Weaving power and ease of use

Macromedia Inc.'s Dreamweaver Version 4.0 has long been a standard-setting Web development program, but Dreamweaver MX, the newest version of the product, is probably the most exciting revision to date.

The most important new feature is the integration of three separate products into one. In the MX release, Macromedia combines the most powerful features from Dreamweaver UltraDev: the code-only editor HomeSite and the ColdFusion server software. This marks a clear commitment to professional Web and application developers. This also means that UltraDev and ColdFusion Studio will no longer be available as separate products.

The features, technical lingo and pure power that Dreamweaver MX offers will probably overwhelm hobbyists and beginners who want to build basic or static Web sites. They will be better off using Adobe Systems Inc.'s GoLive or Microsoft Corp.'s FrontPage.

The first time I launched Dreamweaver MX, I had to choose one of three interfaces: Designer, HomeSite/Coder or Version 4.0. The Designer view resembles Macromedia's new, MX-standard interface (Fireworks MX and Flash MX use it as well); the HomeSite/Coder view moves tool panels to the left side of the screen; and Version 4.0 looks like Dreamweaver's previous interface, but includes all of MX's new features.

The most notable difference between the Version 4.0 work space and the new Designer view is that all application components are contained within one work space, which makes moving around and accessing the program's tools simpler and more straightforward. If you want to go back to the old view, however, you can do so by going to the Program Preferences menu.

Functionality and Coding

If you've been writing HTML and creating Web applications then you probably have dozens, if not hundreds, of HTML files on your hard drive — each containing a small bit of code that is used often. Locating these and keeping them organized can be extremely tricky. Dreamweaver MX takes care of this problem in a fantastic new way — with a snippets panel. The snippets panel allows you to organize all the little bits of code into categories that make sense to you.

Dreamweaver has an overwhelming amount of powerful and useful source code-editing features for code junkies. Code Hints, for example, enabled me to speed up code writing by providing quick access to customizable menus showing appropriate tag attributes, method properties, function parameters and Cascading Style Sheets.

Another feature — the Tag Inspector palette — offers an outline of document tags in a tree format. One of my favorite features is Source Code Printing, which enabled me to print source code without having to copy and paste it into a notepad and without losing formatting.

In the past, to build database-driven Web sites, users had to invest in Dreamweaver UltaDev, ColdFusion or both. However, Dreamweaver MX now includes all of the advanced features, such as server objects and behaviors that are predefined objects or bits of code that generate basic layouts, and server-side scripts for common actions, including database inserts and updates, master/detail relationships, recordset statistics, and recordset navigation bars.

An important feature that will make life easier for Web application developers working for government agencies is the accessibility functionality aimed at making Web sites usable for people with disabilities.

Supporting platforms include Windows 95, 98, NT, 2002 and XP, and Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh OS 9.1, 9.2.1 and 10.1.

Although Dreamweaver MX is for Web site development, its close integration with other Macromedia products makes the entire process of building complex, dynamic Web applications a snap. All of the advanced features combined in Dreamweaver's new version make it a natural choice for agencies that want to standardize on a Web application environment.

Kvitka is a principal of a small business information technology and Web development company. He has been writing for various computer and technical publications for more than 14 years. He can be reached at andre@digitalrig.com.

REPORT CARD

Dreamweaver MX

Score: A

Macromedia Inc.

(800) 457-1774

www.macromedia.com

Dreamweaver MX is priced at $799, which includes Dreamweaver, Fireworks, FreeHand and Flash.

Dreamweaver provides developers with the functionality to build complex Web applications using technologies such as Active Server Page, JavaServer Pages, PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) and Macromedia ColdFusion. Those wanting to build basic Web sites may find Dreamweaver MX overwhelming.

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