Review

by Joe Gillespie — Jan 1, 2001

Macromedia Dreamweaver 4

Dreamweaver 4

Dreamweaver has already bitten off a large chunk of the Web page editor market and according to Macromedia, is used by something like three out of four Web designers. It's not difficult to see why, it makes the production of Web pages, and even the most complex sites, relatively straightforward. It combines WYSIWYG layout features with the ability to hand code where it really matters - but it has had a few problems.

Version 4 goes a long way to solving the worst of those problems. The interface has been cleaned-up considerably and certainly looks more attractive with a lot of the rough edges smoothed out. Macromedia says that it now brings Dreamweaver's interface into line with their other products, that just leaves Flash 5 as an oddball.

Previous versions of Dreamweaver have had a HTML text editor built-in, but it has only been a token gesture with the serious tasks being offloaded onto BBEdit (Mac) or Allaire HomeSite (PC). Version 4's text editor is a different story altogether. At last there is syntax colour coding, auto indenting and all the little niceties that people expect from a mature text editing tool. The hot links to the other text editors are still present for those that need the few facilities that are missing.

Three buttons at the top of the editing window let you jump between text editing, graphic (WYSIWYG) editing or a split window showing both. It's interesting that they put the text editing button first, reading from left to right, I'm not quite sure why?

Something that really bugged me about earlier Dreamweavers was the implementation of Cascading Style Sheet editing so, one of the first things I did when I got version 4 was to go straight to the CSS department to see if it had improved. Sure enough, all my hate waves must have got through to the Macromedia developers because CSS is now infinitely better in terms of usage, and is much less confusing and prone to errors. Having said that, I still prefer the way GoLive handles CSS editing because there is more visual feedback about what is happening.

The new Table Layout facility makes the creation of tables very easy indeed, it's just like drawing them straight into the browser window. No other table creation tool that I've ever seen comes close in terms of ease of use but like some of the more 'instant' Web design tools around, it can lead to a lot of code bloating if the user doesn't know how to simplify the table code to clean it up afterwards.

Folding some Flash technology into Dreamweaver just had to happen, and it has. Apart from the usual easy Flash file integration, you can now create Flash vector text and buttons within Dreamweaver. That means that you can use virtually any typeface you like for text on your page, drag to resize it and it is saved as a tiny linked SWF file - it even has automatic rollover highlighting if it is a hypertext element - that, I really like.

The ready-made Flash buttons, I'm not so sure about. Yes, they work fine but surely, anyone that can handle a complex program like Dreamweaver doesn't need ready-made buttons? If they were put there as examples then okay, but I would hate to see them popping up everywhere on the Web!

Macromedia now include a coding reference library with Dreamweaver, most of it based on O'Reilly's excellent 'Definitive' guides to DHTML and JavaScript. This is a very welcome addition as designers now have ready access to accurate information and a host of cut-and-paste examples of code. I think this is a much more valuable resource than their 'actions' as you actually learn something about what you are doing instead of just clicking on a button and taking pot-luck.

If you already use Dreamweaver, and it would seem that most people do, this is a very worthwhile upgrade and will undoubtedly improve your productivity. On one hand, it has been made easier to use but on the other, they have bolted on even more features which makes it more complex. I can't help but feel that Dreamweaver is trying to be all things to all men - it has advanced site management tools yet still needs to provide 'beginners' features like instant buttons and actions too.

I can count at least six different ways to access the HTML code when it should really only need one or two good ones. Instead of presenting itself like the controls of a family car, it looks more like the flight deck of an airplane. Getting rid of some the visual complexity and redundancy and perhaps being a bit more selective about whom it is targeted would turn Dreamweaver from an excellent program into a really great one.

Macromedia Dreamweaver 4
Features 95%
Ease of Use 85%
Value for Money 90%
'Must Have' factor 95%
Manufacturer Macromedia
Price $299. Upgrade $149. (Mac/Win )
Summary The brand leader in Web design editors.
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