Dreamweaver MX 2004: A Dream Come True?

When picking Web design tools, beginners and small business owners often go to Microsoft FrontPage, while professionals and large Web shops invariably flock to Dreamweaver. When it was first launched, Dreamweaver captured the professional world’s attention with breathtaking improvements over previous authoring tools, such as allowing site designers to switch between either code view or WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) view and not altering the code of hand-written pages. Strong improvements in each of its later releases have ensured that Dreamweaver stays not only on top, but cutting edge.

The release of Dreamweaver MX 2004 (this version is so cutting edge that it’s apparently three months ahead of the calendar) will not disappoint. It takes powerful but certainly under-used cascading style sheets (CSS) and makes them central. Creating rich CSS sites with Dreamweaver is now as simple as creating hypertext markup language (HTML). Other improvements include better integration with Word and Excel, a built-in graphics editor, and a streamlined interface.

CSS can be intimidating for those not well-versed in it, but Dreamweaver’s new CSS tools remove the fear, letting you spend more of your time creating clean-coded pages and less time worrying about that code. Dynamic cross-browser CSS validation insures that your pages will look exactly as you want them to in all the major browsers. You can use the CSS Rule Inspector to see what rules apply to whatever CSS operation you’re working on, and the CSS Code Hints to select the right options when hand-coding. The programmers behind Dreamweaver MX 2004 have gotten behind CSS in a major way, hoping to make it as widely used as it should be, and allowing many to tap its power for the first time. It’s similar to how the first Dreamweaver opened up rollovers and other DHTML behaviors for non-programmers.

We love the improved integration with Microsoft Word and Excel. Like many other Dreamweaver improvements, it feels so needed and so worthwhile that you wonder why it didn’t exist sooner. Users can copy and past from Word or Excel and know that the results will look exactly like the originals, down to the fonts, colors, and CSS styles.

Dreamweaver now works better with Flash, allowing users to import a Flash element into a page, then customize it like any other tag. You don’t need to know how to create a Flash object to customize and edit one. Dreamweaver MX 2004 supports secure FTP (SFTP) for fully encrypted file transfers and also has ASP.NET objects to better customize ASP.NET forms. Dreamweaver comes with the latest version of Homesite+ included (in the Windows version), this time Homesite+ 5.5, for those who like to switch to the powerful code editor now and then.

The new built-in image editor is another time-saver that seems obvious in hindsight. When you find that an image isn’t working well and you need to make a small change, like resizing it to better fit a layout, it’s just the thing. It won’t replace Fireworks, but it will save you the bother of having to launch another program for quick fixes.

Screen real estate has always been a problem for Dreamweaver, since the various windows and palettes that make it so useful all crowd each other for the same space. But this version includes a smaller Insert bar that takes up less room. Other interface improvements include a start screen that lets you select your file or project quickly, a more logical tool layout, and the ability to right-click on code to call up frequently used tasks.

Dreamweaver is being released concurrently with a spate of related products in the MX line. Fireworks MX 2004 shows significant speed gains as well as new tools and effects, but it’s the improved red-eye remover that really impressed us. It’s the best red-eye remover we’ve seen and creates a natural look. Macromedia has also released Flash MX 2004 and Flash MX 2004 Professional. Users can purchase the apps separately or buy Studio MX 2004, a suite that contains the latest versions of Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Flash, FreeHand, and, in the Windows version, the developer edition of ColdFusion MX 6.1. A higher-priced version of the suite has Flash Professional.

Innovative and essential, the new Dreamweaver will be welcomed into the Web shops of America. Try it out and see what the new tools inspire you to create.

Adapted from Intranet Journal.com.

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