Macromedia Dreamweaver 8

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Improved CSS, XML and Flash video handling and various productivity enhancements – but generally an underwhelming release..

Trial downloads/special offers from Macromedia

See separate reviews for Studio 8, Dreamweaver 8, Flash Professional 8, Fireworks 8.

dreamweaver 8 css

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With over 3.5 million users, Dreamweaver dominates the world of professional web authoring in much the same way that Photoshop dominates photo-editing. It has achieved this commanding position by combining a wysiwyg design environment with unbeatable hands-on coding power and by focusing throughout on workflow-based efficiency. It is these same three core areas – visual design, coding and productivity - that are targeted in this latest release.

In terms of wysiwyg design power, Dreamweaver 8 now falls into line with GoLive by offering a zoom capability - ranging between 6% and 3600%! – and Fit All, Fit Width and Fit Selection commands. The importance of this is seriously overplayed as web design is always viewed at 100%, but it should help users working on high resolution screens and possibly when aligning objects. Much more practically useful for accurately positioning layouts is the new support for rulers and draggable guides complete with tooltips for providing feedback on position and distances between. You can control the display, locking and snap setting of guides and Dreamweaver 8 includes a limited selection of preset guides representing the safe visible area of browsers at various screen sizes.

dreamweaver 8 visual

New zoom and guide options boost Dreamweaver 8’s visual layout capabilities.

Other improvements to Dreamweaver’s wysiwyg design power concentrate on enhanced support for CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), the layout and formatting mark-up language designed to work alongside HTML. In particular the core Design View has been updated to fully support advanced CSS techniques such as overflow handling, form elements and pseudo-elements. And to make life a little easier when working with CSS –positioned layouts, new visual aides are available to highlight CSS outlines, boxes and backgrounds while new tooltips provide greater feedback. Most impressive is Dreamweaver 8’s new support for CSS media types. Using the new Rendering Toolbar you can now swap between seeing how a page will look onscreen, on a handheld, or in print. Most useful of all, you can see how the page will render if the display device doesn’t support CSS .

The ever-increasing importance of CSS is also made clear in changes to Dreamweaver 8’s working environment. In particular the former Design panel group has been renamed CSS and the previously separate Relevant CSS /Rules panel has been consolidated into a single CSS Styles panel. This now offers two tabs, All and Current, for handling all style sheets associated with the page as a whole and those feeding in to the current selection’s formatting. It’s a very efficient system providing feedback and editability and shows Dreamweaver at its streamlined best. Even so I think Macromedia is making too much of its “new” CSS features as, apart from the ability to limit the display to properties that have already been set, most power was already there in MX 2004, it’s just been rationalized.

dreamweaver 8 css

The new CSS panel streamlines formatting.

The CSS panel is a great way to directly access the power of code without getting your hands dirty, but for maximum control there’s no escape – you have to edit your code directly. Whether you’re working with static HTML/CSS or the dynamic markup languages, JSP, ASP, ASP.NET, PHP or ColdFusion, Dreamweaver has always made this as simple and efficient as possible. Particularly important here are Code View features such as in-built references, code hinting and syntax completion and these have been updated to take into account the latest versions of PHP 5 and ColdFusion MX7.

Whichever language you’re using, you’ll also benefit from the new Coding Toolbar running down the left hand side of the Code View which provides quick access to snippets and source formatting, invalid code highlighting, commenting and uncommenting and so on. It also provides the new ability to collapse and expand tags and selections which is designed to allow you to focus in on sections of code, but which I found a major complication and possible source of confusion when working with HTML/CSS.

Code collapse makes much more sense when working with more structured languages, most obviously XML and this is a major focus in Dreamweaver 8. New reference content has been added for XML and XSLT and code hinting has been improved. Dreamweaver 8 also comprehensively tackles the formerly dark art of XML to HTML conversion via server-side and client-side XSL transformations. Most impressively, users with server-side support can now simply point to an XML file or live data feed, such as RSS, and Dreamweaver will introspect it, enabling fields to be dragged and dropped onto the page ready for formatting.

Dreamweaver 8’s XML/XSLT support sets a new standard, but it’s still a minority interest and most sites will be built on static HTML/ CSS for a good while to come. So what does Dreamweaver 8 offer these mainstream users? Again the focus is on workflow and productivity. Virtually all users will be repurposing content written in Word, for example, and Dreamweaver 8 now offers a Paste Special command that lets you control how copied text should be handled. Options include pasting just the text, text with structure, text with structure and basic formatting or text with full structure and all formatting including styles. I had high hopes of this but the command really needs to offer more control to be truly useful - for example, paragraph breaks kept coming through as line breaks.

As well as text import, Dreamweaver 8 revamps its Flash support with new Import FlashPaper and Import Flash Video commands. The latter is particularly useful as a single dialog lets you set up your FLV for streaming or progressive download and choose between 9 playback skins. It’s as simple as that. Or rather, it is if you have your FLV files ready to go. That’s not a problem if you’re a Studio 8 user (see page ) as Flash Professional 8 comes with FLV export plug-ins and a standalone video converter. However these aren’t also bundled with the standalone version of Dreamweaver so you’ll need to buy in a dedicated FLV authoring package.

dreamweaver 8 file transfer

The biggest productivity improvement is background file transfer.

At least the productivity benefits that Dreamweaver 8 offers when it comes to publishing aren’t in doubt. Connectivity with a wider array of servers is now offered including digest authentication and SSL secure transfer for WebDAV. Check-in, check-out has also been improved and you can now compare files both locally or remotely. Most usefully, the Synchronize command has been reworked to allow files to be removed from the transfer list or deleted entirely, and files are now transferred in the background. This last capability in particular will save many users many hours of lost work.

Disappointingly it’s the only stand-out feature in this release. Thanks to its existing strengths Dreamweaver remains the best web authoring package available, but for most users there’s little to be gained from upgrading.

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

Trial downloads/special offers from Macromedia

See separate reviews for Studio 8, Dreamweaver 8, Flash Professional 8, Fireworks 8.

Tom Arah

August 2005


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