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Dreamweaver 8Macromedia Dreamweaver 8 – Warp Speed Web Development

By Jim Bray

Macromedia’s Dreamweaver Web development application has traditionally been a wonderful source of power and flexibility, but Version 8 is by far the best yet – and addresses some of the bloat that had been creeping into the product over the years.

Dreamweaver, and the now dead Hot Metal Pro, have been my favorite web development apps for years, but the last version of Dreamweaver I tried (MX) was extremely slow – so much so that it had become ponderous to use. It took forever to load, forever to open files, forever to – well, it just took forever. So if I had to choose only one upgrade, it would be to make it go faster.

Version 8 is faster, a lot faster – fast enough, in fact. Thanks, Macromedia (now Adobe)! You made my day.

Dreamweaver 8And of course that's only one improvement.

Here's a quick description of some of Dreamweaver 8's newest stuff:

  • One of my favorite new features is Background File Transfer, which lets you keep working while Dreamweaver uploads (or downloads) files to/from the server. Another nice wrinkle is that you can now upload an individual page while it's open, right from the work space rather than having to track it down in the file manager first. You can also upload images to the server right from inside the open document. This is a wonderful time saver and I use it a lot.
  • Version 8 has visual tools designed to let you integrate XML-based data (RSS feeds, etc.) into your web pages by dragging and dropping in Design view. In Code view, you can customize the transformation using improved code hinting for XML and XSLT.  
  • A new CSS (cascading style sheet) panel that consolidates and enhances working with your cascade of styles. It's now easier to see how they apply to specific elements and see where they are defined. And you can use visual aids, including tool tips such as ID, margin and border to help streamline the design and implementation. You can also view content the way your end users will see it, whether in a browser, handheld device or even in print.
  • A new coding toolbar puts common operations into a "gutter bar" beside the workspace, bringing stuff closer to hand while you're working. I hate editing code (lazy beast that I am), but it's a necessary evil and this toolbar does make it easier.
  • And to help keep all that code from looking too overwhelming, you can collapse or expand blocks of code, either by selecting it or by choosing a particular tag. This is nice feature for coders with middle aged eyes or short attention spans!
  • Improved site synchronize and check in / check out. New wrinkles here include choices that help prevent you from overwriting files you don't want overwritten, which is great when more than one person is working on a site. The synchronization window now gives you additional choices between just "put," "get" and "ignore." You can now tell Dreamweaver to consider certain files as updated, and it'll also sound an alarm if it isn't sure whether the remote or local version of the file is the current one.  
  • New pasting options let you copy and paste from e-mails or Word documents while retaining the source formatting; you can also just grab the text and paste it in, applying the CSS you already have attached to your page.  Another nice time saver.

Dreamweaver 8 also ups its support for ColdFusion MX7, something I try to stay away from 'cause I'm too lazy to learn it – but it offers a lot of power and flexibility if you're up to the task. There's also enhanced support for PHP pages, including server behaviors and code hinting.

Dreamweaver 8Dreamweaver also gets easier to use with each incarnation, and Version 8 is no different. As with MX, you're given a choice of four working environments, from the "classic" floating windows to "coder" or "designer" view, the latter two of which open the entire app in one big window, with the files on one side and workspace for individual pages on the other. And you can customize the views. I used to prefer the floating windows, but have to admit that the "coder" view has won me over: it's clean and lets you work on multiple pages (via a tabbed interface) without taking up huge expanses of your Windows taskbar. It's also nicer for keeping track of your open pages; you can just click through the tabs rather than poking around icons on your taskbar.

Another thing I've always liked about Dreamweaver is its combined view of a particular web page. You can choose from WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) “Design View”, HTML “Code View”, or a combined one that offers both in separate resizable panes, with the window split to show the code on top and the WYSIWYG below. The latter is my preferred view, since it gives you the best of both worlds. I like setting up a page in design view, seeing how it'll look as I work on the page, but there are plenty of times when one still has to roll up one's sleeves and get down and dirty with the html code. The combined view makes this particularly easy, and the new coding options make this even less tedious once you get onto them – which doesn't take long.

Dreamweaver also gives you the opportunity to clean up code from other applications. For example, it'll strip that html crap out of a Microsoft Word document, stuff that takes forever to do by hand. It isn’t perfect, but it's very good.

Naturally, many of Dreamweaver's old standby features are still around, too, including but not limited to:

  • When you want to put a graphic into a page and that graphic doesn’t exist yet (or you haven't tracked it down), you can merely put a placeholder in the html document, launch your graphics editing application to create it (or go surfing to find it) and, when you’re done, the graphic will automatically appear in the html page.
  • If you need to edit a graphic, you can launch the appropriate app right from inside Dreamweaver (either by double clicking or right clicking on the graphic), and whey you’re finished you can click a button to update the page with the edited graphic.
  • Site-wide link checking or changing. I've had trouble using the site-wide aspects in the past (for example to search and replace text) because once you've started it there's no going back and this has given me fits before. But either Dreamweaver or I have gotten a lot better at this now, and I think it's the latter 'cause I  haven't changed my methodology.  

You also get a series of templates, including ones for basic and dynamic pages, and you can also kick off the creation of your new, dynamic site quickly with a setup wizard. As with most thing, it helps if you understand the terminology and technology, but the help and support community here is pretty good, too.

Dreamweaver lets you create anything from a simple web page to a powerful and sophisticated site, and it appears that its flexibility is limited only by the user's skill – which unfortunately means there's a lot I don't come close to exploiting.

To me, most of the really sophisticated new features are gravy and I'll probably never do them justice. But just the fact that it works a lot faster now (and I mean a lot!), coupled with its tweaked coding features and wonderfully enhanced file management makes this version of my favorite web development app a huge improvement over the last one I tried.

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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