributes can be editable.
Dreamweaver’s code editing continues to improve, and although BBEdit Lite is still bundled as part of the package, an external text tool isn’t needed. As well as syntax colouring, line numbering, and other such essentials, Dreamweaver MX features tag completion. Alternatively, the tag editor lets you fill out all the possible options for a tag in a single window. The tag editor also works for server-code tags, such as CFML or ASP.NET.
Another code enhancement is a validator that can check code against a number of standards, such as HTML 4 and XHTML – a feature that arch-rival GoLive has also introduced.
Extensions currently available on the Dreamweaver Exchange include support for Nokia devices and iMode development – Macromedia is looking beyond the PC as the delivery platform for Web content.
Web-page design continues to evolve, and Dreamweaver has evolved along with it. Cascading Style Sheets are the optimal way to define styling across a site, and Dreamweaver MX features improved CSS editing, including CSS2 support. Different colour coding helps identify locally-defined styles, as opposed to those defined in an external style sheet. You can also ensure proper CSS-based font usage by preventing old-style font commands – useful in ensuring design consistency in templates.
Tables continue to be the building block for advanced site design, and MX has enhanced the table-editing tool to create leaner, meaner cross-platform/cross-browser-compatible table code.
Despite Macromedia now owning ColdFusion, it’s good to see that Dreamweaver MX, like UltraDev before it, shows no bias towards any Web-application language, and can be used to provide dynamic scripting for ASP.NET, JSP, and PHP as well as ColdFusion CFML. In order to use MX as a development environment for dynamic scripting, you’ll need to have a test server running the relevant technology, which, apart from PHP – which can be run on OS X with the Apache Web server – will generally require a Windows box.
Integration with the rest of the MX line is excellent, as you’d expect. You can import graphics from Fireworks or SWF files from Flash, and edit them in their parent application at the click of the mouse. Dreamweaver MX provides support for Flash ActionScript editing, including colour-coding and code hints.
No Macromedia MX product would be complete without a raft of features designed to improve accessibility. These aren’t revolutionary, but aim to reinforce good coding practice. Accessibility Site Reporting can determine if sites meet accessibility guidelines, and pinpoints problems quickly.
As HTML code editors, Adobe GoLive and Dreamweaver MX match each other pretty much feature for feature, but while Dreamweaver boasts a more integrated environment for dynamic-code editing, GoLive and the Adobe Workgroup Server, offer a groupware solution that Macromedia offers only through the separate product SiteSpring. But the interface enhancements make Dreaweaver MX a worthy upgrade.